6 – Explorer of the Pyramids

06.10.2017

The second day of my stay in Cairo was something special – time to explore the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara. Seeing this Ancient Wonder of the World. Saying that I was excited would have been the understatement of the year.

However, the day started slightly delayed – for some reasons I did not select ok when setting my alarm. So I woke up at 8am, and I was supposed to be picked up by 8:30. Great. The positive of waking up – the view. I cannot explain how awesome it is to be in bed and seeing the Sphinx and pyramids from my bed. What a perfect way to start a day.

Unfortunately I had to hurry packing my bag and get breakfast. Breakfast is served next to reception, with fresh bread, some cheese, mixed salad and other local food. Instead of sitting at one of the tables I took my breakfast upstairs to the terrace and enjoyed the food with a stunning view of the pyramids. I still couldn’t believe that I was here. I must admit, I took plenty of photos and made sure that my colleagues back home got them on time for starting another working day. Is this too harsh and mean???

Mina was already waiting for me downstairs, and with 30 minutes delay I was sitting in the car and off we went. Seeing everything in front of the guesthouse I was surprised we drove away from the pyramids, until I realised we took a detour to get to the main entrance. And then I was surprised to ask to take all my belongings with me out of the car to get the tickets and go through security. The issue is that I had a camera tripod with me – and they are not allowed at the whole pyramid area, Well, Mina promised the security guys that it went back to the car.

Thankfully the ticket purchase was a bit easier. I decided not to go inside the Great Pyramid of Giza and get a ticket for the smallest one, Menkaure. I made the decision based on some reviews and advise. I must admit, now I regret the decision!!!

All the formalities sorted and my main bag back in the car it was time – time to see the Great Pyramid close-by. I always wanted to see them, and having the view from my room was amazing. But nothing compares it to stand in front of it. OH MY GOD. The size really hit me. OK – now the item was off my very long bucket list. I was certainly happy. Slightly regretting already not being able to go inside I joined the queue to the entrance to walk on the pyramids. Standing next to the massive stones gave me a good indication about the amazing workmanship of this construct. So even if you do not have a ticket for entering the pyramid. It is something different to be just a few metres off the ground.

I was made aware of the various tactics of the local vendors, and one unlucky man tried to build a rapport. While I took a selfie he constantly told me where the stairs are. After the 3rd time I used some friendly words to let him know to leave me alone – ok, some of the words might have started with “f..”. At least he left me alone – for 1 minute. Finding the stair down to the ground on my own he apologised and without any warning I had a headscarf on my head, as he stated as apology. He then pushed me some postcards in my hand and suddenly asked me for money. Well – I liked the headscarf and I kept the postcards, so I gave him 50LE. The face was priceless. I stated he asked me for some money, and didn’t say how much. He thought he can scam me, bad idea. Good deal for me – bad deal for him. He should just have left me alone. And no – I didn’t feel guilty at all.

Now wearing head protection from the sun we went back to the car and headed to the other pyramids. Mina asked if I would be interested in a Camel ride to Menkaure. Well – you might not be here very often, so I decided to do it. So following the road passing the other two pyramids we arrived at the end of the road, which is clearly the camel station. Before heading to my camel, it was more time to take more photos of the pyramids (can you ever take too many photo???). Done my duty I met my camel and the guide. As I paid Mina I assume I paid a fee to him as well, and that not 100% of the amount went straight to the guide. I guess this is how business works in Egypt.

So making myself comfortable on the camel the 30 minute tour to Menkaure started. I have ridden a camel before, but it is still unusual. But going through a little stretch of the desert was nice, with some nice views (and more photos) of the pyramids. Touristy – certainly. Worth it? Hell yes.hile. I think the ride to the Sphinx must be even better. Unfortunately, the guide took a little shortcut and I missed a famous spot where you can see the three pyramids in line. TBH, I didn’t know I missed it until after the ride.

Meeting Mina again in front of the entrance of the smallest pyramid Menkaure (which is still impressive standing in front of it) it was time to go inside. No cameras are allowed inside, so having a guide is helpful as I left mine with Mina. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect – but from the entrance I walked down a steep tunnel into a small “entrance chamber”, followed by a narrow path into a small room where I guess some sarcophagus might have placed in the past. It was small, humid – but very interesting. Maybe too interesting, as while walking forward to the next steep downhill path I was too distracted by everything else in the room and missed a little step – and was suddenly on the floor, my shin hitting one of the iron bars on the floor. Well – it was not pleasant, I actually felt a little bit sick due to pain. Well, my shin was not even any longer. Great, was I dying inside the pyramid? Gathering all my strength I continued to go down further inside the pyramid to the last room – where I assume was the last resting place of the pharaoh. It was fascinating being inside – even with the pain I felt.

