Saturday, September 16, 2006
A few more of my favorite things!
Today I discovered that I have a need for speed ;-) But before I discerned that, I learned that the inside of pyramids really aren't all that spectacular. And before that, I saw a solar boat. And before that...Perhaps I should start at the beginning. ALI arranged a trip for students to the Giza plateau in one of those insanely comfortable tourist buses that you don't miss until you hop into a cab and feel mother nature's air conditioning. We piled into the bus at 9:00 am sharp, and arrived in Giza shortly thereafter. The pyramids are wonderful to drive up to, because suddenly, out of the smog and highrise building, a bastion of stone arises above it all, majestic in its grandeur and antiquity. Of course, the Giza pyramids are not the oldest pyramids in Egypt, just the most famous. The Saqqara pyramid is the oldest, I think,and is located a few miles from Giza. Before pyramids, rulers were interred in normal burial chambers, or mastabas, but somehow decided that, as gods, they should be remembered as such. Hence, Giza.
Anyway, a trip to the pyramids is almost worth it just for the people watching. There are people dressed in ridiculously short skirts and tight, midriff-baring tanktops alongside women entirely veiled with only their eyes showing. And there are the constant, hawking salesmen trying valiantly to persuade you to buy a Saudi headress, postcards, or some cheap reproduction of an ancient monument. Sunglasses are a wonderful deterrant to such errant entrepeneurs, as you can glance around and still remain stoically ambivalent. After walking around the main pyramid, Khufu's, we were told we couldn't go in. Tickets to enter this pyramid are limited to 150 people each morning and afternoon, and it is a first-come, first-serve basis. Thus, you must get there quite early for a chance to enter. The second pyramid, not one of ancient seven wonders of the world, as our guide pointed out, does allow as many to enter as possible, which is far too many in my opinion. Those who are clausterphobic, do not crouch well walking up and down steep slopes, or those who have a tendency to faint due to lack of oxgyen, should not enter a pyramid. Those of us with an intrepid and inane sense of adventure descended into the pyramid, immediately becoming enveloped in stifling darkness with a appalling lack of oxygen. This descent was all performed at a uncomfortable crouch, as the tunnel is only about three feet high. After reaching the bottom, we traversed a straight passageway for awhile, the height of the space tall enough to stand up in, and then began to climb upwards as tunnel became a narrow, dank aperture into the unknown. Eventually, we emerged into the burial chamber, a rather unspectacular peaked chamber completely devoid of runes, writings, or inscriptions of any kind. The only thing of note was the sarcophgus anchored into the floor, empty, of course, of any body. By this time, everyone is somewhat gasping for air, as the place is unventilated, and pouring sweat like a sno-cone machine in July. Needleless to say, we did not linger to ponder the eternal mysteries that shroud the pyramids in so much speculation, but instead began the ardous journey back outside. The Sahara sun has never felt so good, nor has the Cairo air ever tasted purer! I've decided going inside a pyramid is something you do just to say you've done it (and I have!) After this, we piled back into the bus and stopped briefly at a scenic overlook. I could not resist the perfect photo opportunity and paid a man ten pounds to sit on his camel, have it stand up, and pose in front of all three of the pyramids lined up stately in the background. It was quite a tourist trap, but a fun stop nonetheless, and the pictures turned out really well! The final stop of the university-funded trip (all admissions were paid for), was the Spinx area, which also included the only remaining Valley Temple of Egypt, the place where mummifications took place. Each pyramid had one, but they have long since crumbled. It was fascinating to learn about the mummification process (they really did extract the brain through the nose!) and even more fun to pose in crazy positions in front of the Spinx. I forgot, we also visited the Solar Boat Museum, in which is interred a boat that survived from Khufu's reign. The boat was originally exhumed in a pit near the pyramid in thousands of pieces in 1954, but was painstakingly put back together by assidious archaeologists.
After the university trip ended, by adventures had only begun. My friend Nicola and I decided to go riding in the desert, and I was much more pleased with this experience (not that last time wasn't fun!) Instead of just having horses brought to us, we went to the actual stables, named D & I, examined the horses, and saw that they were well cared for. These animals were neither starving nor leisioned, but appeared content and well-fed, with no apparent saddle sores or limping legs. They even had a foal. Then, we discussed prices with the owner while they tacked up the horses, and his prices were much more reasonable. He suggested 50 LE per hour and we settled on 40 LE. These were different stables than the ones I'd rode at before, and I really enjoyed this ride. All of the stables use English saddles, which suits me just fine, as I grew up posting, but poor Nicola was more used to a Western saddle, although she adjust swiftly. Soon the city fell away, and the desert was before us. Our excellent guide asked us if we would rather tour the pyramids area or ride into the desert, and we chose the desert, which was definitely the best decision made that way. Soon, sand dunes separated us from the pyramids, and there was not a soul in sight except the carrion birds eating the dead horse corpses dumped into the desert by stables unwiling to get rid of the bodies. Soon, we left these behind as well, and my horse has been acting very frisky since we left the stable, pulling at the reins in an eagerness to gallop. This was yet another sign that the animals were of better quality and better cared for than before. Responsive to my touch, the horse had boundless energy and was neither fatigued nor distempered. Quite soon, I shouted "Ya Allah" (Let's go!), and we charged at a ground-swallowing gallop into the heart of the desert. The wind created convenient alleyways between the dunes that served as perfect galloping lanes, and it was so exilerating to top a hill at full gallop and pull up to a view of the pyramids framed in the background. Magical! I could have gone all day charging around the desert, racing Nicola's and the guide's horses, but reality set in and we had to return too soon back to town. I am definitely considering returning!
After I got back to my apartment, fed and watered from Cafe Tobasco, weary, sore, sweaty, dusty, and all together disgusting, my roommates told me they were going to the Khan El-Khalili at night, something I couldn't pass up, so we piled into a cab and braved downtown traffic to the market. I ended up buying something I've been searching for ever since I first arrived: a cartouche with my name in hieroglypics. It's a little touristy, but I think it's beautiful!
My landlord, wherever his faults may lie (and I have a pretty good idea of exactly where they lie), is excellent at his job of servicing our apartment. The shower in the other bathroom was accidently broken, and in less than a day he had repaired it. Our relationship is slightly strange; we've told him he can come in whenever he wants , as he obviously has a key, but it's still slightly disconcerting to have in the apartment when you arrive back home. He also now speaks to me almost entirely in French, which is fine with me, but my French seems to be improving as rapidly as my Arabic!