One of the great things about travel is not just in the adventure of going, but, in seeing reminders in TV and movies, and saying, “I’ve been there!”
My family and I went to Egypt before things got politically hot during the Arab Spring. The thing that struck us profoundly is the dichotomy of fantastic ancient ruins amidst the hustle and bustle of, frankly, a grimy city. Even at that time, the place looked like a war zone.
Their building standards today are nothing like those of the ancient Egyptians. There are few, if any, building standards and codes. As a consequence, they build as much as they can afford, then move into the building while continuing to build additional floors. This goes for apartments and office buildings as well. As soon as they have habitable space, tenants move into hovels that are always under construction. Nearly every building looks like the top portion was blown up.
Add to that there is little in the way of “the garbage man” that we all know, and love, because they take away our trash on a weekly basis. In Cairo, people just dump trash into trenches and canals. There are decades of trash, making large sections of the living areas not much more than a land fill.
With their country in turmoil for the past few years, I cannot imagine that it would have turned around, and more likely has gotten worse.
Okay, enough of the hard truth.
There are some of the ancient sites that are some distance from the cities, like Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and the Edfu Temple where invaders centuries ago chipped off the faces of figures carved into the walls, which is where we get the term to “deface” property. All of this was amazing and beautiful, and in sharp contrast to the grungy urban centers. I’ll write about that part of the trip on another blog.
Three large pyramids are on the west side of Cairo are a “must see”. On one side of the “park” area was right up to the city. On the other side was open desert where Egyptians kept camels for the tourists to ride. From that side, one of the handlers would take a picture of you and your family on camels with the Pyramids and desert sand behind. Of course, they’d take us on a mile or so ride, too.
We circled back to the city side where our guide allowed us to climb the lower levels of the Great Pyramid. The blocks were about 4.5′ high, covered with miscellaneous plastic bottles, cigarette buts, scraps of paper, and other trash. I grabbed an empty bottle and scooped up some sand, removing the butts and match sticks and larger pebbles.
Later, we went to some markets and bought little glass bottles. I filled them with the sifted sand from the pyramids and we gave them as gifts. I didn’t tell them about the trash. Well, I guess I just did.
The “pinnacle” moment for me was in the Great Pyramid of Giza. We had to buy tickets to go inside the pyramid, but it was worth it. First, a small dark hall, to a smallish chamber. From there, we had to climb a ladder up an incline roughly the same pitch as the sides of the pyramid. The tunnel got narrow, barely big enough for the string of tourists going up and another string coming back down to squeeze past. It was lit by frail looking neon lights laid in the corner of the tunnel. It was a long way up, but it opened to a larger tunnel fifteen feet across by ten feet high, so it was much less claustrophobic. A ramp with slats made the steep climb much easier to Khufu’s “King Chamber” at the center of the pyramid.
While it wasn’t like anything you’d see in Raider’s of the Lost Ark, it was still pretty exciting to be inside the center of the pyramid. The walls were blank marble and only a granite coffer remained. All the jewels or artifacts of value had been removed decades before and are now in museums and / or on tour.
Still, it was a incredible experience – to not only see the only remaining of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World – but to stand INSIDE the burial chamber that modern technologies cannot replicate. For the rest of my life, every time I see pictures of the Great Pyramid, not only can I say, “I was there,” but “I was IN there.”