Friday, September 08, 2006

Finally...The Pyramids!!!!!

I arrived over two weeks ago, and ever since that first moment when I beheld the pyramids from the airplane, I've been aching to go visit them, even to just see them for five minutes. Alas, no one else has coveted this dream, until today...and it was amazing! Every superlative in the English language cannot describe the ebullient feeling of galloping over the fine white Sahara sand, your valiant steed charging through the shadow of the most ancient of monuments, and then pulling up to gaze in wonder at the anicent limestone blocks that have remained thus for 10,000 years. Ahhh, but first, I should describe my yesterday. My Thurdays are thus far very khrfeef, or light, and I start class at 11 and end at 12:15. Class went better than the first day, as the teacher spoke a bit slower and actually used vocabulary I understood. Also, she asked us questions and wrote on the board, which was useful. I am starting to regret my former Arabic professsor's renunciation of grammar learning. I fell that in this area especially, I need to do some serious studying. Anyway, after class, I wandered over the Hilton with Frances, was welcomed by the friendly staff, and slipped into my rather risque bikini, at least by Egpytian standards. The gym is below ground, so I went upstairs and was met by Hasaan, the very cute pool boy, who gave my a chair in the sun. Iy has been too long since I have felt so serene, with nothing to do but soak up the sun and listen the chatters of various languages around me. I never felt uncomfortable or too revealing in my swimsuit, although I've heard that any public pool is just a cesspool of leering men. Anyway, after I downed my Hilton Paradise, I used the treadmill for a bit (I'm so out of shape), luxuriated in the locker rooms for a bit, and then took a cab ride with Frances home. Later that night, we tried, rather unsuccessfully, to find a nice club or bar to hang our for a few hours. First, the Cairo Jazz Club was 'closed', Sequoia had no room, and the bar Deals wasn't serving alcohol. After many wasted cab rides, we started walking home and came across Pub 28, which was, happily, serving alcohol, and so indulged on assorted cheeses and Omar Khayoom's wine.
This morning I woke up and attempted to do some homework, breaking fast on Nestle's all too addicting Vanilla Ice Cream. It's so rich and creamy, I think I could live on it alone (actually, I basically am ;-) My other roommate, Akshaya, and her boyfriend wanted to go to the pyramids. What, the pyramids, mon seule desir since grade school. Of course I tagged along, and they were gracious enough to invite me and put up with me. Our cab ride was 20 LE, not too high, considering Giza is a bit of a haul. Our driver dropped us off in front of several stables, and one of the names I recognized as recommended in a guidebook. We talked to the proprietor, essayed to negotiate the price, but he wouldn't budge lower than 130 LE pp for the 2 hour ride. I really wanted to get going, so I was perhaps more amenable than I should have been, but we were eventually mounted on two camels and a horse. I rode the horse out and a camel back, which was the best of both worlds for a first timer. Our guide trotted up to us on a horse, condescended to snap a few pictures of our gleeful excitement, and we rode off into the desert. We were a little apprehensive, having paid the entire price up front, because we had all heard stories about corrupt tour operators leading you into the desert and either leaving you there or extorting more money from you for the way back. Happily, this didn't happen, and we were safely guided back. It was strange, I usually feel very tall on horseback, but I felt positively miniscule compared to the camels, those big, smelly, green slimy-mouthed humps that are undeniably built for the desert. At least I was able to lead my horse as I wished, the camels were tethered together and led by a boy on foot. Every horse I saw, mine included, were underfed, some far worse than others. On some you could count every rib and trace the tail bone with your hand, it stuck so far out of the skin. I like to think that mine were attended to better, but I honestly doubt it. Anyway, we walked down a street, turned through a gate, ignored the ubiquitious salesmen thrusting their goods into your face, and suddenly stepped on the Sahara sand. The earth fell away from me into an undulating wave of sand, rock, and pyramid, and chaos of the street faded into the background. I couldn't help but wave at another Arab tourist girl (and she waved back just as enthusiastically), so giddy was I! The other group melted down another road, and just our small group of four steeds was plodding through the sand. I had stupidly worn sandals, and I felt woefully inadequate communicating with my horse. Of course, the fact that I had my camera draped touristically around my neck didn't help either. Our flirtatious guide came up behind me and said, "Ready to go?" and my horse burst into an awkward trot. I was flailing along, bumping horribly, until it slowed down mercifully into a steady walk. We crested a dune, and the entire plateau of Giza was spread like virgin garden before our eyes, just waiting to be explored. We paused for a few pictures and picked our down the sharp incline. As the plain leveled out, I handed my backpack off to the more sedate camels, gathered the reins in my hands, yet out a horrifyingly American yee-haw, and galloped off directly towards the main pyramid. My camera was bouncing horrendously around my neck, but I actually felt comfortable in the saddle, swaying to the rhythm of the horse. I think my guide was a little worried, because he chased off after me, but I reined Rambo in and turned him back toward our little caravan. I needed a little help, perhaps, actually getting back, but we puttered around the main pyramid, stopped for a photo opportunity, and then rode to the smallest of the three main pyramids.