Scrambling out, tears in my eyes, I left the humid inside of the pyramid, and was standing outside in the heat. I survived my excursion into one of the famous pyramid, able to tell the tales. Yes, it was an experience. But I was slightly worried due to the way I fell onto the iron bar and seeing my shin. But as I was able to walk I assumed it cannot be that bad – at least it cannot be broken, at least I guessed that.

Back in the car we drove towards the exit, unfortunately not stopping at the Khafre Pyramid. There was also no indication to stop next to the Sphinx, until I told them to stop. How can I visit the area without seeing the Sphinx. So along the main road I got out of the car to enjoy the Sphinx from closer distance. And yes – it is impressive. And beautiful. Unfortunately you cannot enjoy this wonderful sight in peace as some vendors trying to sell you things, or in my case, removing my headscarf (I was then told it is called keffiyeh) and put it back on in an orderly manner without asking, and then asking for money. They are so fast you cannot react. Obviously I did not give any money – but it is so annoying.

I actually insisted that I wanted to be as close as possible to the Sphinx (driver and Mina were not too happy about that). So off to the car park and walking into the complex. And the effort was worth it. You cannot be close enough to the magnificent, beautiful, noseless monument. Unfortunately some attempts of doing one of the famous photos (i.e. me kissing the Sphinx) were not successful – so my only memory was the experience and the usual photos.

Now being a happy man it was time to go back to the car and heading out towards the next destination of the day – Saqqara. It took around an hour to get there, time to sit back, relax, enjoy the AC in the car, rest my painful leg and enjoy the view from the car. And time to reflect the visit to the Giza Plateau. It was absolute fascinating, but I felt then that it was rushed. I like taking my time, but I think I could have easily spent more time there, stopping at all three pyramids. I can be a nightmare for some guides, as I love taking my time. But for some reason I let them rush me a bit (well – except for the Sphinx). I really got the benefit of a guide and car, but sometimes I realised why I prefer doing things in my own pace.

Well – I had to leave the mixed feelings behind as we arrived at Saqqara. This area has apparently quite a few pyramids to offer, but the highlight is (according to the guide and online research) the stepped Pyramid of Djoser. Apparently this is the oldest cut stone construction in Egypt – dating back 27th Century BC. That is around 4700 years old!!!!! My head is still spinning around thinking about that age.

So while it is the smallest pyramid I have seen so far – it is still very impressive (for such a young building…). So getting a first glimpse from the car we headed to a kind of entrance gate, also known as the Funeral Complex. Seeing the slightly intact front, this must have been a grand sight at the time. The entrance through this building is rather impressive, with pillars on both sides of the pathway – which lead to the square in front of the pyramid. Impressive. Less impressive as the area near that opening was full of the usual vendors offering horse or camel rides, some of them slightly persistent. But apparently I learned how to look very annoyed, so they left me alone. Mina explained the history of the whole complex while climbing up some stairs, offering a nice view of the surrounding area. It is not just the one pyramid there. There are still the ruins of old tombs, houses etc. It all looked very impressive. Walking along the upper path we arrived next to the pyramid, slightly over the ground, offering some nice views of the pyramid, but also the vast desert area. Lots of sand out there I can tell.

So after maybe 20 minutes Mina said we should head back to the car. What? Really? No way. I told him I want to spend some time – so he said he will wait at the car. Well, it would have been nice to explore the area with a guide, but I didn’t mind having some time for myself. So he went back to the car, I still enjoyed the view I had. For the next hour (yes, sometimes I am a bit crazy) I walked around the complex, seeing some of the old ruins, the complex of Pharaoh Unas. I saw an entrance, but as I was on my own, and considering my earlier accident I decided it would not be a good idea to head inside. So instead I saw some burial shafts and between all the ruins I somehow managed to find a path to a little hill that offered a great view of some pyramids in the distance.

After I covered the ruins, I headed back to the step pyramid – and standing directly in front of it gave me even a better impression of the pure size, and how great of a construct this building is, considering it is 4700 years old (I might have mentioned before). I think having some time in the car to think about it made me realise how privileged I am to see this site, being on this very historic ground. It is mind-blowing.

Thinking that I saw enough of the stunning area I headed back unto the funeral complex, and saw a small path leading to the top of the funeral building. Climbing up there – and I got a nice view of the pathway of the complex and the pyramid. Sometimes taking your time is worth it.

