We were going to Egypt. We caught a very early bus to Tel Aviv because we'd been told that we should be at the travel agency no later than 8:30 to pay and get on the bus. Yeah, right. No one was there when we arrived and there was no sign of the bus either. We staked the place out from a little cafe across the street and made it look good by having coffee, tea and muffins. I went in to use the WC, which was upstairs. It was dark and I couldn't find the bathroom light. I looked all over and finally found it in the stairwell. Of course, it had a huge sign over it announcing its existance, but you'd never look there. It was very funny. (I guess you had to be there...)
The highly incompetent young woman and completely unfunny older man from yesterday arrived at the travel agency, but there was no sign of the guy we'd made the deal with. Ms. Incompetent claimed not to know us or have any recollection of our reservations. Mr. Hilarious told us that if you paid the same day you left there was a 10% surcharge. I think Paul was afraid I was going to deck the guy. I'd had just about enough of his brand of humor. Paul just quietly said that we'd agreed on a price yesterday and either it held or we weren't going. It worked.
The bus had arrived, a small one. It appeared that the bus shuttled people back and forth from Egypt with whomever wanted a ride, not just package tourists. We just had the two daypacks for luggage but most people had much more. It all went into the last row. Finally we were ready to go. It was more like 9:30 and Mr. Hilarious, accompanied by his wife (or perhaps mistress) would be accompanying us. Oh joy.
It didn't take long at all to get to Gaza, and the drive through was kind of anticlimactic. From the news reports, you expect to turn every corner and find yourself in the middle of a fight between young guys throwing rocks and the military, but it was quite calm. There were checkpoints but we were used to those by now. We arrived at the Rafah border crossing into the Sinai Desert. The crossing is actually a compound, sort of a truce zone. We entered on the Israeli side after driving through a no man's zone surrounded by rolls of barbed wire, and the bus stopped in front of a guard gate. a man got on the bus. He said nothing but his eyes penetrated each of us. He was like an Israeli Betazed (an empath or sensitive for you non-Trekies) scrutinizing our minds for evil plans of terrorism. He was deadly serious, and we knew it, but quite friendly once he was done. Once through the gate, we all got off the bus and entered the Israeli section for Embarking. This part was fairly straightforward. If you didn't have your Embarkation card (we'd been given them when we arrived in Israel), you could fill out another one, no problem. Then we all got back on the bus and were driven to the Egyptian side. There, we were instructed to bring all our luggage with us. I began to be very glad we were travelling so light. The Egyptian side was more relaxed but you had to pay more. On the Israeli side, we'd had to pay an exit tax, but in Egypt, which is hugely reliant on tourism income, you pay both ways, in and out. The line to get through got all jumbled with people fighting to get to the front just so they could get their hands on the form you had to fill out to be in that line. There was line for Egyptians, which had about three people go through it and then the guy behind the counter sat idle, and then our line, which was long and impatient, not that that had any effect on our guy. While we were in line, someone came up and demanded our hotel voucher. He had a photocopied list with our names on it so we assumed it was okay, but we'd read so many stories about phony "officials" in Egypt with authentic-looking credentials that we mentally prepared ourselves for the worst. I tried to keep track of this guy but lost him in all the jostling in line.
Once we were all through Immigration and back outside, it all became clear. We were switching to a new bus and the guy who took our vouchers was our new driver. Egypt has a law that foreign cars crossing the border must don Egyptian licence plates. This is probably a genuine money-making scheme, but it's also to disguise the car from standing out as a foreign one. Ever since the killing of all those foreign tourists in 1993, the Egyptians have done quite a lot to ensure that tourists are secure. In fact, we found out a few minutes later that not only would we be ensconced in an Egyptian bus, but we would be grouped together with all the other tour busses arriving that day in a giant convoy flanked by military police escorts. I didn't know whether this should make me feel better or worse. It was very exciting though, especially after the first hour, when the drivers started getting bored and played "chicken" games with each other. The rear police guard seemed too think our bus was travelling too slowly. It's true we weren't keeping up with the rest of the pack. I don't know if our driver was too timid or if his admittedly lame bus wasn't powerful enough. The police seemed convinced that it was because they had a superior Toyota truck. The busses themselves spent the time passing each other amid much honking of horns.
