We stand in the lobby at 6am having had a hasty breakfast with the boys, ready for our call time with our guide Ahmed. We’d been told to get up early as it was going to be very hot and better to see them early.
Boys have you got your sunscreen on? Where’s your hats?
Mark and Sebastian sit in the leather chairs on their ipads playing games, oblivious to what’s happening around them.
I just hope we have enough water, we have 4 bottles Jeff notes.
I’m sure we can buy some more there, seems like you can get anything you want pretty much at any time here.
I look away to see Ahmed our gorgeous guide sidle up, and note he is smoking a cigarette in the lobby. It’s like stepping back to the 1950s in Australia in terms of the laxity of any health restrictions. I feel a pang of disgust and desire to have one and a sinking feeling.
Sabah el khir I respond in my best imitation of Arabic pronunciation
Sabah el khir Louise!
Hey boys, hows it going?
The boys now jump out, happy to see Ahmed.
Sabah el khir, says Mark, ever the student, I see he has the list of standard phrases hand out that Ahmed gave us yesterday.
Excellent Mark. You are speaking Arabic, nice.
Jeff smiles at Ahmed, asking So where are the others in the tour group?
Ahmed pauses, then says, oh we had a few cancellations. It’s just you guys, aren’t you lucky you have your own personal tour guide!
Yes! exclaim the boys excited at the prospect.
I feel a sense of rising panic Just us? No one else? What do you mean? Is that because of all the political unrest?
There’s nothing to worry about, you know there is a presidential election..there is always a revolution going on in Egypt, if there are any problems, we will direct you well away from it. The good news is we may be able to upgrade you to better hotels as there are not so many tourists now.
Jeff scans the lobby. I can’t see any tourists here, and I didn’t see any at the airport last night..
Is this safe Ahmed? I suddenly realise I have possibly plunged my 2 boys and family into some serious danger with scant regard or any real research on the latest news in Egypt as I’d been so busy at work and getting ready for the trip.
I think back to my work colleagues looking at me with a sense of amazement we were still going on the trip with the boys given all the scenes of chaos and people burning flags on the news, crowds gathering in the main square in Cairo.
You will be fine, we just stay together, and you follow my advice, there will be nothing to worry about.
He now ushers us outside to the waiting white minivan, the air con is blasting which is good as it is already warm.
Hello! the driver opens the sliding door, flashing a wide white smile, cigarette thrown under his shoe to extinguish.
The boys jump into the van chatting to Ahmed.
Jeff and I exchange glances, worried now.
The van pulls out onto the highway, and in the distance, the familiar triangles emerge.
Look Mum the pyramids! Sebastian pulls back the curtains on the van and leans against the glass. Marks eyes light up, we are so close it’s remarkable, only I think a few kilometres away.
Yes boys, there they are, that is one of the things about the pyramids, there has been so much expansion and growth of Cairo, they used to be far away from the city, but now, it’s close.
Too close isn’t it? Remarks Jeff
Yes, it’s a big problem, that’s why they are looking at building a second Cairo some distance away.
A second Cairo? How does that work? I think only in Egypt would you need to build another replica city because there’s no room left, bizarre.
We spin down a desert road in the middle of nowhere seemingly, until we get to an entry point, the ticketing counters and usual security checks await us. We put our backpacks and camera through the x-ray machine and step through the security doorway, white uniformed police and security stand lackadaisically watching, until they see our family and look at us with some undisguised interest. Here we are, all in our Akubra hats to shield from the sun, we must look like something out of raiders of the lost ark suburban style.
Ahmed shows papers and tickets and ushers us through we see a model of the pyramids which he explains to us.
Ahmed wipes his face with his red and white scar, we are all sweating it must already be about 35 degrees at 7am and there is no air conditioning.
He gestures to the model of the three pyramids, boys take photos and step in close to listen. I look around and note we are the only Westerners and tourists, the rest are Egyptian tourists, which I find again a bizarre thing.
All three of Giza’s famed pyramids and their elaborate burial complexes were built from about 2550 to 2490 B.C. The pyramids were built by Pharaohs Khufu (he points to the tallest), Khafre (gestures to the background), and Menkaure (points to the front).
