Sand and Pharaohs II

After our trip to Luxor and a four and a half hours of bus travel back to Hurghada, we were hungry and exhausted, but happy, because we have finished the first stage of the plan that we have made. It was around 21:00 h., and we had to rest for the most tiring visit: Cairo. Actually we have planned Cairo for a couple of days after Luxor, because we knew that it was going to be too much in just two days, but amidst the first anniversary of the Revolution in Egypt (25th January, 2011) the tour guide called us and told us that the tour to Cairo was moved due to demonstrations that  day… We agreed on the change, and got ready to a kind of sleepless night. So, after our brief dinner at the hotel, we went to our room and tried to sleep until 1:00 am.

Cairo

I love to sleep. Actually, who don’t like to sleep? And, as I love to sleep, I am very lazy too; I find the alarm clock the most hated invention ever. Anyways, we woke up to the alarm’s strident sound, quickly dressed up, took our pillows and went to the lobby were our guide was waiting. This time, we were going to spend over six hours – instead of four – on the bus. I cannot believe that I could manage to rest on the bus, considering that the seats aren’t the most comfortable and the roads in Egypt aren’t the best; and waking up to the ray of the morning light is awesome, even when you are on the road. It was around 6:00 am and we were making our first stop – for toilet and stretching – somewhere in the outskirts of Cairo. At the stop I noticed the quantity of Russian tourists that were visiting Egypt at this time (why to spend your winter in a place where the average temperature is -30, when you can do it in a place where is about 50 degrees warmer? There were, of course, tourist from all over the world, but the Russian nationality was outstanding. Then my partner and I were discussing over that matter and we reached the conclusion that as Egypt was a close ally of the USSR during the Cold War, the ‘friendship’ still remains nowadays, thus becoming an important spot for Russian tourists; due to that fact, Egyptians involved in tourism speak fairly good Russian, even better than English or French.

After a couple or hours we arrived to Cairo, and I must say that I was impressed and I don’t know how to explain that. Let see… Cairo, which in Arabic means “The Conqueror” or “The Triumphant” looked otherwise, very sad and not Triumphant at all. It seemed that once, years ago, it was indeed a beautiful and victorious city, but no more. It is the biggest city in Africa and in the Arab world, and it is 1024 years old; and, certainly, going around Cairo is traveling over the ancient times, so today’s image does not do any justice to what it was before. Important historical icons, from Jesus Christ to Napoleon, all spent sometime in the city. However, pollution, disdain and corruption have taken over its majesty.

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One of the things that really amazed me was the hundreds of unfinished buildings around the city. And when I write hundreds, it is not an exaggeration. And despite that, entire families live there. It seemed that there was a real estate boom decades ago, and suddenly everything stopped, and will continue like that for some years to come… Another thing that caught my attention was the garbage. Tons of garbage, everywhere. There wasn’t a spot without garbage (just two, and I’ll write about them further on). I have been to very polluted cities like Caracas, the capital city of my home country, Venezuela; or Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil and South America. But Cairo is, may be, as 20 times as polluted as those two. There’s garbage on the streets, on the sidewalks, all over the canals… Despite all the trash and contamination there was only one intact place regardless the years and the vices of modern ages: the Giza plateau. One can imagine that the pyramids are outside of the city, very far away, but no. The Giza necropolis – where the pyramids are – is in the city. I looks like someone photoshoped them and, literally,  ”glue” them in the middle of the city. It is kind of like that…

The Giza Necropolis

A feeling of stupor govern all of my senses within seconds. They are beautiful. They are more than beautiful. This place is so huge, bigger than anything and surrounded by a decadent sight of unconcluded buildings and pollutions. The smog was so dense, almost impenetrable, that was very hard to take any picture of any quality, or even to see beyond the necropolis and into the city. But we managed, I think. The biggest pyramid, the pyramid of Cheops, also known as The Great Pyramid of Giza is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World (the oldest one and the only one in existence). This first and oldest pyramid was build as the tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu (in Greek is Cheops), and it took approx, 20 years to conclude it in around 2560 BC. The second one, the pyramid of Pharaoh Khafre was build as his tomb and is slightly smaller to honor the name of his father, Khufu. And the smallest pyramids of them all, the one of Pharaoh Menkaure, also build smaller to honor the name of both father and grandfather. Nevertheless, and according to the legend, Menkaure was angry about the conduct of his predecessors, judging them openly, thus gaining the bitterness of the Gods. At the end of this imperial situation and dilemma, Menkaure understood that was going to die much younger that his father, and therefore he build a smaller tomb.

The Sphinx was not particularly exiting; very beautiful, though. The Great Sphinx of Giza is a statue of a mythical creature with a lion’s body and a human’s head. No one really knows why the sphinx was build. There are several hypothesis, and the one that I like the most is that it represents strength (the lion’s body), knowledge and wisdom (the human’s head), and the Pharaoh Khafre build it as a way to protect his (and his family’s) journey to afterlife. When Christianity, Judaism and Islam took over people’s believes, the site of the Sphinx was still very respected, and Egyptians – even today – have always visited the place looking for advice and enlightenment.

The last place we visited in Cairo was ‘The Old City’ where are maybe the oldest churches, mosques and synagogues, and it is possibly the other place in the whole city where pollution does not take over. I have never been to a mosque or a synagogue before, until that day. Very calm places, where you sure can scape from the craziness of life. I am atheist, but when you are in any of those “temples of God”, you feel peace and comfort. It was great. You could contemplate everything with more details. I must say that it felt so nice to have spent a moment of peace and silence in those places. The Old City was the perfect spot to have ended our long trip to the difficult, yet fascinating Cairo.

More to come in the next (third) part of my trip…

One thought on “Sand and Pharaohs II

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