The Sinai Desert was pretty amazing. I was unprepared for just how huge the vast expanse of white sand would be. To me it all looked undifferentiated, I couldn't see where the tracks were, how land plots were divided, etc. It was all too subtle for me. Fairly substantial cement houses stood right next to Bedouin thatch huts. Goats, camels and sheep seemed to have nothing but sand to graze on. Women sat together in the sand, seemingly anywhere. I couldn't understand why they'd picked that particular spot. There was no shade from date palm trees, no house nearby. It was all overwhelmingly incomprehensible. But fascinating.
It took twelve hours to arrive in Cairo, but we had spent a couple of hours at the border. We had also stopped at a gas station for a break. It became obvious very quickly how underdressed Paul and I were. I had thought it would be fine to wear shorts until we got to Cairo. but both men and women were covered from throat to ankle, and many people had covered heads and faces as well. I didn't know how to act, I didn't want to offend anyone, or be disrespectful. On the other hand though, it's immediately obvious that we're not from around here.
In the travel package brochure, we had been promised a boat ride on the Suez Canal, which I was all excited about. It was really just a ferry crossing, at night, and the Suez wasn't all that wide. Hawkers abounded, with t-shirts, scarves and postcards. We had to wait a long time for what ended up to be only a ten-minute crossing.
At various checkpoints during the trip (and there were a lot of them), we dropped off our police escorts and picked up new ones. We assumed it was the new jurisdiction picking us up. Once we got to Cairo, the white-uniformed tourist police picked us up and were with us until we entered the "secure" tourist area. We stopped at the Sheraton Hotel, where all tourist busses seem to arrive and depart. Not many of our crew were staying there. A couple from New Zealand, with whom we'd been talking earlier, got off there. They were typical of people who are widely travelled but who maintain the same horizons. They seemed to have kept or intensified all their original prejudices. They were funny and entertaining though. He said that when they'd begun the trip, they'd started out with hardly any luggage, but she insisted on taking rocks from every place they'd visited, including the top 1/2 inch of Mt. Sinai, so they'd had to invest in extra luggage. I'll say they did. When it came off the roof, we saw exactly how much he wasn't kidding. A huge Samsonite knockoff, a full-sized backpack, a carpet bag and handbags all came down and were claimed by the couple.
We were dropped off at our hotel next, a lowly two star establishment. Mr. Hilarious had tried to talk us into upgrading to a three star hotel for a "mere" $50. Not sure if that was for one or both, per night or all-inclusive. We declined because after all the camping we've done, just to have a real bed is a luxury for us. But as it turned out, we had a great room: fridge, TV (so we could practice our Egyptian), our own bathroom with bathtub, and a balcony with tables and chairs. The beds were two singles, but that was a fairly minor point. The place was slightly run down but very well-maintained. All for $13 a night, which was probably four times what we would have paid if we'd gone on our own.
We hadn't had dinner yet so we ventured out to look for some food (after changing into way more clothes of course). We still stood out and had everyone saying, "Hello! Where are you from?" No hassles, just a lot of chatter. We walked the four or five blocks around our hotel but the only eatery we found was a sort of Indian fast food place called Chicken Tikka. It was a wacky place -- if you sat down and ate in, it became a restaurant. You got a real glass, plates, napkins, etc. and the speed slowed down considerably. The quality was still fast-food though. I was worried about eating with my left hand (as all Muslims eat with the right and the left is considered unclean), but my fears seemed unfounded. While we were eating, I got lost in a daydream and when I came back to, I realized I was staring out the window at a guy on a moped. He was grinning from ear to ear. Women aren't meant to look directly at men in this culture and a stare is tantamount to a proposition; I had probably just inadvertently given the guy a huge compliment on his manhood.
We'd had enough new experiences for one day. We went back to our snug room and read books.
We had been told that our tour guide would meet us at our hotel at 9:00, so we had to change some money before that. We had breakfast at the hotel, since it was included. It's not your typical American fare, but it was pretty good. There was something like falafel and some fava beans in a sauce with pita bread. It was a little garlickier than I'm used to in the morning. But they had coffee so everything was okay. After breakfast, we went to the Sheraton figuring they'd have an ATM. It was quite an ordeal getting across the traffic circle in font of the hotel. Eight roads spiraled off it and none of the lights were working. Even the traffic cops wouldn't dream of standing in the road to direct traffic, but they did have the power to write tickets on the spot.
