|Here they are, the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Yesterday morning, Friday, we boarded one of 25 air-conditioned buses with 40 passengers each for a 12 1/2 hour excursion to visit the Great Pyramids of Giza (most renowned), the Sphinx, The Pyramid of Zoser, The Egyptian Museum and the Papyrus Institute.
|The streets of Cairo.
The almost three hour drive from Alexandria Egypt to Cairo was a mixed bags of desolate desert landscape and a scattering of small villages along the traffic laden toll roads and narrow highways.
|View along the drive from Alexandria to Cairo.
The traffic was lessened by the fact that it was the Egyptian weekly holy day although you wouldn’t have known this as we whizzed along the dangerous roads with trucks and cars seemingly oblivious to staying in their own lanes or observing any speed limits.
Many times, we nearly missed having an accident both on the drives to various locations during the day and again at night on the return drive to the ship in the rain, in the dark. Our hearts in our throats, as the bus veered in and out of wildly erratic traffic, the ride back to the ship, left all of us stressed and exhausted.
|Pottery for sale along the busy highway.
The day? Surreal. I recall seeing the Pyramids in history books as a child, wondering how and when I’d ever be able to behold their wonder. Tom felt the same. But somehow, while there, among the camels and pushy vendors, there was little sense of reality.
Oddities were in abundance, odd to us that is. The black suited security guard sitting on the front seat in the bus as we sat back a few rows, unintentionally revealed a machine gun which Tom surmised was an Uzi.
|The chaos on the streets was comparable to what we’ve seen in movies.
Much to our curiosity and surprise, Mohammed, our security guard, glomed on to us as we walked the uneven stones and steps around the various sites we visited throughout the day.
Often staying close at our sides, while others wandered on their own, Mohammed frequently offered me an outstretched hand down rough terrain and up and down steps, leading and pointing us to short cuts and steering us to particularly interesting artifacts.
|Kids as young as 8 and 10 years ago were driving these motorized tuk-tuks.
He’d obviously worked this tour many times in the past, going as far as leading us to a clean restroom when we requested, where we each paid US $1 as we were handed a dollop of toilet tissue.
We tipped him at the end, unsure of this would insult him. It did not. At times, Tom and I giggled that we had our own ‘security”. At other times, as he guided us toward narrow and winding desolate paths, we both hesitated, wondering, if his attention was some sort of ruse, for us to be kidnapped by awaiting cohorts, for our kids to be contacted with ransom demands.
|We did our best taking photos as the bus sped by the vendor stands.
The vendors…we’ve never seen anything like it. They touched us, shoved us, trying to make
eye contact, trying to make a sale. It’s a good thing we decided against a camel ride. We saw firsthand, that the camel owners offered a ride for US $2, only to be charged, $20-$40 in order to get down the 8′ from the back of the camel.
We heard women from our ship discussing how they were invited by a camel owner to take a free photo of a camel, to have their camera snatched, only to be returned for $60. Aware of this and determined to get a few camel shots, I pretended to be taking photos of the background scenes, thus explaining why our included camel photos are from the side.
|Note the cars cluttering the road.
Although much was included in our tour, the ride, entrance to the sites, the elegant buffet lunch in the 5 star hotel in Giza, two bags of water and snacks (we gave ours to Mohammed and the bus driver) for a total cost of $169 each, the constant pressure to spend money was overwhelming.
Buying one single item put the vendors on a frenzy to almost attack the shopper as “live bait.” We only spent $1 for a decent stack of postcards to send to family (if we can find a way to get stamps, a real challenge), immediately hiding them in a pocket to ensure we weren’t hounded further.
|We were also warned not to rent horses.
Several times, Mohammed shooed the vendors away from us. For the times we were alone, we kept on our sunglasses, eyes peeled on the ground to avoid tripping on the rough terrain ignoring every vendor in our path.
At one point, as we walked along a narrow path, Mohammed only 10 feet from us, a group of four officers, identically attired, with guns, uniforms, hats, starched white shirts with epaulets, all sitting atop four militarily adorned camels began waving at us as we approached them.
|Struggling to take camel photos without our camera being snatched, it was tough to get a good shot.
I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this scene, only to discover, that they too held out their hands as we passed, looking for money. We scurried away, unwilling to succumb to their plot.
For a time, we wondered if their “outfits” were a scam when we heard that there were numerous photographers dressed in Royal Caribbean attire, pretending to be “official RC photographers”
when in fact they were not.
|It was so interesting, so far removed from our reality and simple lives.
Yes, we appreciate the poverty in this area of the world and respect these relentless individuals working seven days a week in the scorching heat in an effort to feed their families. But there was no way, any one of us could save them from their plight by buying a single useless trinket.
We were told before departing that tourism in Egypt was down considerably. But with multiple buses from multiple ships, we couldn’t imagine room for any more tourists in our midst. The lines to enter various sites were lengthy and uncomfortable in the scorching heat.
|The desert was eerie…so unfamiliar to us.
To our good fortune it was only around 90 degrees at the sites. Toward the end of our day, a sandstorm came up, our eyes becoming irritated and scratchy, mine particularly with my contact lenses.
By 6:00 pm, we commenced our return journey to the ship, back to Alexandria, will proved to be a three hour drive in the rain and in the dark on the traffic jammed highways.
|The Pyramids have become greatly commercialized over the decades.
By then, we felt dirty, hungry and exhausted, needing to eat more out of necessity than hunger.
Luckily the buffer, the Windjammer Cafe, stayed open until 9:30 leaving us no time to shower and change for dinner.
Back in our cabin, we couldn’t wash the sand off our bodies quick enough and crawl into our comfortable bed quickly drifting off into oblivion.
|Mohammed in black leading the way for us.
A once in a lifetime opportunity was not wasted on us. We will always be grateful for the experience. The history of the sites we visited from our knowledgeable tour guide in the six plus hours of driving time, could never be shared here with our limited access to the Internet.
|Mohammed posing with the three security guards on camels.
Many great web sites exist that are readily available for your perusing. Unfortunately, our MiFi is not working in Egypt as we’d hoped. We expect that some type of “block” is being utilized preventing our access. As a result, we cannot spend time finding links to share at this time.
|Here we are, in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza. What an experience!
However, we’d be happy to answer any questions to the best of our ability via comments on our blog or personal email.
|We captured this photo during the sandstorm. It was windy most of the day.
We’ve included as many photos as the poor ship’s connection will allow. Tonight at 1:00 am we will begin our transit through the Suez Canal. The captain explained it will take approximately 13 hours for the full transit. In the dark it will be impossible to see anything.
|The Step Pyramid, one of many we saw yesterday. There are 110 pyramids in Egypt.
Our goal by sunrise is to find ourselves a perfect spot to witness the transit as we did when we traveled through the Panama Canal, a mere four months ago.
|The artwork on the handmade papyrus was astounding in detail.
Tom’s desire to check off two items off his “bucket list” will be fulfilled: full transits through the Panama and the Suez Canals. Little did I know that when we booked these experiences, that I
too would be entranced by their rich history.
|If we owned a “wall” we may have been tempted to purchase one of these works of Egyptian art.
Nor did either of us have a clue as to what wonders we’d discover at every turn, including even the scary parts, much of which await us and some of which are behind us. Soon, the Gulf of Aden, the upcoming emergency drills, the guards on board with yet more Uzi’s, the lights off at night…