Monday, December 24, 2007

Our second wonder of the world, together

On the third day of Eid, we decided to head to the Pyramids. Cairo is quiet and mellow over the holidays so our timing couldn't have been better. The streets were quiet (it is still the largest city in Africa so "quiet" is a fairly relative assessment) and getting a taxi was a breeze.

We zoomed through the city. As we hit the main drag in Giza, the driver pointed out the window: the top of a pyramid peeked through the tall buildings and played hide and seek through the sprawl of Cairo's endless apts and office towers. I wondered what the Pharaohs would think about the competition their monuments now fought with the modern skyline.

When we got close, numerous checkpoints dotted the way to the entrance. Guns, policemen and demands for our passports (they don't even look inside, flashing Canada was enough to earn us a smile and a gracious "welcome") prevented us from seeing the pyramids. This turned out to be just as well: bars and barriers were everywhere, ruining any possibility of a clear view. As we reached our drop off point, the hustle of the hustlers hit a fever pitch. So much so that I don't remember what my first impressions were.

"hello -- need a guide?"
"welcome in egypt -- need a camel?"
"I give you two horses -- want to know how much? I give you best price."

Yasir talked his way around them and somehow we made it to the ticket office where he negotiated the Egyptian resident ticket price. It was much like our visit to the Taj Mahal a few years ago -- the advantage back then was that I at least spoke the language.
However, I have learned that Egyptians are friendly and helpful and they won't steal from you or watch idly as you get ripped off. Our taxi driver had given us safety tips the whole ride and advised us "as your driver, it is my duty" how to bargain and gave us a guage of fair prices. Here, a man approached us and from behind him we could see the Tourist Police shaking his head and wagging his finger, warning us not to get conned. With a quick nod of thanks to the Policeman, we ducked around this latest tout and slid past the barriers into the grounds of the pyramids.

Only then did we have a moment to look up and absorb the first pyramid.
I tried to imagine what it would look like without vendors selling wooden Anubis statues and plastic pyramid snow globes and tourists crawling all over the base taking photos: "hey frank! take a picture of me holding up the pyramid" was hard.

Suddenly, we heard the friday call to prayer -- the cacophony of sounds drew us to the edge of the landing that overlooks the city. We stood there, listening to the mingling voices floating up like a cloud. After a moment, we turned to look back at the Pyramid. Only then, at a distance, far from the circus at the base, were we given a better vantage point. They were magnificent.
Many of the entrances to the tombs were closed so we walked into the ones we could and marvelled at the perfectly preserved artifacts in the Solar Boat Museum (4000 year old straw and rope that looked like it was just woven).

The desert sand and the colours of the Pyramids against the bright blue winter sky were the elements that impressed me most. I tried to imagine how breathtaking it must have been to trek through the vast desert and have stumbled upon this for the first time.

All photographs and text copyright Sufia Lodhi 2007

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