On the way we saw a movie theater and tried to find out what was playing but couldn't figure it out. A man helped us, the film was playing in Egyptian. We'd read that every person on the street was waiting to render a tiny favor, after which he would demand baksheesh, or a tip. we didn't have any money, but in any case, we really didn't want to be hassled for baksheesh the whole time we were here. We thanked the man and went into the Sheraton.
The banks didn't seem to be open yet and we didn't see any ATMs. The same man appeared again and showed us where one was. He seemed so eager to please. I figured we should give him something for his trouble. But he was embarrassed and possibly offended and I felt terrible. Lesson 1: Only poor people are constantly looking for handouts. Middle class people will be insulted. There are times when it feels like I spend this whole trip not knowing the right thing to do. It's very humbling.
Our tour guide was Gamal, and three others were coming on the tour as well: a couple, he originally from Russia and she from the Ukraine, now living in Jerusalem, and an older Polish man on a world tour. The couple was very cute, she wanted to be photographed in front of every site and she had a cute curtsying pose that she did every time. Communication was tough though. The Polish guy spoke some German and of course Russian so he could translate back and forth but it was time-consuming and cumbersome. We resorted to non-verbal communication and just being satisfied with each others' company. The Polish guy had no money and had to keep borrowing from everyone. He only borrowed a dollar from us and never paid it back. Presumably he did pay back the couple, from whom he borrowed quite a bit more. But he told us he'd been waiting for a wire transfer for a week or more now, so who knows if he was able to pay them back before they left? He was a nice guy though.
Our first stop was the Citadel and Mosque of Muhammed Ali (the first one, not the boxer.) He had been appointed by the Turkish government to run Egypt (I think) but went "tropo" and decided to take it for himself. This was in the 1800s. He didn't succeed but he did build himself a lovely fortress and mosque in the meantime. It cost 20 Egyptian Pounds ($6.00) to get in, and we were kind of rushed through once we got there. The highlight was the very beautiful mosque. The domed ceiling was painted gold and blue, with beautiful script painted in black on white. This was the first time that I had seen text that so easily becomes art. The floor was covered with 100 year old Turkish carpets. But the best part was the 365 lamps ringing the dome just above our heads. Each globe was clear glass and beautifully shaped. Originally candles were set in them but now they are regular electric lights. The effect was still great.
We had a quick look at the courtyard, then at the view of the city while we had a bottled water. Gamal lounged in a chair with the water guy while we looked at the view. I noticed he didn't have to pay for his water.
Next we were whisked off to a bank (the couple needed more cash if they were going to support the Polish guy), past a walled City of the Dead, where the living have taken up residence in a cemetery because they have no where else to go. There are whole towns built between the tombstones. There are street addresses and everything. This was one of the sites mentioned in the brochure, and I had expected to see more than just the high, outer wall. But that was all we got.
Then we drove to the Coptic quarter in Old Cairo. Coptics are a Christian sect that broke off from the original religion because of their belief that Mary is a goddess in her own right. Unfortunately, I know more about the Coptics from a Wilbur Smith book and James Michener than I do from Gamal. We walked through a couple of narrow walled streets to the Ben Ezra Synagogue, apparently the oldest in Egypt, surrounded by Coptics and Muslims on all sides. A little booklet claims that only 42 Jewish families lived in Old Cairo as of 1993, the booklet seemed to be trying to convince us that Moses lived in this area. Through some more narrow streets we came to the Suspended Church, a Coptic Church, so-called because it was built over a Babylonian Tower, so that much of it is built over nothingness. The concept was a little hard to grasp though. The Church itself was darkly beautiful, made all of wood. We barely had time to view the famous painting of the Madonna, Jesus and St. John the Baptist (Jesus was small but depicted as a grown man) before we were whisked back through the narrow streets and back to the van. We next went to the Compound of the Egyptian Open Air Museum. Honestly I think that was the real name. It contains a lot of the statuary and sarcophagi from the various pyramids in the area. Presumably they're there so they won't be stolen. Three are great statues of Ramses II, with huge feet, and wearing either the tall white hat of Upper Egypt, or the low red one of Lower Egypt. Ramses II is reputed to have not only had his own statues done, but he also "appropriated" statues of others and had his cartouche (hieroglyphics depicting the King's name enclosed in the oval that signifies eternal life) carved into them so people would think it was he. There is a huge statue of Ramses II reclining inside a large pavilion. You can climb stairs to a walkway all around him. He's quite impressive.
