Africa

Ten Days in Timeless Egypt

written by | Posted on May 1st, 2009

We mention all this because there’s an interesting parallel between the Egypt of antiquity and modern Egypt. History shows ancient Egypt, too, has dealt with population and socio-economic problems while providing for its citizens. At the Pyramids of Giza, for example, the Hollywood version of the construction of the pyramids highlights cruel, frenzied overseers whipping emaciated slaves into submission, encouraged by the indifference of the royalty. The reality is the construction of the pyramids was a kind of government work project that provided the Pharaoh with a paid work force. The projects actually ensured rural Egyptians work during the 6-month period the Nile flooded—an annual situation preventing them from farming—and gave them the opportunity to feed their families, an opportunity they didn’t have six months out of the year before work on the pyramids began.

At Giza, the pyramid tombs belong to the Fourth Dynasty Pharaoh Khufu—better known as Cheops—and his Great Pyramid built in 2700 B.C.; followed by the smaller, but more steeply angled pyramid tomb of Cheops’ son Chephren; and finally the Pyramid of Menkaure, built by Chephren’s son. And eons later, the magic is still there. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time visitor or if you’ve been there numerous times. That first glimpse of this ancient architectural trio looming up as you come around the bend is a jaw-dropping visual drama that dwarfs anything Hollywood could come up with. Nevermind the fact they’re still standing after five thousand years, it’s an awesome feeling soaking in the magnitude of these ancient treasures totally dominating the vastness of the seemingly endless desert and where thousands of visitors daily celebrate the magic allure of their presence.

Dozens of Arab vendors selling everything from postcards, guide books, head scarves, statues and faux jewelry, to camel drivers and horseback riding young men leading several horses, attack the tourist throngs head-on in jovial commercial warfare, challenging enraptured tourists with a melange of sales war cries: “It doesn’t cost you anything to look; Where you from; my cousin lives in [fill in the blank because he will if you actually tell him where you’re from]; Get your picture taken on my camel, it won’t cost you anything; I’ll give you my absolutely lowest price; I don’t charge anything, I’m going to give it to you.” Well, you get the idea. Professional guides will tell you the best place for getting the best pictures of all three pyramids and dealing with the best-behaved vendors is on the plateau overlooking the three mammoth monuments. Here, too, you’ll find reasonably priced camel and horseback rides or pay a minimal fee for having your picture taken atop either.

Nearby—actually just about 300 yards from the second pyramid, is the Sphinx, a battered but unbeaten, timeless and international symbol of power and honor. Up-close and personal, the Sphinx is more than just an old massive statue—sprawled majestically against a backdrop of regal mountains, its desecrated, but still proud human head and face sits ferociously regal atop its powerful lion body. Originally constructed to symbolically guard the tombs of the pharaohs and built at the same time of the second pyramid, it was meant as a symbol of power.

The last visit of the day was to the remains of Memphis, or more accurately, the cemetery that has been in active use for over three thousand years. The one-time capital of Egypt’s name derives from the Pyramid of Pepy I at Saqqara, which is Menafur, a word that translates as “the good place.” The town was originally called Ineb Hedj, which translates as “the white wall.” There’s a museum that has an eclectic collection of remains from the city, but its main attraction is a huge and detailed stone statue of the Pharaoh Ramses 2, complete with an intriguing smile, reportedly put there for his reputation of giving the royal treatment to no less than 45 ladies in his entourage. Now that’s majestic.

Next it was off to Luxor for a 4-night cruise aboard the newly renovated, 140 passenger m/s Tamr Henna—a member of the Egyptian hospitality company, Coral Sea Resort. After departing at about 5:15 a.m. from the elegant Four Seasons and a surprisingly quick trip to the Cairo airport and the Egypt Air domestic terminal, it became painfully obvious early-birds do not fly alone. Huge tourist buses were lined up like an invading armada, while an army of luggage carriers swarmed all over them, quickly emptying the bowels of the buses of hundreds of suitcases, then wearily lugging them up to the entrance for the first of two security checks. Tour groups from France, Italy Japan and who knows where else, jostled one another for territory, while tour group managers ran about shepherding their charges.