Cairo is the staging point for visiting a couple of the highlights in Egyptian history. There are of course more than a couple but by the time we got back there, our energy level was such that only 2 of the many sites were going to receive our attention. The first would be the pyramids at Giza and the second would be the Egyptian Museum.
The pyramids were incredible, a definate highlight. Apparently the only remaining ancient wonder of the world left standing. After dodging the touts and evading the very slick cons to see the pyramids on camel, we paid our entrance fee and were greeted by the infamous Sphinx. We opted to head for the largest pyramid – Chops. We were able to go into that one and while there wasn’t a lot to see inside, it was still quite amazing to see the structure from the inside. We entered through a small entrance located about 5 metres up from the base of the pyramid. The tunnel went straight in for about 20 metres at which point we entered a small shaft that angled upward at about 20°. That shaft was about 20 metres long and then continued as a larger shaft where we could actually see how the bricks were laid. These bricks were several cubic metres in size and weighed an average of 2 tonnes each. They were incredibly smooth and carved so precisely that there wasn’t even a millimetre gap between any of them. From the outside the pyramids look very much like a jumbled pile of rock, but it’s on the inside that you can see it for the incredible engineering feat that it was. Knowing that they were built about 3,500 years ago makes it that much more incredible. Anyway, still inside the shaft eventually leveled out and then entered an perfectly rectangular room which held the sarcophagus. Again, the percisness with which the massive bricks were laid together was mind boggling.
We made our way out and wandered around the outside of the other pyramids, up to a knoll where we could get a good look at all of them together and then made our way back down to the sphinx. Surprisingly, the sphinx wasn’t nearly as big as it looks in pictures but it was still good to see it sitting there in front of the pyramids. By this time we had been wandering around the desert for several hours in the heat. We were tired and hungry and skeptical of the food that we would find in that touristy area. So we wandered out and headed in the direction we needed to go and found ourselves standing in front of a little local lunch spot – no english spoken nor written. But we had learnt the arabic numbers and could see on the menu that nothing was more than a pound or two. We tried to convey our order via pointing and weren’t sure what we would end up with our what it would cost. The result was in our favour as we ended up with 6 (2 each) falafal sandwiches, 4 chunks of deep fried potatoes and 3 7ups, all for 10 pounds (2 Can dollars). We then figured out how to take the local bus back downtown and ended up back in our air conditioned room hot, tired but well fed and satisfied with our day of sight-seeing.
The next day we tackled the Egyptian Museum. This is where they take all the artifacts found in the tombs and other sites around the country. It is a large building absolutely stuffed with artifacts. The highlight though was the King Tut rooms that housed his death mask and the many sarcophaguses that he was found in. His body was actually wrapped (mummified), then with his head adorned with the brilliant gold mask and his fingers adorned with gold, his body was placed into a sarcophagus, which was placed inside a larger sarcophagus, which was placed inside a wooden casket (still on site in the valley of the kings), which was placed inside a large wooden crypt, which was placed inside a larger wooden crypt, which was placed inside a even larger wooden crypt, which was placed inside a huge wooden crypt, which was placed inside his tomb in the valley of the kings. King Tut himslef didn’t reign for very long but the archeological find was so important because his tomb was found virtually intact while most of the other finds had been looted. His tomb was actually found to be a dumping ground for the era in which he reigned. His predessesor apparently didn’t want anything to do with him or the kings before him and threw everything that was associated with them into King Tut’s tomb. The pictures that were taken when they found the tomb look like they stumbled onto a big storage room with all these amazing artifacts just thrown into a corner.
There were many other interesting things to see in the museum but the reality was that none of us are really museum people and we tired quickly. We saw the highlights from the Old Kingdom – the statue of Khafre, the artifacts from the tomb of Queen Hetepheres including a few of her internal organs and a small 8 cm high statue of her son Khufu (which is the only representation of the guy who built the largest pyramid at Giza). There were also several mummies from the Roman-Graeco era, a jewellery room and more sarcophaguses and statues then one could count. Overwhelming to say the least.
Our remaining time in Cairo was spent converting from backpackers to tourists. In other words, we started accumulating material goods. This accumulation took several forms… for Torin it was souvenirs and gifts, for me it was a new suit (Egyptian cotton) and several new shirts. Mary tried her best to accumulate but surprisingly it didn’t amount to much for her as the quality of goods that she found was somewhat inferior. We were also able to connect during this time with a friend of a friend (Rick Strongman who is a friend of Jen and Reed Findlay in Salmon Arm). Rick is working in Cairo as a principal of a small private school. We had a great evening conversing and getting a glimpse into the life of an ex-pat. And finally, these last few days in Egypt were spent preparing ourselves mentally for the guelling 35 hour bus ride that was looming closer and closer.