There's also a really nice alabaster sphinx, a little smaller than the Great Sphinx, but in better shape. We were really run through the Compound by Gamal, he didn't even give me time to write dates or dynasties down. I did get a cool photo of a hieroglyph of Anubis, the jackal or dog God of mummification on one of the sarcophagi.
Then Gamal gathered us around him, and dropped his voice to a whisper. He indicated the stalls nearby selling souvenirs. It was really rough for people, he said. They often turn up ancient artifacts in their little plot of land, but don't want to hand them over to the Egyptian government because it will take over the land for excavation. So they bring these incredibly old treasures to the guys who have the stalls to sell and make a little cash. It may be true that farmers regularly find artifacts while plowing and I'm sure it's not in their best interests to turn what they find over to the government, but I'm not inclined to believe that what we were shown at the back of one of these stalls were ancient artifacts. It was very funny, Gamal and the stall owner acted like they were presenting us with an incredibly rare and valuable opportunity. As far as I know, it's illegal to take artifacts over 100 years out of the country without some sort of government permission, so I'm fairly convinced these were just reasonable copies.
After the Compound, we were taken to visit a carpet "school", where children learn a trade making carpets. In Cairo, the public schools are so crowded that children go in one of two shifts per day, either in the morning or the afternoon. Consequently, kids in public schools don't get a very education, and anyone who can afford it goes to private school. We met a girl from Norway who'd been an exchange student in Cairo. She was in a private school and told us that they teach completely in English. She was disappointed because it made it really hard to learn Egyptian. But Gamal talked glowingly about the opportunities the school provided for children. He told us they started at 10 or 12, were paid a nominal amount and made 3% of the profit for the carpets they made. It looked to me like the kids were much younger, but who knows?
We had a very quick demonstration of how the carpets were knotted (they let me try it), then we were brought upstairs to the "showroom:, where the salesman plied us with Cokes and teas and promised us repeatedly that there was no pressure to buy but didn't leave our side after finding out we were Americans and pressured us shamelessly anyway. Egypt was all about learning to be comfortable with saying "no" to people. We all looked around while we drank Cokes. The carpets were beautiful. Then we told Gamal we were ready to go. We went to lunch at a place where everyone knew Gamal. The lunches and the prices were set at 25 EP ($8.25). The salads were great -- all manner of pita spreads made from fava beans. And the pita was fresh, right off the fire. I'll never again be satisfied with anything less. All the rest of the breads in the world take second place. I would have been satisfied to save some money and just have salad, but it wasn't one of the options. My chicken and vegetables were only so-so. They did have a great lemon drink though, it cost extra of course. I hate to sound cynical, but I'm pretty sure Gamal didn't pay for his lunch. I think he gets his free for bringing his tours to that particular restaurant. I went to the WC, which I could find perfectly well on my own, but a little boy ran to show me the way, hoping for baksheesh. Paul had all the money so I'm afraid he was disappointed. Then in the bathroom, a woman led me to the stall, showed me where to wash my hands and tried to give me a paper towel but I declined because I knew I had no small change to give her and felt bad.
After lunch, we finally were going to see some pyramids. Not the most famous ones at Giza, but a smaller series at Saqqara. You aren't allowed to go into any of these, but they were still incredibly impressive. On the way, we drove along the Nile, which I've been wanting to see since I first read about the flooding of the fertile plain in third grade. The area is so green and lush, it's a huge contrast from the white sand surrounding the desert. And what really surprised me was how abruptly the green ended. There's a very stark, straight dividing line and from above at the pyramids you can see very clearly the wide strip of green through the white sand. It's hard to understand why anyone in Egypt would live anywhere but along the Nile.