I look out past him to the double glass doors leading outside into the dazzling glare of morning sunshine and clear blue skies, I just want to get up close and see these things not look at some cardboard model.
Jeff is fascinated in the engineering and construction history.
So how were they actually built Ahmed, given the size of the stones?
Well of course it’s considered one of the greatest engineering feats in the world, and shows how advanced the Egyptian people were and how skilled in construction. Unlike now, unfortunately.
We both smile, we have noticed how in the hotel and other areas the quality of finishing off tiling and other details are pretty roughly done in places.
One theory has it that the stones were actually floated down the Nile on feluccas, they’re like a flat bottomed sail boat, we’re going on one in Aswan tomorrow. So the stones are thought to have come from a quarry further up the Nile, and then were transported to the site here.
That’s amazing! Floated on sail boats..Jeff ponders how it may have worked.
Pharaoh Khufu began the first Giza pyramid project around 2550 B.C. His Great Pyramid is the largest in Giza and is about 481 feet high. Its estimated 2.3 million stone blocks each weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons.
Khufu’s son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid a little earlier His necropolis also included the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh’s head. The sphinx protects the pharaoh’s whole tomb complex.
The third Pyramid is a lot smaller than the first two, it was built by Pharaoh Menkaure around 2490 B.C., it has a much more complex burual temple.
The Sphinx! When do we see that?! Mark asks.
I had bought a beautiful book on Egypt before we left, with huge full colour photos of all the key areas and we had been going through it together, reading up on all the history.
Ha ha later, after we see the smallest pyramid, now they rotate which pyramid is open for viewing and today we can look through Menkaure’s pyramid if you are interested, that’s an extra cost to actually go inside it.
Let’s go inside it lets go inside it, the boys rarely in unison, declare together.
Jeff gives Ahmed the necessary money and I usher the boys to put hats on and sunglasses ready to go out into the blazing heat.
Ok now one thing I have to warn you about, you know there are very few tourists, you may have some of the hawkers hassle you, just keep moving and don’t buy anything unless you want to. The problems can be the caleche drivers they can get aggressive, just say what, boys for No in Arabic?
La! Mark dutifully cries
That’s it well done, you say La, which means no ok? Now Yallabeena! Lets go!
I feel a sense of concern but quash it in my school girl desire to hit the dirt and see these monuments. We step outside and the heat and sun hits us, we drink water to keep hydrated I wait for my eyes to adjust to the light.
I see some horse drawn carriages waiting near the pyramids, which loom majestically in front of us, finally this is the true Egypt, ancient Egypt. It is awe inspiring and incredibly profound, one of the 7 wonders of the world and I can see why.
We start to walk down a dusty well trodden stony path towards the pyramids
We can walk around the pyramids to have a look for about half an hour, then we will go to the smallest for the tour ok?
Ahmed checks we are all ok and scans the horizon for any potential trouble.
A caleche driver seems to come out of nowhere and says ‘Lift, lift, I give you lift, no walk?!’ he calls out to me for some reason.
La, shokran, and keep walking, but he starts to follow us.
Then others join him, as well as other Egyptians on horseback try to stop us to sell scarves, sunglasses you name it, before I know it there is a virtual market place happening on horseback in the desert.
We are literally being hunted like quarry in the desert, the horses look lean and ill nourished, the caleche drivers whip their horses to go faster and keep just ahead of us so they can call out more enticements. I have a sense of panic that they are rounding us up and will keep us out in the heat and glare until we perish. I keep yelling out La like an idiot, literally trapped in LA LA land. It’s not like this in the bloody tour brochures I think.
Ahmed steps in and speaks roughly to them in Arabic and they start to reluctantly disperse.
We walk a 100 metres or so and more start to follow us, we start walking more quickly, more men on horseback appear, the police are oblivious and just stare at us smiling. I ask one officer if I can take his picture with the pyramids in the background with the boys
Of course of course. He poses with a big smile,
Shokran, I take the picture and smile then see his hand outstretched.
He wants money Mum, Mark observes.
I think, what the hell? Then I remember how corrupt Egypt is rumoured to be.
I pull out five pounds and give it to him and hurry the boys on.
Welcome to Egypt.