We only signed up for a guided tour in Egypt because of the disastrous trip Jennifer and I had to Egypt twenty years ago. We swore we would never return on our own, and have been true to our younger selves. As tours are not really our thing, we approached our official joining this morning with some trepidation. It turns out there are 17 people on our tour. A family from Darwin and one from Bowral both with teenagers. And a family from Yellowknife in Canada with two girls, a year older than our boys, who are also traveling the world for a year.
After meeting Sam, our guide, we set off to the pyramids at Giza – which was pretty easy given our hotel is next to them. Sam has turned out to be very knowledgeable, especially when goaded to new heights of information by Callum. So we learned some interesting things today.
The pyramids are sort of overwhelming. It’s only when you’re standing next to them that you get a real sense of their size. From a distance the blocks they are built from look like large bricks, instead of the hunks of stone the size of small cars that they really are. One thing I read this morning pointed out that with over 2.5 million blocks in the great pyramid and a 15-year building period they had to average 12 blocks placed every hour, 24-hours a day, every day to get the thing built. It truly is a monumental effort – and the monument stood as the tallest man-made structure for almost 4000 years.
We went inside the third largest pyramid. The generator had broken down so our only lighting was little pencil torches. That made the whole experience much more of an adventure, although it probably meant we missed details our torches did not happen to swing past. It is amazing is how deep inside and under the pyramid you go to reach the burial chamber and how oppressive all that stone above can feel. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be a tomb-robber down there with only a guttering reed torch to make me feel safe.
After pyramid viewing from a couple of different angles, we went for a camel ride. I have to be honest and say I hated the experience – but others found it wonderful. Seeing the pyramids from the back of a camel on a sand-dune is certainly cool, but as I spent most of my time staring at the back of my camel’s head so I could avoid thinking about the 12-foot drop to the ground, I missed most of the experience.
The camels are very tall, very wobbly and very unfriendly. The only good thing about being on them was that you were above the seemingly endless flow of liquids and solids emerging from both malodorous ends. My own camel was a very tall, grey male. Worryingly it was the only one to sport a muzzle and it seemed to have an insatiable interest in the surrounding female camels. I wouldn’t have minded other than his interest meant he seemed to be incapable of walking in a straight line and was constantly brushing up against other camels in what would have been a friendly fashion had not my leg been between them to cramp his style.
Jennifer had quite a different experience and enjoyed her camel ride immensely. Declan took to it like a pro, perched happily twelve feet up on top of another large grey and calmly waving his hands about. Callum, inevitably, was very worried about doing it and vacillated between wanting to ride with me and going alone. He ended up going alone and while he did not manage Declan’s panache I was terribly proud that he managed to remain calm and collected in spite of being clearly scared.
A visit to the Sphinx was our final sight-seeing stop. Strangely I think the Sphinx actually looks better in carefully framed photos than in real life. Oh, it’s still impressive but it’s so damaged and eroded that it doesn’t leave you gob-smacked in the way the pyramids do.
We finished the day we a visit to a papyrus ‘museum’ – for ‘museum’ read ‘thinly disguised shop’. This gave us a frisson of our tour concerns – with a lot of hard sell and a long wait while others bought things. Hardly the end of the world though and we’re off to a good start for our Egypt trip.