We went to visit the step pyramid of Djoser-Netcheriki I (25 EP). It was built by Imhotep in 2630 BCE. It started out as a mastaba (burial shaft) for Djoser but Imhotep was dissatisfied. He wanted something grander, so he invented the step pyramid. Gamal told us this pyramid was the first stone building ever. I'm more inclined to believe it's the first recorded stone building in Egypt. Until that time, buildings were made from mud and houses had roofs made from date palm fronds. People still live in such houses along the canals of the Nile, although some now have running water and electricity.
We were given 20 minutes to wall around the pyramid. we started getting wise to Gamal's ploys to rush us through a site once we'd paid, so we dragged our heels and let him chafe. On the far side of the pyramid, the first camel men approached us and followed very closely behind us even after we'd said "no" repeatedly, giving us the real hassling hard sell. we finally escaped around the other side and stopped to admire the views. We wandered back around the other side and pointedly ignored Gamal who was waving at us to hurry from his place in the shade. There were huge shafts that had roles cut into them where the regents and officials of the King were buried. There was a whole other section that we wanted to explore but Gamal wouldn't let us. We got in the van and went back to the hotel. The couple came upstairs with us to look at the pictures we'd taken that day. We all seemed to agree that we were a bit disappointed with the tour. The point seemed to be to part us with as much money as possible and Gamal's style was to impart as little information as he could get away with. Too bad. I liked the guy, but he seems very bored by his job. He recites information like it was memorized right out of the book. He seemed not to like his fellow countrymen very much, disparaged them in fact. And he was quite contemptuous of women who cover their hair. He felt the Quran called for modesty and the interpretation that that meant covering one's hair was stupid. He liked dogs though, so I forgave him a lot. He collected our scraps from lunch and distributed them to the stray dogs at the pyramids. He said he admires the way Westerners treat animals.
We were beat when we got back but I wanted to look around town a little and get some pictures of the Nile. So we headed out. We didn't get very far though. At the first place we stopped to look at the Nile, we were turned back by a soldier. Turns out it was where they used to park Anwar Sadat's cars and his house was across the street. It was getting dark and the light wasn't very good anyway. We were further frustrated by the fact that when we left the "secure" area around the Sheraton, we were besieged by women and children beggars and men wanting to take photos for baksheesh. They were all so persistent. It was exhausting.
We stopped in at a grocery store looking for beer but didn't find any. (Of course it is a Muslim country.) So we went back to the hotel and asked the guy in the bar to bring a couple of beers to our room. We drank them on the balcony and read books. It was heavenly.
Gamal had admonished us to be very prompt as we had a lot of ground to cover today. (We hadn't been late the day before.) We were the only people on the tour, which was kind of nice. I figured I'd be able to pump Gamal for dates and facts (although I was wrong.) We first went to the museum that houses all the treasures of the pyramids (sorry, can't remember the proper name.) It cost the usual 20 EP to get in, plus the 10 EP for cameras (or you had to surrender them) and a whopping 100 EP for video cameras. This place was chock full of artifacts, the real thing, so full that it was totally overwhelming. You felt your mind go numb as you walked in the door. There was just so much cool stuff there. Gamal ran us through the important stuff and rushed us by the rest. He gave us only 10 minutes to look at all of King Tut's burial treasure. We saw some statues, some mummies, some papyrus, the golden coffins, of some pharaohs... all in very rapid succession. They had a guarded glass room full of the "good" mummies but they charged $40 just to get in, which we weren't willing to pay just on principle. Gamal probably wouldn't have let us go in anyway.
The following are some interesting details I managed to scribble down while we ran around the museum:
Legend has it that King Menes conquered Lower Egypt and united it with Upper Egypt. this was the first time that all Egyptian people were united. Upper Egypt is symbolized by the lotus flower, its goddess has the form of a vulture and men wore tall white hats kind of like the Pope wears. The flower of Lower Egypt is the papyrus, its goddess takes the form of a snake and men wore red hats that looked kind of like Cleopatra's hair.
King Djoser, whose step pyramid we'd seen yesterday, merged the two people even more by uniting them in a single religion. Prior to his reign, local Gods were worshipped. Djoser merged local deities into Trinities, three Gods whose aspects covered all the local deities. It was a very cunning political move.