There, we all dismounted to give the animals a rest. One of the camels was wheezing loudly, and I don't think it was an entirely normal occurance. Anyway, we walked up to the pyramid, was met by another 'guide' who took our pictures, and then started to climb the pyramid. Yes, we actually climbed the thing, and I know all of you archaeological preservationists out there are cringing, but we only climbed about a third of the way up. The guide half-heartedly told us to stop, but I am certain he would have let us go farther if we had bribed him. The reason I know this? Akshaya's boyfriend wanted to climb one of the smaller pyramids clustered around this one, and the guide told him to name his price. For 10 LE, he could have easily climbed it, no problem, but we decided it wasn't worth the time. I have not yet mentioned the 'police' patroling the pyramids, but they deserve explaining. From what I could see, their sole purpose is to extort bribes from the tourists and guides in the area and turn a blind eye to suspicious activities. At one point early in our ride when we had just entered to pyramid area, a fat policeman rode up on his camel, puffing from exertion and yelling vociferously in Arabic. I'm not sure of the words they exchanged, but in the end money discreetly changed hands. The policemen 'guarding' the smaller pyramids, we were told by our guide, required only a small bribe to look away from our climbing. Anyway, before we remounted, we looked around the base of the pyramids, entered the burial chamber, and admired some hyroglyphics. The ride back wasn't quite as fun as the ride in, as I rode the camel. Camels may look cool, but they're just lumbering giants with very little grace. I mounted it when it was kneeling on the ground, but preciptiously the mountain heaved forwards and backwards and I was ten feet of the ground, perched on a hump. I think we were a little behind schedule, because our guide whipped the poor beasts into a trot as I jostled on top. We paused near the Sphinx to admire and snap a photo, then it was off to the stables. The disembarkation process was a bit strange; I felt I should tip the guide, as is normally the case, but I offered the boy (who rode in front of me on the camel on the way back) three LE, and he wouldn't take it. I think he wanted more, but by that time we were being ushered away and I didn't think he deserved more. After the ride, we found a little hole-in-the-wall sheesha cafe, where I had a Coke Light and Phil smoked sheesha. I didn't mention the flies yet, but they, too, deserve a part in the narrative. They were quite aggrevating, especially when one is standing or at rest. When the animals were moving, they didn't seem too bad, but when we stopped they'd cloud around you and congregate on the animals' extremities. I saw one horse has a horrible saddle sore (I'm naively hoping they took him back and treated it), and the flies swarmed it. Needleless to say, I was happy to climb back into a taxi for the ride home, although some time I want to stay for the sound and light show at the pyramids. The pyramids are indubitably awe-inspiring, as is the Spinx, its erudite, weathered face still bearing the features of a long-dead prince, but the town Giza is such a tourist trap. Everywhere you look there is a Payrus Institute or Weaving Museum, as if the names will suddenly authenticate the product. It was a relief to return to quiet Zamalek, spend a wonderful two hours browsing the three floors of the Alpha Market(I now own a hair dryer, so no more wet-hair-just-had-sex connotations), had supper a Cafe Tobasco (the best strawberry juice I've ever had), and bought an absolutely adorable purse and billfold at Kipling. That is my pyramid day, entirely successful!