I was 12 when I first decided I wanted to go to Egypt. We spent a term at school doing a massive history project on Ancient Egypt (it was half our mark) and it was the first time I can remember actually enjoying homework. I was fascinated with the stories, all the different characters and by how rich the culture was. We booked this trip way back in October when at a travel expo with our friends Cath and Jono. It was a pretty great deal with ‘9’ days of transport, accommodation, and most meals for the two of us for only £300. So, we all signed up and the countdown began. We started off our first day of sightseeing in Cairo by going to Saqqara. I always imagined these sites were way off in the middle of the desert somewhere but instead they’re located just on the outskirts of the city and in some places, smack dab in the middle. Saqqara is a huge burial ground that has been around for nearly 5000 years. In it, is the first pyramid ever constructed – the Pyramid of Djoser or the Step Pyramid. As you can see from the scaffolding, it’s not in the best shape and we weren’t allowed to go inside but it’s held up pretty well for being 4500 years old! We were given free time to wander around the site (and get harassed by the local touts) and take photos. We got a little bored of your normal shots so the boys decided to get a bit creative. Also at Saqqara was Titi’s (hehe) Pyramid which we were allowed to go into for free if we wanted. I figured I wouldn’t get another opportunity to go inside a pyramid (the Great Pyramid costs extra and isn’t as nice inside) so I put my claustrophobia aside and went on in. Luckily, the tunnel into the Pyramid wasn’t as small as I was expecting and no where near as tiny as Chu Chi so I made it all the way in without having to turn around! Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside but it was pretty awesome to see the sarcophagus and all the hieroglyphs and carvings all over the walls and ceiling. I started to get visions of the place crashing down on me so decided it was time to get out. We also got our first look at some sweet hieroglyphics. From there, it was on to the main attraction – the Great Pyramids of Giza. There are times where words don’t do enough to describe just how incredible something is and this was definitely one of those times. All I could do was just stand in awe and wonder how the heck these gigantic structures were made. In Ancient Egypt, tombs of the Pharaohs started being constructed as soon as they came into power and had to be completed before they died. In the case of the Great Pyramid, it was made for Khufu over only a 20 year period. Being comprised of 2.5 million blocks of limestone that would mean a block needed to be placed every 20 seconds in a 10 hour working day for it to be constructed in that time. Factor in the really incredible fact that the corners align to the compass points and it faces true north and well, consider my mind blown. Our tour guide said there were two main theories in how these pyramids were constructed – Slaves or Aliens. He ruled out the Slaves theory based on the beliefs of the people at that time. The afterlife was a very big deal (obvious considering the only remaining structures from that time are pretty much all tombs or temples dedicated to the afterlife) and everyone wanted to make sure they made it in. The best way to do this as a common person was to help your Pharaoh get into the afterlife by building the tomb that would get him there. Basically, the tomb was created in such a way to help the soul find it’s body again as this was necessary to continue into the afterlife. Also, structures and artifacts have been found around the base of the pyramids that would suggest that the people who built them also lived around them and if they were slaves, this luxury wouldn’t have been given to them. The alien theory was ruled out because a) how would they know about true north, b) they wouldn’t create a structure that would last this long and c) aliens don’t exist.
Jono giving some perspective
We went to a look out to get photos in front of all three of the pyramids but of course, when in front of the pyramids you need to do some star jumps. I was incredibly excited to ride a camel around the pyramids. That is, until I sat on the thing. I’ve ridden a horse as well as an elephant before and a camel is a weird mix between the two. It was a lot taller than I thought it was going to be and did not feel sturdy at all. I pretty much spent the first half of the ride trying to breathe through a panic attack as I pictured myself falling face first into the ground. The guide kept having to reassure me that everything was ok and that no one has ever fallen off one of his camels. Eventually, I calmed down and was able to enjoy the rest of the ride. We finished up the sightseeing part of our day at The Sphinx. One thing I hadn’t known before about the Sphinx was that it was (and this was a recurring theme for the rest of the trip) buried under sand (apart from the head and chest) until 1936. Seeing it with the Pyramids in the background was one of the many ‘I can’t believe I’m here’ moments I had and that was only Day 1. It was a dream come true and absolutely exceeded any expectations I had. And with that, we got to tick off number 47 on our 100 things list and got a little step closer to visiting every continent by ticking off Africa. What’s the best way to end a 15 hour full on day of sightseeing in 35 degree weather? Why an overnight sleeper train of course! We went on a couple overnight trains in Asia but I can safely say they did nothing to prepare us for this one. Our 2nd class sleeper in Vietnam was far nicer than the 1st class Egyptian one. I will say two positives were the large seats and lots of leg room but that was pretty much it. There were what looked like bullet holes in the windows, I wore my hood all night cause the seat was rather dirty, the toilets….I don’t even want to talk about it, there was a local guy with a handgun in the seat next to me, and another local guy who had a standing only ticket (on a 14 hour train ride) and decided he wanted to spend the whole night staring at Cath and I. Oh! and mid way through the night after a stop Guy with a handgun got into a very intense yelling match with a guy who thought he was in his seat (at least that’s what we figured since they were fighting in Arabic).
photo courtesy of Cath
So! With that life experience and very little sleep we arrived at the other end of Egypt to continue the trip in Aswan…