The Heliopolian theology, which began with Re-Atum, the Sun God, was the first attempt by the Egyptian people to explain the chaos of their lives. The myth (very summarized) goes something like this:
Geb (Earth) and Nut (Sky) were the son and daughter of Re-Atum. they married and gave birth to the moon, the stars, and humans, and four Gods: Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, and Seth. Back in those days, it was quite common for siblings to marry because there weren't many choices for spouses. Osiris and Isis married. Seth killed Osiris and scattered his body parts throughout the world. Isis travelled and found all but one part (guess). I believe she finally recovered all the parts and revived Osiris. They had a son, Horus, who was bird God. His consort was Hathor. Ma'at was the winged Goddess of order. With Anubis, these are all the important players I managed to record.
Some rough chronologies:
The Old Kingdom: 2650-2150 BCE. During this time, Memphis, the first seat of the Pharaohs, was established.
Middle Kingdom: 2040-1786 BCE. King Mentuhotep (his name means 'Happy Warrior') was the first pharaoh of the 11th Dynasty.
New Kingdom: 1550-1075 BCE. Actually the time of the disintegration of Egyptian Pharaohic civilization. Then a series of conquerors entered Egypt: the Assyrians (670 BCE), the Persians (525 BCE), Alexander the Great (332 BCE), then Julius Caesar (48-30 BCE).
Hatshepsut was the only female pharaoh.
The word 'pharaoh' comes from 'per ha' meaning "great house".
An ankh symbolizes long life and is also sometimes depicted as a mirror.
After the museum, we were taken to a papyrus "workshop", which really meant a two-minute demonstration of how to make papyrus and as long as they could keep us attempting to talk us into buying. The demonstration was actually very interesting. The papyrus plant is cut and peeled, then the inside is soaked for about a week. It's then laid in a criss-cross pattern and pressed between two weights. That's it. It binds together naturally and is incredibly strong. You can crush it in your hands and it won't crack. The designs in the papyrus painting ranged from "black velvet" to depictions of ancient scenes, like men being judged at death to see if they could enter heaven. (If their hearts weighed less than a feather, they could enter.) Again we were plied with drinks and again practiced saying "no" comfortably.
We next went to an essence factory, which was actually quite posh, like an Egyptian Elizabeth Arden. The walls were painted with gold designs and had glass cabinets filled with beautiful glass bottles. Our essence "guide" (salesman) told us how all the flowers used to make the essence came from their family farm and they never used alcohol, this was the pure essence. He then gave us a list of essences that detailed the name brand equivalent. He insinuated that his factory sold Chanel the essence for #5. (Coincidentally, this essence was number five on the list.) Then came the funniest part, at least for us, since neither Paul nor I actually use perfume and the whole performance was wasted on us. We were given pencils to check off essences we wanted to buy and dots of different essences were placed on every available inch of both hands and forearms. Only then did it come out that we don't use perfume. Our guide was aghast. We left soon after we finished our drinks.
We went to lunch at another of Gamal's friend's places. The set price this time was 27 EP (same set menu). The salads were even better than the day before. When we walked in the door, a motley "band" raced forward to play for us. They did this every time customers entered and raised quite a cacophony.
At that point, we were ready to tell Gamal that weren't interested in any more shopping trips, we were here to see sites. But as it turned out, we were finally heading to the pyramids at Giza (20 EP + 10 EP for cameras), the burial site of Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus. These are the three famous ones near Cairo. The tallest, Cheops', is 137 M tall now, although it used to be the tallest one at 146 M. It's eroded a little. Chephren, Cheops' son, had his pyramid built slightly shorter than his Dad's, at 143 M. Mycerinus only had 6 years ot work on his pyramid before he died, so his is a mere 62 M. All of the pyramids face North and are aligned along the compass points. It's really impressive how accurate the measurements are. Cheops' tomb was built in either 2550 BCE as Gamal claims, or in 2690 BCE as our book alleges. It weighs 6 million tons, covers 13.1 acres, took roughly 10,000 people 11 years to complete, and used 2.3 million limestone blocks. That's really all Gamal told us so I can't give any other particulars.