Happy that I took my time, Mina was happy to see me and able to leave the area. Next stop was Memphis. For some reason I was more keen to see the sights on the way. I asked to stop a few times as I wanted to see some areas that reminded me of SEA (it really looked like rice fields in Vietnam), or because camels passing by.

Soon we arrived at Memphis – at the Open Air Museum to be precise. This museum holds some impressive items found in Memphis. The most impressive one is certainly the massive limestone statue of Ramses II. Heading to the first floor provides a nice view of this statue. Mina provided some interesting details of it, and then provided a little bit more information of or two other exhibits – and then I was on my own again. This turned out to be the minimum guidance.

No problem, I just walked around a bit, saw the little brother of the Sphinx, another statue of Ramses at the end of a nice “Palm Alley”, old sarcophagus, statues and other items found in Memphis. I also had some nice conversation with a couple from the US.

But it was time to head back to the car. It was 3pm and I was asked if I still want to visit Dashur before heading back to Cairo to catch the bus to Sharm. It would have been an extra $10, so not a lot of money. But for whatever reason I thought it would be a wise decision to try to get the earlier bus back, so 16:30 instead of 18:30. I know, I know. I have no idea what crazy person made the decision. How often do you visit Egypt and Cairo. I should have gone to Dashur. But the silly version of me was happy to sit back and head back to Cairo (I am still kicking myself for that stupid stupid decision). So after only 40 minutes we were near the bus station when I realised I had no lunch – so quick stop at a small place to have a shawarma. Not a big lunch, but it was tasty.

So just before 4pm I was back where the trip started – the bus station near Tahir Square. Mina helped me to get the bus ticket. And that was the end of the tour.

So what was my thought about Excursion Cairo Tour? It had its advantages, but I felt it was too rushed at times and I got the impression that there was a slight push towards places they receive a bonus. Here is my overall rating.

Having enjoyed the nice luxury bus to Cairo, Go-Bus only had the standard deluxe bus leaving Cairo during the day. So no single seat for me, and no screen in front of me. Just the standard bus. Luckily I had no one sitting next to me, so at least I had enough space for me to stretch.

The bus left on time and I slightly enjoyed getting a last view of Cairo while heading out – via one more stop to get more passenger. Getting out of Cairo actually gives an impression how large Cairo actually is. But at some point – we left Cairo.

While on the bus I contacted the dive centre in Sharm what tour was planned the next day (yes – this was on my mind when planning the earlier return to Sharm). Unfortunately I was advised that the tour went to Thistlegorm. I say unfortunately as they left at 5am – and this was too early as I was not sure when I am back in Sharm. So not joining the daily boat but the potential to get some shore dives.

Well – I thought this would still be a nice option – but this was before I knew what was to happen during the journey back. While the way to Cairo took only 6 hours, the return trip took 10 hours. I couldn’t count the amount of security checks we had to stop. And of course the constant stopping didn’t help to sleep a lot either. The only highlight was a stop for some food, where I got the best grilled meat shawarma I ever had. I had two!!!

Otherwise it was a very long journey. So just before 2am we arrived in Sharm – unfortunately not at the Go Bus stop in town – but somewhere in the middle of nowhere. And for some reason it was not clear what happened. Does the bus go to town, or not. ALl remaining passengers were ushered to a minibus, waiting there for 10 minutes, before getting into another bus. After some more waiting we finally left the bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Well – the positive was the bus brought every passenger to the hotel. So at 2:45 I was finally back in the hotel. Tired, ok – very tired – I was so happy to fell into my bed for some rest. It seems the long anticipated trip to Cairo finished on a rather low than high. I should have taken the plane!!!

Recommendation

  • If you have only one night, I would stay in Giza again. Having the view over the pyramids from your guesthouse is just something very special
  • Yes – the camel ride is worth it. If you do not head into Menkaure, take the longer ride to the Sphinx. I wish I would have taken it
  • Make sure no guide is rushing you. I could have easily spent more time at the pyramids
  • Ignore all vendors. If they push you something in your hands, let it fall to the ground. Or pay them what you think it is worth
  • Saqqara is worth a trip. Make sure you explore the ruins on the other side of the step pyramid
  • If you have a choice between Memphis Museum and Dashur – I would now choose Dashur
  • I didn’t mind the night bus to Cairo, but I would now always fly back from Cairo. I would have saved a lot of time, could have seen more of Cairo and had a good night sleep the next day. This was one the things I really regret
  • And yes – I think Cairo is worth a visit. Maybe three days would have given me more time to see a bit of Cairo, but two days gives you a good initial impression. I would certainly not do a day trip to Cairo. It would be too rushed for me

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