My first dreams of Egypt began at my grandmother’s home where my monthly ritual of reading National Geographic Magazine began. There I was–a seven-year-old curled up in an overstuffed chair with my bobby socked feet curled under my Catholic school uniform as I learned about chasing the sun to grasp eternal life. Although the thought of having my brains picked out of my nose during the mummy process gave me pause.

Now older and not necessarily wiser, I searched the risks verses rewards which included negative perceptions in the States about Egypt. My clock keeps ticking and I was done waiting for the perfect time to see these mystic wonders and astounding artifacts. All of us live in an imperfect world. Holding my breath, I clicked the purchase this trip button with Overseas Adventure Travel. Then I went to a book store to purchase The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany.(amazing look at Egyptian culture and the revolution.)

Since we flew in a day early, Bonnye and I booked a driver through the concierge service to take us to the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid at the royal necropolis of Dahshur and to the burial city of Saqqara. It was a fascinating drive, even though our driver got lost and we passed military carrying AK-47’s. Luckily, none of them saw Bonnye taking this picture or else we might still be in jail. ( I highly recommend NOT taking pictures of military anywhere in the world)

Bent Pyramid

This early transitional pyramid is bent because good ol’ Pharaoh Sneferu couldn’t quite figure out the geometry in his quest for a smooth limestone tomb. See the bend half way up? Before the fourth dynasty, all pyramids were step-shaped. This was Sneferu’s second attempt for a geometric tomb after the disaster of the sinking Black Pyramid that is also in Dahshur. The change in angle might also have happened if the building started to become unstable.

It was a kick to walk (and crawl) through the steep shaft down to the two large corbelled chambers built 4,600 years ago. Let me add that there were few people visiting that day, which was great. Imagine being inside the belly of a pyramid with people moving in both directions. It would be impossible with crowds. The added benefit was being able to feel like a real archeologist discovering an empty tomb. The Bent was closed for 50 years because of a nearby army camp so it was an honor to be able to explore.

*** on a side note–if ticket takers offer to take your picture, you are expected to pay them!!!***

Red Pyramid

It took Sneferu three times to figure out the right angle for his tomb in Dahshur. The Red limestone pyramid is the first success as well as the third largest such edifice in Egypt. (His son went on to build the largest–more on that later). It was covered in white Tura limestone but people in Cairo took the blocks for their own buildings. It’s thought that the man known as “the good pharaoh” was buried in the three chambered Red Pyramid. A mummy was found there but it disappeared. Keep an eye out for it on ebay.

There have been recent finds from a queen’s tomb nearby and there are at least 11 other tombs that haven’t been explored yet.

Saggara Necropolis

Nearby the Dashur pyramids is the city of the dead for royalty and merchants from the ancient city of Memphis. It covers an area of 4.3 miles by 0.9 and was surrounded by a 32 foot wall. There are some burials from the second dynasty but It all went crazy with the third dynasty step-pyramid (of Djoser). Everyone wanted to spend eternity with the rock-star king’s so it expanded with an entry courtyard, a court of 40 columns, open courtyards and many smaller tombs called mastabas. Rituals and burials happened here for 3,000 years.

I found several tombs to be very interesting. Idut was the daughter of King Teti (6th dynasty, circa 2,360 B.C.) Her tomb shows every day life with hunters, fishermen, and even a relief of herself carved on the wall. Head west to Inefert’s tomb. He was the prince Vizier and on the walls is a carving of them entering a bedroom with two beds that servants are preparing. The other tomb we tripped on by accident as it’s away from the main complex. Maya, the treasurer of Tutankhamun has beautiful carved walls.

***Be prepared—there are men at the main entrance who act like they’re going to show you around. At first I thought it was included in the entry to the UNESCO World Heritage site. But I quickly figured out that they wanted to be paid. I stopped the man rushing us down the entry hallway and said, “I don’t want a guide. I won’t pay you!” He continued to follow and tried to show us things. I told him at least 3 more times that I wouldn’t pay him before he got snippy and made comments about “you’re rich from America.” I had to raise my voice to get him to leave us alone. It happened again at Maya’s tomb. I again warned the man who ended up cursing me. We were so frustrated we didn’t finish looking at the tombs in that direction. I’m certain that if we had a man with us this would have been handled quickly and quietly.***

2 thoughts on “Seeking Eternity in Cairo (part 1)

  1. We visited Saggara on our honeymoon 21 years ago when we spent a month in Egypt/Jordan. And the baksheesh the Egyptians demanded CONSTANTLY for services not requested, not wanted, nor appreciated frustrated us to the same point as you–we simply gave us trying to visit the rest of the pyramid, the museum, the tomb, the whatever it was that we were trying to see on our own. Sucked the joy out every excursion, sadly, killing desire to leave the hotel room after awhile. We figured we spent at least $1000 US in those kind of “tips” that we couldn’t get out of or risk not getting our cameras back that men snatched out of our hands, or threatening that we would have to swim to shore unless we paid an exorbinate fee for them to sail us back in the Nile. The whole tipping guilt trip, by angry touts certainly left a bad taste that’s still there all these years later. I think the only way to visit Egypt is in the protective bubble of a group with a knowledgeable local guide, and not attempt to do independently like we did. Egypt truly has some stunning sights seen nowhere else on earth but a shame that the experience is tainted by greed.

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    • 21 years ago was such a different era–and I’m certain that the poverty was worse than it is right now. But you’re right, this attitude can ruin a trip. This attitude isn’t exclusive to Egypt. It occurs wherever there is poverty. Today, I think the people who manhandle tourists are certainly poor and they view us as rich, from privledge and that it means nothing for us to “share”. In Cairo, there is a cemetery where the poor have moved in—squatters that now live in the city of the dead. Social services and education are lacking for these people who fight for food and a place to sleep. But I also thought at the time that we were treated this way because we were women without a male escort. Educated Egyptian women are working hard to overcome sexism. It wasn’t that long ago that they were beaten down by the extremists. We did join a small tour group and your point is well taken. Our male guides were always in the background and they quietly intervened with the worse offenders. I’ll also be honest and tell you that since the 1997 killings the US consulate requires an armed guard for all foreign travelers. I never felt unsafe and know that the military/police presence is to prevent the extremists from causing harm again.
      I hope in future submissions to show the beautiful Egyptian people.

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