As we entered the pyramid compound (and that's really what it was -- the perimeter was secured by military police riding camels), I was awed by how huge the pyramids are. You can't imagine it until you actually stand next to them and realize how small you are, and how vast the desert around you. The pyramids weren't always in the desert, but right on the Nile, but the Nile has shifted its course in the last 3000 years or so. I admit I always wondered why you'd pick the desert for the spot to be buried. I thought it must have something to do with the preservation of the mummies. But they were built right on the Nile, and the mummy of the dead pharaoh was transported to its final resting place by a boat on the river. It must have been a spectacular procession.
By the time we'd paid our 50 EP, all sorts of characters riding scrawny Arabian horses or leading camels were ready to pressure us for rides. We decided to try a turn on a camel. Gamal told us to pay him the money to pay the camel man, and to tell the camel man that Gamal would pay him once we arrived back at Gamal's side. we'd heard that it's very easy to get on a camel: "no problem! If you're happy, I'm happy. Pay what you like." But when the time comes to pay, the camel man, of not happy, will send the camel galloping away with you. Gamal arranged the transaction for our ride, and we handed over the money to Gamal. I was a bit nervous about it, when we were kids, we went to a game farm and a camel spit on us. But I patted our camel and tried to establish a rapport with him before we got on. I rode in front and Paul was behind me. It's really bumpy when the camel stands up. But it was really fun once I'd relaxed a bit. I felt like a goofy tourist but who cares? I was riding a camel. About halfway to our destination, our camel man stopped us and asked for a little something extra. He said all the money we'd given to Gamal would go to the "camel chief" and that he wouldn't see any of it. Yeah right. We stayed firm and finally we started up again. When our ride was finished, the camel man had the camel kneel down again so we could get off. But first he took our picture, then made us kiss and took another. We got off, but apparently we hadn't been brought to the agreed-upon drop off point. All of a sudden Gamal was waving his hands over his head and yelling at the camel man from about 50 feet away. Our camel guy shrugged, as if to indicate he thought Gamal too picky but he'd humor him. He motioned us to get back on and he brought us to the place where Gamal was waiting.
Gamal told us that you could go in two of the pyramids, a large one and a smaller one, and we could only pick one. We picked the large one, paid our 10 EP each and descended. The narrow and low tunnel built into the block first goes down, levels off, then goes up into a room, the burial chamber. The room itself was empty, except for the stone tomb (also empty) with its top lying on the floor. There were security cameras in there as well. I sang a song to check out the acoustics. But it would have been cool to see a tomb as it had been when it was discovered. (We read later that the smaller tomb was much more interesting.)
We also saw the Great Sphinx, which really is impressive. He's 180 M long and 22 M tall. He's called Abul-Hul (the Father of Terror) in Egyptian. He was built out of the bedrock near the Valley Temple. At first, they tried to remove the extra bedrock, but it was too hard, so they carved the Sphinx out of it.
After Giza, we went for a boat trip on the Nile. It cost a whopping 50 EP each and only lasted an hour. It was a funny little boat, all wood and painted in bright colors. It was called the "Faiv (sic) Star Gamal" which made me wonder whether it belonged to Gamal himself. We just went around the little island in the middle of the Nile in the center of the business and hotel section of Cairo. But we got to see the boys swimming in the Nile, people living in huts along its shores, and houseboats built right in the Nile. Most were guest houses, and were looking a little dilapidated.
When we reached the shore again, Gamal took his leave of us quite quickly. No tears shed on his part. He didn't even offer us a ride back to our hotel (although it wasn't far away). He just told us to be at the Sheraton at 5:30 the next morning so that we could get our bus back. When we'd signed up for the morning bus back, I'd assumed it would leave at 9:30 like the first one did. We walked by the Sheraton on our way home and saw the Russian couple on a bus headed back to Jerusalem. That didn't bode well, since we saw them an hour-and-a-half after they had been scheduled to leave.
We went into a store to get food for the trip back to Tel Aviv the next day, but the power was out and it was so dark we couldn't see what was for sale. We figured we'd come back later. The power was restored then and we got pita bread, cheese and drinks. I had a bath, then we set the alarm for 4:45 and went to bed early.