Egypt - March 2006
Of course, this trip was all about the total solar eclipse of March 29, which is documented on another page. Having the tremendous opportunity to see a total solar eclipse AND the pyramids at Giza was too great a chance for me to pass it up. So even though I couldn't find anyone to go with me - and I tried! - I went ahead with the trip, because this was too unique to pass up. And I have to say, I'm glad I went.
Some facts about Egypt: Capital city Cairo is the most populous city in Africa, with over 14 million people in the metro area. Its only other truly major city is Alexandria, which sits on the Mediterranean Sea at the mouth of the Nile. Monetary unit is the Egyptian Pound, which goes for about 5 1/2 to the dollar. So when I paid 2 pounds for a 1.5-liter bottled water, I was shelling out a whopping 40 cents. What does that go for in the US, three bucks? Gasoline was about $1.60 a gallon, though of course they sell it by the liter.
Contrary to popular belief, Egyptian women have many rights and options. They do not have to wear the headdress; about 80% choose to, but the remainder who do not are not treated any differently. There is no coercion to be covered up, so you get the entire gamut, from totally veiled in black to dressed like any woman in the US could be, albeit conservatively. And many of the tour guides are women, so employment is not a difficulty for women here either. That is not the case in some of the other moslem countries, making the Egyptian women among the most liberated in the region.
Indeed, the headdress has become something of a fashion item. Girls wear different colors and patterns, and try to match their entire outfits, just like women in other cultures would do. Of course, the Coptic Christians don't wear headdresses, and that sets them somewhat apart. There is some religious tension in the air, but it is more palatable in the smaller towns; Cairo tends to be more tolerant in general.
My first stop, with guide Shereen, was the Egyptian Museum, which is where all the artifacts from ancient Egypt are kept: everything from King Tutankhamen's tomb, Ramses II (except for the items found in Memphis), murals, all that stuff - except the Rosetta Stone, which the English took back to London. Photography is not permitted inside, so I do not have any pictures to show form in there, but anyone stopping by my house is welcome of view the museum book I purchased there.
One thing I saw a lot of were sphinxes, and they were usually made of granite, like this one. The main sphinx, of course, would be visited this afternoon, at its position where it guards the great pyramids on the Giza plain. Many other sphinxes can be found throughout the Cairo area, having represented different pharaohs from different times. But they all have the same general form of the body of a lion and the head of the pharaoh.
Our second stop was a trip to the Coptic section and old Jewish sections of Cairo. While there are still plenty of Christians in this muslim country, the Jews left when Israel was established. In this area, it is believed that Moses was discovered on the reeds, or perhaps this was just an area where he was brought up. In any case, Moses was here, and then later, the Holy Family lived in this area while hiding from the Romans. People still live in this neighborhood, as you can see from these apartments still walled in with the holy sites.
Fromt here it was a short drive to the pyramids at Giza. The Great Pyramids are not far from the city; as you can see in this picture, it is not uncommon to be able to see the pyramids from points in the urban Giza area (and Giza is just on the other side of the Nile from Cairo). The pyramids are large, of course, but they are also on a slight elevation, so several factors combine to make them even more imposing.
The pyramids are humongous stacks of limestone bricks; back when they were completed, they were also encased in a bright limestone sheath that made them sparkle in the sunlight. But when the muslims took over Egypt in the 1100s, they stripped off the limestone casings and raided the pyramids for bricks to use in other construction projects that they deemed more important, since to them the pharaohs were heretics anyway. The bricks were huge; and since the Egyptians did not invent the wheel, they - like the Incas much later at Machu Picchu - had to drag the large stones to the construction sites.
The Egyptian government takes tourism very seriously; when a terrorist attack on tourists at Luxor happened about 8 years ago, the government came down hard on the perpetrators and executed hundreds of people associated with the attack. Since then there have been no such troubles, but just in case, the tourist police are at all the major sites, often on camelback. They maintain security, not just against terrorism, but also against scams in general. The favorite technique is to give you a couple of items for free, and then get you to give them money out of guilt. They often ask for American money, too. Beware this scam if you end up going there.
I couldn't get enough of the pyramids. They're awesome; not just for the their size, though sizeable they are; but the history, the age, the fact that they are the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing; these many factors combine to make the pyramids just an amazing thing to see, and to be in the presence of, and to behold for their formidable majesty.
Even I had to get a picture of me at the pyramids; I just wish the weather had cooperated with me. During my week in Egypt, it rained three times: that's unheard of for this time of year. Only I could go to the Sahara desert and have it rain!
On the other side of the pyramids is the Sphinx, standing guard over the pyramids and their contents. The Sphinx wasn't as big as I expected it to be; but it is still a sizeable structure. They're just starting to work on some restoration, so I got here just in time. And as you can see, the whole temple of the Sphinx is a busy place. Tourists from all over the world can be seen here, and multiple languages heard. I would imagine that Egypt gets the most diverse set of visitors in the world, with the possible exception of New York City.
Another shot of the great pyramid of Cheops. I have some other pictures of the pyramids and sphinx in the gallery at the end of this segment. After the pyramids it was dark, and the next day I took off for El Saloum and the solar eclipse. That trip through the desert was a long one: eight hours each way! But as you'll see on the next page, I got some pretty cool pictures from out in the desert.
Continue to El Saloum
Back to Main Page