The heat was smothering as we stepped out of Cairo Airport and made our way to Isis Hotel. Thick, enveloping and dry – with a nice hot breeze to match. It felt as though someone was holding a giant hair dryer to my face as I wound down the window, but any breeze was better than no breeze at all.
We had a restful afternoon after our flight from Jordan, and made ourselves at home in the hotel with the air-conditioning pumping. We used the time to make some plans for the next few days, and decided that tomorrow would be the best bet for the pyramids. We are only in Cairo for a few days over the 18 days in Egypt, and decided against maybe better judgement to kick off proceedings at 4am the next day for a sunrise tour of some of Egypt’s most famous sights – Giza, Dahshur and Saqqara pyramids.
The morning was tough – a 4am wake up after only 5 hours sleep – and the light from the city outside was exactly as I’d left it when I went to bed. We sipped tea and had eggs on toast before heading out at 5am for Giza, about 40 minutes away. Our driver, Ali, would be driving us to all sights we wished to visit, but would be ‘outsourcing’ the first part – a camel or horse ride to view the famous pyramids of Giza at sunrise. As he waited back at the car, no doubt catching a few more z’s, we negotiated a price for two camels to take us to see the pyramids. Negotiating with Egyptians appears to be difficult, but even more so this morning with such little sleep and with the sun rising quickly as we haggled. Eventually we settled on a price and set off slowly for the hills to see the sunrise.
We caught glimpses of the pyramids as we rode but the eventual view was pretty amazing. We were a few hundred metres away, as the gates didn’t open until 8am, but you could still get a sense of how huge these pyramids are. Thousands of years old and in better condition than buildings much younger around the world. Built without the technical equipment we have today, and mostly just built as tombs for kings, queens and important society figures. You’d expect with each pyramid built, the next king or queen would demand theirs be bigger, but this isn’t the case. Often they would just try to make theirs stand out in a different way – stepped finish, smooth finish, location, or even the angle of the pyramid itself. In one case, King Chephren of the fourth dynasty asked for a big lump of rock to be removed from in front of his pyramid site, so people would have a clearly view. However he was convinced to make something of the rock and instead it was turned into the sphinx!
After our camel ride we set off for Dahshur, or the bent pyramid. It is further out than the others, but we made it with 5 minutes to spare before the gates opened and were the first ones to arrive. The owner of this pyramid feared that the angle was too steep as it was being built, and decided half way up to make a change. Thus the bent pyramid of Dahshur came about. Next to it, about 1500 metres away, is the Red pyramid, so called because from a distance it looks red. Original stuff, you could say.
Next came Saqqara and the museum of Imhotep. Imhotep was a scientist, doctor and engineer, perhaps the pioneer of pyramid building all those years ago. The museum was amazing – small, but filled with artefacts that are anywhere between 4500 – 2000 years old. Bronze figures, medical devices, jewellery and hair pieces – all in pristine condition. Imhotep has his own museum here at Saqqara because through his work over the years building pyramids for kings and their queens. But as Ali tells us, perhaps the most important point is that he was bald, which was considered a sign of supreme intelligence at the time. If only that were the case now, Shane Warne could have saved himself the hassle…
Finally we made it back to Giza to see the pyramids up close. As the hours ticked over though, the temperature guage had been creeping up rather quickly and even before lunch we were tired, dehydrated and desperate for cool air. I was feeling rather faint so I stuck to the air-conditioned car as much as possible, and Ali was a real star in driving us as close as he could to all the sights. By 3pm we had pretty much peaked with the pyramids and the sphinx at the end and decided to retire for the afternoon. The management at Isis Hotel were kind enough to offer us a cool room to relax and shower before our night bus that evening – that’s right, we seemed to have forgotten that we were spending 10 hours on a bus that night to get to Siwa, an oasis in the north west of Egypt. Suddenly, the 4am start that day didn’t seem like the best idea.
Overall the pyramids were pretty amazing… but maybe not as amazing as I had expected. I could also blame the heat, which really was suffocating. I could also blame general soreness from weeks of travel. You’d think the thick, hot air of Cairo might have acted like a sauna for our weary muscles but apparently not. Then there was the lack of sleep – and that’s something that never fails to affect me. Perhaps we’ll make it back to the pyramids before we leave Egypt, to see them at sunset, away from the crowds and the hot lunchtime haze. But if not, that’ll be ok too – there is plenty more to Egypt than the pyramids!