Our trip to Egypt began with a bang: And by bang, I mean it began with a tour through a Jewish socialist community an hour outside of Egypt. Those within the Jewish socialist community refer to themselves as the Yotvata Kibbutz. But that’s just a euphemism for what they really are: a Jewish socialist community. Our personal tour guide and propagandist explained to us the many benefits of socialist community life. The advantages include:
-Equality for all
-Freedom from want
-Freedom from care
-Everybody loves their neighbor
-Nobody does anything less than what they believe their share might possibly be.
-So on and so forth.
The only cons, we were led to believe were that, being such a close-knit community, people tended to gossip, and also that some people like to take advantage of the community and try to steal the money for their own gain. That’s it.
Dinner was at the kibbutz’ restaurant, and there we spent several hours walking around in crazy circles as part of what they called a Jewish dance, but I suspect they were just making fun of us unknowing tourists. We also ate ice cream made right there on the kibbutz (and it was, admittedly, quite good.)
We left that place of peace and joy and stayed the night in another kibbutz, but this one was different from the other one, because it was privatized and aimed at tourists. I liked it more than the other one.
Border crossings make me nervous. It’s not that I’m a particularly dangerous person, nor do I have plans to become a dangerous person in the future. But I’m always afraid that they’re going to suspect me of something, or they’re going to think my MP3 player looks suspiciously like a bomb, or that a million other things might go wrong that cause them to detain me. In the U.S. that wouldn’t be so bad – I speak English, most Americans speak English – I could defend myself and explain anything that seemed suspicious about me. But here they speak broken English (at best), and they might mistake my trying to defend myself as a confession and use that as an excuse to execute me on the spot. Or to at least throw me into an Egyptian prison for a couple of years (which, I guess, is better than a Turkish prison, but still.)
I blame Dad for my paranoia.
In spite of my fears, we made it through safely and in a lot less time than we had been told it would probably take. We got onto our new (shiny) Egyptian buses and continued on our journey.
That is, we got on the buses after AnnaLisa and I had taken a few pictures so we could prove to Dad that we had indeed beaten him to Egypt and Africa. (As it turned out, the border crossing didn’t actually mark the crossing into Africa, but that’s not the point.)
Our first stop in Egypt was (anti-climatically) a rest stop. There we had lunch with the local cats, who liked to slink against our legs at unexpected moments.
We then paid a tip to be granted access to the restrooms, which consisted of small booths with semi-functional doors and a hole in the ground, plus a hose. (One word: Scumbuzzling.)
One hour and 1000 hand washings later we continued on our journey.
After many hours of riding through the desert (on a bus with no name) we crossed underneath the Suez Canal, which, I have been led to understand, marks the real boundary between Asia and Africa.
But of course, it doesn’t really matter where the real border crossing was located. The point is that we beat Dad to Africa. Right?
I love large cities. There’s something I find endlessly fascinating about so much humanity living together in such a relatively small space. Cairo is one of the largest of all cities (it’s one of the ten biggest in the world, even larger than New York City, if I’m not mistaken.) Later in our trip we got to a point where we could look over the entire city (or, as far as the haze would allow us to see) and I was blown away by how vast the city really was. Buildings spread as far as the eye could see in every direction (you could just barely make out the hazy silhouette of the pyramids in the far distance.)
Speaking of which, the moment we caught our first glimpse of the pyramids, silhouetted against the “modern” buildings of the Cairo skyline (semi-modern, as in they looked like they might fall in the event of a small earthquake) was one of those sure to never be forgotten moments in my life. There’s something almost mystical about seeing something in person that you’ve seen reproduced so many times in photographs and movies and so on (it was kind of like seeing the Acropolis for the first time, only different.) It’s just too bad that Dad has never seen those things before.
We stayed that night in a fairly nice hotel in Giza, not too far from the Giza Plateau (upon which the pyramids rest.) The beds in the hotel were nice and clean, and I appreciated them even more when we returned to the hotel after spending two nights in beds that weren’t nice and clean. But we’ll get to that later.
The next morning we went to the pyramids. They’re really cool.
On the outside.
After a (long-winded) 20-minute lecture from our Egyptian tour guide (jerk), given to us while we sat on a bus less than a hundred meters from the pyramids (yes, meters. I’m not in America, I’m going to use the rest of the world’s vastly superior measuring system while I have the chance.) If only I had known the horrors that awaited me within the pyramid, I would have gladly been willing to sit on the bus for another two hours (but no more, because the tour guide really was kind of annoying.) We did get off the bus, at which point I began to be stalked and harassed by a souvenir seller guy that sounded something like this:
The (Lying, Manipulative, Ridiculously Annoying) Merchant of Giza
Souvenir Seller Guy: “Please take this, it’s free.”
