Feeling: THE POINT OF IT
A stop off in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (counts as a country if you actually get out of the airport, taste the air – was going to say fresh, but often it’s not at all – and hustle a key ring) then onto Cairo.
Flying in reminded me of my big bead set I got for my 8th birthday from my best friend at the time, Jaimee Orr; strings of glittering beads layered around in lanes, twinkling and talking. Even though it was 1.30am, there were jams of traffic all up the highways (I found out later it had been the night of the football finals and Algeria had won – lots of rowdy Algerian boys loitering about the streets as we drove it the hotel, and in the reception of that too actually).
So Egypt – I’ve been a bit of a fan ever since we studied mummification and the tales of Tutankarman back with Mrs Gerrard in ‘01. (I remember my assignment was of “top material” aside from the lines of my images I had cut out and glued onto the coloured paper – apparently “really let the work down – next time use a ruler”). I’ve wanted to come and see the pyramids and Valley of Kings as long as I can remember, but it’s never really worked in on any of my trips.
Until this one.
As I aforementioned, I’d been a bit preoccupied in prepping for Kili and hadn’t given much head time to the other aspects of this trip, Egypt included. On the plane I finally probably read through the itinerary – the Giza Plateau! The Sphinx! Aswan, Luxor, temples and feluccas! How fantastic. And all with one of my best friends Stacey (when first flirting with how this trip may play out, she’d come over to my house and I was telling her of my thoughts for Egypt. “What date are you going?” She asked – it just so happened that she had applied for leave from July 19, the day I could be finished on the mountain and an Egyptian tour could be booked. Three days later, we locked it in).
I was a bit smashed; having had the shit night’s sleep the evening before and my flights being at 6.35pm then 10pm for a 1.20am landing (though delayed and more 1.50) I pretty much passed out on the plane. (They gave me my dinner, I took a bite of the vege curry thing and it was super spicy and burnt my lips so I pushed it aside – well, as aside as you can on an airplane tray – and promptly fell asleep atop it for the rest of the flight). I arrived in Egypt rather groggy.
However as always I hop skipped off the plane to take over the queue and was extremely surprised to find a logistics man from Travel Talk (company doing the tour with) awaiting my arrival with a sign and smile.
He hustled me through visa stamping, bag retrieval (woohoo – they arrived!), bag scanning (looked at the New Zealand passport and waved me through with no examination) then deposited me at the door of the driver’s car – my new mate Michael.
The hotel a fair hike away, Michael gave me a choice; the 35-minute route through a tunnel and missing any sights, or the slightly longer, 45-50 minute hustle through town.
We saw mosques, all the trees on the Main Street strung in golden lights, coasted alongside the Nile, and then at one point I looked up and saw the silhouette of a pyramid against the night sky – the glee that surged me made Michael giggle.
We reached the hotel, I went through details with yet another Travel Talk guy, then I was finally able to retire to my room and coma out at 4am.
I’d set an alarm for 9am – breakfast went until 10, and I knew I’d need some food in me because it had been a long haul from breakfast the following the day.
I threw on a light dress and locked my door, heading out along the steps where a man was mopping the floor (and needed to mop his brow; it was already 40 degrees and he was sweating). He saw me and it was like something lit up in his eyes – giddy and excited, he asked if I needed my room cleaned. I tried to explain that I’d only been there for a mere few hours and there was no need, but he was adamant he would do it. So I went back and collected my passport, money and other valuables just in case, then headed off to fuel up.
On the end of each bed (twin room) there was a little blue blanket laid out across the width; when returned back, the one on my bed had been formed into a heart. Cute, I thought, and took a quick photo, then transferred it over to Stacey’s bed so I could get back in mine and go back to sleep (Stace’s flight was due to arrive at 10am so I was expecting her at the hotel at 11.30/12, so needed to get some more sleep in).
I was just dozing off when there was a knock at the door; at first I ignored it, then it cane again, a little more urgent sounding. I got up and went to open it – pretty dozy indeed – to find the blue-hearted-cleaner standing there with that same giddy grin.
He apologised for waking me up, then came in and gestured to the heart. He looked a little crestfallen when he saw it was no longer on my bed, so I showed him that I had taken a photo and that it was still intact on the spare. With very broken English, he asked if he could take a photo of me with it – I said only on my phone (Lord knows what he’d do with a pic on his own) then I awkwardly perched on the side with my arms crossed.
“No no!” He said, and tried to indicate my laying strewn across the bed propping myself up with my hand. Suddenly it felt very porn-hustly and uncomfortable so I said “NO” very loudly and grabbed my phone back. A voice outside was obviously a big boss of his because suddenly he looked extremely worried and put his finger to his lips and begged me not to say anything to anyone before he fled.
Very weird. I locked the door and attempted sleep again, until I gave up and started a repack of my bags.
Soon after the phone rung; reception calling to tell me my roommate was here. Stacey!
I waited outside on the little deck thing we had, looking out – a minute later she appeared from the opposite direction. It was so good to see her and suddenly the excitement inside got real.
