I woke up in the morning, fresh-faced and ready for the day, with a few more mosquito bites on my face. At this point I looked like a pimply teen. With wrinkles.
We rounded up my parents and tried to scare up some breakfast before our exciting day of exploring pyramids. McDonalds was closed so we headed over to GAD, the Egyptian food chain. We asked for fried egg sandwiches and but we were given LTs (BLTs without the bacon).
After breakfast we went to a cafe and asked for coffee. We were given ahwa. Ahwa is Arabic for coffee but means Turkish coffee. Great for those who like to chew their morning beverage. Yum. Fortunately we warned my mom not to down the end of her coffee so she didn’t have a gritty surprise.
We tracked down our bus with our guide, Azazza, and we were off to Saqqara to see the first known pyramid, the Step Pyramid, built for Djoser in the third dynasty.
The Step Pyramid was pretty neat although some of the effect was lost because of the scaffolding on the sides. Apparently they had attempted to “repair” this pyramid that had been standing for more than 4000 years, and they caused more damage. It was a bit of a shame but I loved the entrance and the temples around the pyramid. We visited the tomb of Kagemni, the first tomb where I’ve been able to take photos (no flash of course). The intricate carvings were amazing and some even retained the original paint.
In the distance we saw the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. The Bent Pyramid was Sneferu’s first attempt at a pyramid. The angle of the sides changes near the top, giving it a bent appearance. I think they realized the original angle was a bit too ambitious and switched to a shallower angle, hoping the big guy wouldn't notice. Sneferu was not pleased with the results. I personally think heads might have rolled. He then had the Red Pyramid built. Probably with new staff. This was first pyramid with the classical form and even sides. Sneferu’s son Khufu would then go on to build the Great Pyramid.
I looked at these distant pyramids wistfully. I tend to like the less important (and less touristy) places where you can get a real sense of the place. Not that I don’t love seeing white people in cargo shorts and safari hats, operating cameras badly and loudly pointing out the obvious. My parents basically fit that description and they’re lovely. All two of them. A bus load, not so much.
We piled into the van and headed off to Giza to see the Great Pyramids. Unfortunately they are so Great that the afore-mentioned tourists visit in droves. I’d been there a few times before but this time was different. I got to experience the wonder of seeing it the first time through my parents eyes.
They said it was smaller than they thought it would be.
Our guide, Azazza, gave us some helpful hints for dealing with vendors before we approached the pyramids. Rule number one "Don't let them hand you anything." She should have made Dad hold someone's hand. He kept wandering off. Azazza would start her spiel of fascinating information, only to stop mid-way. "We've lost Bob." Once time, when Bob returned, he was decked out in various pieces of touristy crap including a scarf wrapped around his head with his belongings in a plastic bag. Unbelievably, this was not the only time this would happen.
My son, Oscar, had been drawing pyramids since we first decided to move to Egypt. He was very disappointed when our apartment was a rectangular shape. Every time we passed a mound of dirt on the road he would ask if it was a pyramid. Now that were were at real pyramids, he was more excited to see his grandparents than the ancient structures.
Another draw to Egypt for Oscar were the camels. Of course, he wanted to do a camel ride. Everyone piped up with reasons they couldn’t go with him. Arthritis, old legs, bad knees etc. As the youngest (and best-looking) adult, I gamely stepped up to the plate. I limberly hopped up onto the waiting camel. And realized my legs don’t go that wide anymore. I was told to move back to make room for Oscar. This would be towards the wider part of the camel. The pain was… let say excruciating. I plastered a smile on my face that was somewhere between a grimace and a silent panicked scream.
Note to self, must get back into yoga.
After my pain dulled to a low flame, the ride was marginally enjoyable. Ozzie got a kick out of it. I didn't risk moving my legs. For me, it was pretty cool to see the only remaining wonder of the world, a structure that has endured for 4500 years. But, unsurprisingly it hadn’t changed much in the 15 years since the last time I saw it. Saqqara was by far my favourite place, and we only scratched the surface. Hopefully we will get a chance to go back.
I did learn a lot. Our guide was great. I learned they carved the Sphinx out of a block of limestone in the quarry that they couldn’t move. The Great Pyramid was built at Giza because it was a big faux pas to build a bigger pyramid right next to your daddy's pyramid.
And of course I learned to have an excuse ready when camels are in the vicinity.