Giza and Saqqara (pyramids)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Today we started early with a quick drive to Giza. Normally it would take well over an hour to get to Giza, but it is the first day of the weekend on Friday in Egypt (and Islamic countries in general), and so the drive was only 30 minutes. Like yesterday the drive was interesting.

With Gabby here to guide us and help us navigate the local issues, along with a driver who knows the roads and how to manage those issues, we avoid many, many problems. Gabby being a great negotiator helps a great deal. (Thanks Gabby!)

Let’s start with what we see from the roads. Its very chaotic. Today saw a lot of variety, but generally the road items can be organized into four categories:

– first is the traffic and people move in a way that suggests they are oblivious to lines, rules, emotions and fear or doubt. It is organized chaos where cars are centimetres away from each other and often bump mirrors, sometimes at high speed. Unregulated busses stop in the right lane to pick up passengers who are standing on the road. Apparently there are hand signals to know which bus and what destinations are associated. Cars, trucks and motorcycles all weave in and out and around pedestrians crossing roadways and walking on lanes, donkey carts pulling wares or selling them along the roads, and any variety of confusion you can come up with.

– As referenced above, the variety of users on the road is totally inconsistent with North American expectations. Cars, three wheel motorcycle carts, motorcycles (today we saw a family of five on the equivalent of a 250cc dirt bike, 1-3 passengers is more common) trucks, busses, horse carriages (mostly near tourist areas), donkey carts (mostly driven by young boys of 10-12 or old men, and mostly outside of downtown), pedestrians (not a few, by the dozens and everywhere), all consuming space and attention.

– The behaviour of these participants is rather uniform, leading to the organized chaos. Pedestrians move effectively through lanes of traffic and cars are respectful of the young and infirm, but less accommodating of those who move aggressively into traffic. There is a lot of horn tooting to warn others that someone is coming through or to get out of the way. What would certainly lead to road rage in Toronto is taken as a minor warning and a matching decision to move out of the way for the faster car, to speed up, or to simply take more space and let the other guy find a way around. There is rarely any obvious anger from drivers. In the same vein, a car may pass at high speed on the right shoulder to get around the guy who blocked (here the highest speed I have seen anyone drive is 100km/h, and that was this morning on a good and clear highway). All considered it is exceptional control of emotions by a society that can get upset by small things pretty quickly!

– finally, there are the road conditions. The summary here is the roads are terrible, worse than bad in many cases and driving fast is not possible. On the road between Giza and Saqqara today we drove down a road that had a hole three feet deep in the middle, and while that is an outlier/example, the broken road wold be considered impassable for all of the other minor risks i am not mentioning if it were in North America.

That is the roadway though. Going into Giza, we got our first glimpse of the truly crazy tourist traps. Our driver Mohammed had to try to run down (one of the two dozen) shysters trying to get him to park a long way from the pyramids so they could sell us a carriage ride. They were exceptionally aggressive and gabby tells us that some will actually throw themselves on your car to get you to turn. I can see that. One of the main ‘attractions’ at the pyramids is camel and donkey rides, the number and variety of these animals, the shysters selling you their services and the craziness associated with these people is kind of annoying.

Gabby was psyched about Megan riding a camel so up we went, and I was honoured with the sales guy’s scarf as a turban. We all had a good time and went for a nice stroll on our camels, got our picture taken in all the right spots and then went on. Oh wait, the negotiation started. Gabby had already secured a price (all in Arabic), and they tried to up the price. I watched with glee as she deftly negotiated with the boss. We still over payed but it was a lot less than what they wanted and with exchange rates it was still cheaper than a cheesy photo at the Aquarium or Wonderland.

So along with our camel ride and photos, we say the pyramids at Giza and the boat museum. I won’t do history on these, but they were very nice to see. We went into the pyramid which was kind of neat, but there is nothing to see inside really. Still I wanted to go inside and see what was in there. If you ever choose to go, it involves a lot of climbing in poorly ventilated shafts and if claustrophobia is a concern, don’t do it.

The boat museum was interesting and again, no history lesson on this one, but I was fascinated by the methods used to build this boat. Ropes as bindings on the wood. I am sure they had a waterproofing agent of some sort, but nails were NOT used and ropes bound the planks/strakes together.

Knowing a local is really cool. Next stop, the Sphinx. But Gabby knows that the best place to have lunch is Pizza Hut, third floor, looking out at the Sphinx. So after the requisite pictures from up close, we ate pizza while being watched over.

Finally it was off to Saqqara. Now I am very happy that we were able to see the pyramids at Giza, but the real history is in Saqqara, and further south. Those pyramids go back to about 2700BC and further south, even earlier. The ruins are not as robust, but some stand out to this day, and the stories from our guide show the remarkable nature of the work here and the life lived. Here are some photos with minimal comments. (Oh, but Gabby negotiated our guide down to a slightly unreasonable price from a ridiculous price. Great job Gabby!)

A beautiful temple. Only two columns are complete, but these incomplete columns still make a remarkable display of the size and grandeur of the setting. In the context of the courtyard and adjoining pyramids, the scope and beauty must have been remarkable.

The hieroglyphics are outstanding. Note that these symbols stick out of the rocks, they are not carved into the rocks. The workmanship is incredible.

And the views are just as amazing. The haze over the area doesn’t allow the details to come through, but you can see pyramids all around in the distance.

Steps down to a 50 metre deep burial chamber. The chamber itself is beside this and is about 15 metres per side and a massive rock walled pit. The coffin was placed at the bottom

Three remaining statues of the ‘many’, possibly dozens or hundreds lining the courtyard.

A small section of wall remaining from the courtyard. Note the round ‘cable’ at the top that surrounded the courtyard. This is a nice piece of work as are all of the cobras lining the top.

2 thoughts on “Giza and Saqqara (pyramids)

  1. That is so awesome, knowing a local is definitely a bonus. Yay for Megan making friends! 😛 We’ll miss you at Christmas but can’t blame you for not being here. Andrew and Catherine are joining our Christmas dinner tomorrow evening so they’ll be reppin’. 😉

    1. Have a great dinner. Glad to hear Andrew is joining you!

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