Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 5: Cairo and Giza Pyramids/Sphinx

Day 5 - Giza Pyramids, Sphinx, Egyptian Royal Museum, Overnight Train to Aswan

Daytime High:39 C
Daytine Low: 27 C
We checked out of the palatial (not) Santana Hotel and packed into our mini bus for... The Great Pyramids of Giza. These are the pyramids that everyone knows, especially those who have watched the movies Transformers or GI Joe recently. The trip to the pyramids was interesting as they seem to appear and continue to grow in size as you approach. And then, the sight hits you. The 3 main pyramids, clouded by the intense smog and dust, and about 100 buses and vans. There must have been 3,000 tourists at the site by the time we got there (and we were there "early")! There are actually 9 pyramids at the Giza site besides the 3 huge mo-fo's that people recognize. The other 6 pyramids are much smaller and in poorer general condition.

Let me say this, the 3 main pyramids are freaking HUGE! It is not possible to understand how large they actually are until you walk right up to them and look up. The Great Pyramid is 146.5 m tall and the base of it covers 13.1 acres. It was an imposing sight and there almost seemed to be a sense of gravity coming from each pyramid. To imagine that 100,000 people worked on building this pyramid over a 20 year time span is most impressive. Our guide, who happens to be a graduate of Egyptology, finishing first in his class from Cairo University, is also the chief liason on all matters Egypt for Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Let's just say the dude knows his stuff and gave us an extremely thorough explanation of the site. Although, Sherrill was a bit upset after he debunked the theory of aliens...somehow amongst the millions of tourists to this site, she still had a dream that she would find some alien artifacts or a remarkably preserved space ship.
We drove up to a high plateau area to get a panoramic view of all three pyramids and take some photos. It was then time to jump on some camels for a trek through the desert led by a Bedouin camel herder. For those that are curious, yes, camels do not smell pleasant. The hardest part of the camel ride occurred when the camel stood up or lie back down. Because of the goofy nature of their legs, they lean extremely far forward as the get up on their hind legs first, and then they buck back as one slides off the hump as it gets up on its front legs. Sherrill, the expert bull rider, managed with no issues. We had one casualty within our group where she was thrown from the camel. The trek through the desert was nice... pyramids on one side and the endless sea of the Sahara on the other. The slow lurch step of the camel rocked us gently as we approached the second pyramid.
Vince Picking Up the Third Pyramid, Great Pyramid is on Left, in Distance

Ahhh....What a Bunch of Tourists...
Too think Vince never got any Camels from Sherrill's Family
Look Mom! No Hands!
Sneak Attack on the Camel Herder... I got this shot for FREE!!!
Hourdes of Buses = Hourdes of Tourists
Once at the second pyramid, we got to enter and go into the burial chamber. It was a 63 m decent down a 1x1 m declined shaft, followed by a 25 m climb up an inclined shaft into the main chamber. This shaft accomodated two way traffic, and it was hot, hot, hot and kinda smelly. The trip was pretty... uneventful, except for the the sarcophagus. We had a quick look before we turned to leave the pyramid. and go for a walk around the great pyramid.

Once reaching fresh air, we headed towards the great pyramid to walk around the giant structure and take photos. The pyramid was even more impressive up close, when the perspective of each block was put into human terms - the outer "small" blocks weight 2.5 tonnes, the inside blocks weight 15 tonnes, and the blocks guarding the burial chamber weigh 60 tonnes. The entire walk around the pyramid took nearly 20 minutes before we got back onto the bus for our next stop... the Sphinx.

Vince Climbing the Pyramids
The trip to the Sphinx from the Pyramids was short, although the brief rest break in some A/C was welcomed. We oozed out of the bus for a quick photo opportunity next to one of the oldest structures in Egypt. The Sphinx looks kind of neat up close, with its lion body and half smashed human face. It was much bigger than expected, but it was a quick visit just to get away from the hordes of people.

Vince gettin' some...
Sherrill & the "Iron Sheik": seconds before she lost the wrestling match by the "Camel Clutch"
The next stop on our trip was for lunch at Sakkara Nest, a traditional Egyptian grilled food restaurant. The spread was very impressive, with an assortment of grilled meats (beef, chicken fish), rice, pitas, stuffed vegetables, cheese, tahini dip, potato chips (imagine thick cut, unsalted), spiced tomotes, and cabbage salad. We gorged and then got back on the bus for a trip to the Egyptian museum.

The museum was impressive, with over 200,000 unique items plus a replica of the Rosetta stone, yep, the one that decoded heirogpyphics. The most impressive things in the museum were the Rosetta stone, King Tut's mask and the animal mummy exhibit. King Tut's mask was beautifully ordaned and weighed in at 45 kg made mostly of gold. The animal mummy exhibit showed a number of different animals that are preserved with the Pharaohs so that their Ka can protect or provide some advantage to the Pharaoh after death.

After visiting some papryus shops and Egyptian Cotton Shops (Sherrill thought "Egyptian Cotton" was a brand, and not really from Egypt - how uncouth), we headed for the train station for our overnight train (14 hours) to Aswan. The train was nice - we did go first class (Sherrill is so high maintenance), and although "old" exceeded the trains that we had been on in China and Europe even. The cabins have only two beds, and each cabin also has a wash basin (toilets are shared within the car). You also have this butler dude that serves you dinner and breakfast - similar in style to airplane food, although our dinner had some sort of unidentifiable "mystery meat" that Sherrill enjoyed WAY to much.

After a day in the sun and the heat, our sweaty bodies found sleep fast to the rocking motion of the train, only to be woken up once per hour due to the hard jerking stops at the train platforms (brake sooner you bastards!).

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