Originally we had planned to go out exploring, but on account of the hotel complex being quite away from anything and us both being severely sleepy, we decided a pool hang was in order so did that for the rest of the day (with a little gym in for me). At 6pm we met our group for a quick, um, meeting, (split into two, there were 36 in one and 14 in the other – very grateful to be in the smaller, latter) (tour guide called Maicheal – pronounced “Michael” – very enthusiastic and lovely and massively grew on me further as time went on) then Stacey and I went to our room and fell asleep by 8pm.
And then the first proper day in Egypt dawned.
6am breakfast, 7am departure; pyramids first on the agenda!
First was Sakkara Pyramid – the oldest complete stone structure known in history.
We cavorted about the complex taking pics and getting the history, then came the opportunity to go into an underground pyramid chamber – Maicheal had told us about this option and that it cost an extra 360 Egyptian pounds.
Now, I get a bit iffy in small spaces – the Vietnam tunnels required an emergency evacuation on account of myself having a bit of a panic inside, and MRIs of past have meant the swallowing of a Valium or two. So when I saw the ramp down and we started to walk it, I suddenly had a bit of a back track and came back out.
I had told Maicheal about the sometime-silliness, and he was at the top when I ran out in a fluster. “Give me your bag,” he said. “You can do it.”
Yeah, stop being a little bitch, I told myself. I took a deep breath, and soldiered on in.
I did it!
And it was amazing; hieroglyphics all over the walls and little chambers for sacrifices and burial areas and all such. Photos inside are absolutely prohibited – unless you slyly palm 20 Egyptian pounds off to the man taking you through.
I came out brimming with pride; I’d done it! I’d conquered my little irrational fear and gone in! (Many Egyptian men outside asked if I wanted a ride on their “Egyptian Cadillac” – their camels, nothing untoward – which took a fair bit of staunch refusals before it was taken into account).
We boarded our bus to head onwards to the Giza Plateau – the three famous pyramids and the Sphinx. Where Maicheal told us that this would be where the 360 option to go inside the Great Pyramid would be.
He warned me against it, saying it was quite enclosed and he thought it may be too much for me. I nodded and agreed, then as some of the others lined up to get their tickets I joined the line and got one too.
“I’ll try,” I said to Maicheal’s raised eyebrows. “I know I’ll be gutted in myself if I don’t give it a go.”
So, the Great Pyramid; one million blocks ranging from a weight of 2.5 tonnes to 9 tonnes each, of which if you dismantled the whole thing would be enough to build a wall to surround all of Rome. It was pretty impressive.
My heart went up a few beats as we entered inside; very tight, we went up a ramp like thing with a couple of stoopey bits to get to the “top” – a concrete like cell with an empty tomb in the corner. Very, very hot. (As in temp, not attractiveness).
(My Aunty Maria had linked me to a documentary before I left called The Pyramid Code, which was an alternative way of looking at the pyramids and their function – it said their actual purpose was to conduct electricity and that the ancients had a far more evolved grasp on things than we have today. Inside the Pyramid I had to agree; very sparse with no decorative aspects on the wall, it felt like a place that had a function rather than a pure place of rest). (For a king, not for me to relax I mean).
And then it was downtime.
There was a traffic jam of people; you see, there’s only one way in and out and not much space within that. About 20 of us were descending as another 10 tried to ascend and it was extremely tight. I looked at my feet as I sat in a very crouched position pretty much on Stacey (in front of me) and took my mind into other places – there was one moment of, “Stacey I really need to get out of here” before I did some breathing and held it together to get out.
Conquered! (And the right one this time).
A trip over to the infamous spot to get a pic with the three pyramids in the background, a visit to the Sphinx (highlight of my day – so much smaller than I expected, and with its missing nose a right contender for Voldemort), a trip to a perfumery (where I bought a large vial of “Hypnotic Poison” for $35USD – smelt exactly the same – then boarding the bus for the ten-hour journey to Luxor (arrival at 1am). Very long and action packed day.
Egyptian tit bits:
⁃ In Cairo, traffic lights are for mere decoration; they are only abided by should a policeman be observing. Likewise, lanes and lines on the road – no notice taken at all, ever.
⁃ As of currently, there have been 107 pyramids discovered – three of which are famous around the world.
⁃ Driving around, pretty much every home and house and apartment block are not finished; you see, there is a government enforced payment called a completion tax, whereby when a construction is complete a pretty steep sum must be paid. So, to avoid, houses are never fully finished.
⁃ Egypt has the longest summer school holiday in the world – four months off.
⁃ Egypt to the South is considered “Upper Egypt” as it is higher.
– I was quite surprised – everywhere we’ve been it hasn’t actually been that busy. Especially the pyramids – I expected them to be teeming with tourists and while there were a handful, it wasn’t a hectic happening like I expected. All the temples have been pretty sparse with someones too; I quite rate it.
It feels weird to be in Egypt. Apart from my first sighting of a pyramid in the dark and a gurgle of glee at seeing the Sphinx, it all feels a bit surreal as if I’m not actually here. Then I look through my photos and realise where I am – it’s pretty phenomenal.
Egypt – a Pyramid Scheme I’m actually into.