“You live in Egypt? What are the pyramids like?”
Every year, the school arranges a trip to the pyramids for the new teachers to welcome them to the country. When we arrived this year, however, they still promised the trip, but said, “It’s too dangerous right now. We will take you when it settles down”. Not the best words to hear when you arrive to a new country, but better than driving down the road and seeing the kind of stuff they show in the news.
About 7 weeks after being here, we were given the clear and the trip was arranged for us. What we didn’t know was that is was a full day affair, visiting citadels, mosques, churches, and more. This would have been great if we had known beforehand, but the general consensus in the group was “Are we going to the pyramids yet??”
We finally headed that way, and could see the pyramids over the tops of buildings as we drove closer. I was surprised how close it was to the city; I had imagined it to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but sand. The truth was, the Pyramids of Giza sat on the edge of the hustle and bustle of the city. We had lunch at a restaurant looking onto the pyramids. It was incredible to see it towering above, and I got the first realization of how huge the pyramid actually was when someone pointed out the tiny dots that were camels wandering around.
When we entered the gates of the pyramids, we came across what everyone had warned us about: hawkers. Other teachers said of Giza: “You MUST go, but I would never go again. The hassling! It was awful” and of course the first thing that popped into my mind was “hmm… can it be that much worse than China?” These guys saw us coming and next thing you know it was carvings, statues and key chains being thrown in our face. One guy was putting something in people’s hands saying “No problem, its free. It’s a present.” They would look helplessly around, not sure what to do, and then one of the other teachers would grab it and give it back to the seller. I had to laugh – at least we had been warned.
We finally made it to the great pyramid and stare up as it towers into the sky. At about 145 m (455 ft) tall, the base blocks came past some people’s waists. The guide said that the whole pyramid weighed about 6 million tonnes, although I can’t remember what each block weight individually.
The site held three pyramids and the sphinx. The biggest pyramid was built for the Pharaoh Khufu. The second pyramid was built for his son, and the sphinx was built to protect this pyramid. The third pyramid was built for another pharaoh.
In front of the great pyramid was the queen’s chamber and after a bit we headed in that direction. As we were walking over there I noticed two things: 1) There was a herd of camels (and their owners) following us and 2) there were about 10 other people on the entire site. I couldn’t even imagine how busy it would be if I were in Egypt three years ago before the revolution when tourism was booming. But now, it was very evident how people were hurting from the lack of tourists. Taking this all in, I felt bad for the hawkers… although not bad enough to buy their stuff haha.
We descended down the queen’s chamber, which was steps made my plank boards with 2×4’s nailed to it. And it was steep… and dark. I had a bit of claustrophobia going down, and a couple other teachers refused to go at first, but we made it down three steeps sets of ladders into a small room with a single light. It was hot and stuffy down there, and as the guide stood at the top of the stairs, I thought, “hmm… it would be awful to be locked down here to die”. Too much Game Of Thrones, perhaps?
We made it out and climbed onto some camels. Somebody described a camel twisting its neck to look back as “part snake and part really tall horse”.Riding a camel is not like riding a horse. First off, their backs come taller than some people’s heads, so you can only get on them while they are laying down. Then when they stand up, it’s two feet at a time, so sitting on them is similar to those bucking bronco rides at bars on low speed haha. It wasn’t a very smooth ride as we bounced all over with every step. Surprisingly, they didn’t smell so bad. I wouldn’t snuggle up to one for the night, but given their reputation, I was impressed; it wasn’t bothersome at all.
We rode to along the pyramids, stopping for a photo shoot, and then trotted along the desert a bit and wrapped around, heading to the sphinx. Once through the gates, again I noticed that, except for our group, there were more hawkers than people. There were a few people that didn’t go on the camel ride and just walked around, being harassed by the locals selling and did not have a very good experience. Again, I think it was the China in me that made me a little more laid back about it all.
Side note: I’ve realized now that I have left the country, China has made me laid back about pretty much everything. Other teachers will be like, “Can you believe that actually happened?!?!” and Melissa and I will look at each other and say “Hmm.. that’s nothing compared to China”. Haha. Not sure if that is a good thing or not…
Looking back, I realized that being in such a big group, I didn’t really get the chance to stop and truly take in what I was witnessing. It was an amazing experience, but something I’ll have to do again, maybe if a couple people come to visit (hint, hint).