(Man tries to give me a plastic bag containing an unidentified garment. I refuse.)
Souvenir Seller Guy: “Free. Gift for Ramadan."
(He tries again to shove the package into my hands. Fails. I speed up to catch up to my group, but he continues chasing me, in spite of the millions of other tourists on the plateau who, I’m sure, would have been gladly willing to take his free gift.)
Souvenir Seller Guy: “Free, please, hello, it’s for you.”
(He opens up the package, takes out the still unidentified garment, shoves it under my arm against my will, I try to hand it back to him, he refuses.)
Souvenir Seller Guy: “Only $1!”
Me: No, no, la’ la’, please no, thank you, go away, I hate you.
Souvenir Seller Guy: “Free! Only $1!”
(I shove it back into his arms, and run to catch up my group.)
Souvenir Seller Guy: (calling futilely after me) “Free! Free!”
So we get to the pyramid, and we start walking inside, and I’m horrified to discover that the tunnel that leads into the heart of the pyramid is too small for me. That is, the tunnel was designed for people under 90 centimeters, and I’m significantly taller than that. In fact, most adult humans are significantly taller than that. So I’m not entirely sure who it was designed for, but it certainly wasn’t for humans. Still, I was anxious to see what treasures lay at the center of the pyramid (treasures so precious that we weren’t even allowed to bring our cameras inside, for fear, I imagined, that pictures of the treasures would be leaked to the outside world, and people would see how astonishingly beautiful those treasures were and everyone in the world would flock to the pyramids at once to lay their eyes upon the surpassingly beautiful stuff, and there’s no way Cairo could contain the entire population of the world, so that’s why they don’t let us take pictures, to avoid a sudden worldwide immigration to Cairo), and so I pressed on, my heart full of gleeful anticipation. So I crouched, and “walked” down the sloping path straight into the mouth of He… Err…
It’s very hot inside the pyramid.
Lots of people are inside the pyramid, many trying to go in, many trying to leave (understandably.)
And you walk a long, long ways using muscles that should never have to be used, and the heat is stifling, and people are pushing, and the walls are pushing in, and you reach the end and… There’s nothing. An empty room.
That’s what lies at the heart of the pyramid.
The real reason they don’t want us to take pictures inside the pyramids: So their fraud isn’t exposed. But, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to expose the fraud. To pay to go inside the pyramid is no more a better way of spending than your money than if you paid to go walk through the sewers of your local city. In fact, I’d suggest that paying to go walking through the sewers of your local city would be a better use of your money, because there their would be fewer people and the air would be fresher.
I left the pyramid, feeling nearer to death than I ever have before, and for the rest of the day (or most of it, at least) the hot Egyptian wind felt rather cool.
We walked around for a long while, took lots of pictures, (they’re still pretty cool – from the outside,) and then we got back on the bus.
We drove along the plateau a ways until we got to a place with lots of camels and some more annoying merchants. We ignored the merchants, got some cool panoramic pictures of the main pyramids, and then got on the camels. Camels are pretty fantastic. Camel drivers are not. Ours wanted an extra $1, merely for taking three (poorly framed, lame) photographs of us atop the camel. That was in addition to the $2 we had already given him as a tip, and the money our tour guide had paid. Lame.
After our lovely but over-priced camel rides we proceeded to drive away from the pyramids, towards Saqarra and Memphis. It was in that area that we saw the Step Pyramid of Zoser, which is kind of like the bigger pyramids, except it’s smaller and different. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of it, so I won’t bother to explain it’s appearance. Our (long winded) tour guide (jerk) gave us another (long winded) lecture, and unfortunately by the time he was done we only had about ten minutes at the actual site of the pyramid (it was closing for the day.) So we were kicked out by the tourism police and I wished vengeance on our (long winded) tour guide (jerk.)
We then ate dinner at another fantastically (un-) hygienic restaurant and once again found cats rubbing against our legs at unexpected moments. In fact, every non-hotel restaurant we ate at had cats wandering around it. As did the room we held Sacrament in on Saturday. But that’s a story for a later date.
That night we boarded a train for Luxor.
I hate trains.
But I’ll tell you why in my next entry.
Which is to say: