Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cairo, Egypt - A funny thing happened on the way to Saqqara...

Still here in Cairo researching on the internet. I must move on tomorrow. Must advance the program.

Friday must have been the most interesting day in a while. I've always wanted to see the "Bonus" pyramids south of Giza: Step Pyramid of Zoser down in Saqqara, and the Pyramids of Dashur. So, I recruited Muhammed (Robert the German), Adie the Canadian, and Alex the Indonesian (whom I just met this morning) and together we set off.

Keeping in tradition of cheap/low budget travelers we skipped the taxi tour and took the Underground to Giza. From there, we took a minibus to the Saqqara turnoff. Snacking on ta'maayas for breakfast, just off the main highway, we could see the main pyramid in the distance. Walkable I thought, but it was a long way to the gates. The LP said 2 km. Yah, right.

Once there I tried my "student card" for the first time. Africans would try hence I should as well. The gatekeeper demanded an ISIC card. I struck out and had to pay an extortionate amount (50 L.E.) to get in.

When the capital of the Ancient Egypt was Memphis, this plateau served as it's necropolis or burial ground for it's Kings and other nobles. There are 16 pyramids on the necropolis with the Step Pyramid of Zoser being the most prominent.

Walking amongst the ruins...

The Step Pyramid was originally 63 m tall. It was built around c.2667-2648 BC. (l to r): Adie the Canadian, Alex the Indonesian.

Looks like the bus just rolled in.... Tip of the day: Bring water and some shades...

The Zoser pyramid is made of brick-sized stones, arranged into 6 step like platforms or mastabas.

Entrance to the Pyramid. The internal chambers and passageways were deemed unstable and off limits to tourists. Dang.

Tres Amigos. Like I said, bring water...lots of water. Maybe some sunscreen as well...

Getting to Dashur was another matter. If it wasn't for Alex (who is studying Arabic in Cairo) we would've been hooped from the start. The prevalence of English speakers out here in the sticks is nil. Just to get to the town of Dashur required 3 minibus transfers. We were stuck in town for a while because of the lack of public transport to the Red Pyramid site. That was until Alex managed to arrange a lift with the local police with 30 L.E. going to their retirement fund. From the gate we were lucky enough to grab another ride in the back of a truck.

I thought the Red Pyramid was excellent. It and the Bent Pyramid to the south were the first "true" pyramids (non-step) ever built (c. 2600 BC), preceding those built in Giza. Interesting facts: the Red Pyramid is 104 m tall (the Calgary Tower is 191 m tall), the base is 220 m, at the time of it's completion it was the tallest man-made structure in the world...

My favourite (how can you tell?) photo of all time taken by Alex the Indonesian. I think he has a future in the photography business. Moments after it was taken, these Egyptian cops threw me off the property. Happens to me all over the world... Seriously, you can see the "trail" that leads up the pyramid to the entrance (about halfway up and at about the 1 o'clock position relative to my head).

The sides of the Pyramid were constructed at an angle of 43 degrees. Go ahead and get yo protractor...

Another pic of the surface of the Red Pyramid...the Pyramid is made of a reddish granite stone hence the name. However, it's been thoroughly covered by the sand and dust of the surrounding desert over the centuries...

Muhammad the German

The entrance to the Red Pyramid. Looking north, I could barely make out the alignment of the Giza and Saqqara pyramids in the distant horizon. If you click on the photo above you'll be able to see the tiny camel at ground level.

Upwards look at the entrance.

From the entrance, we followed a 200 ft. narrow shaft down to 3 chambers at the heart of the pyramid: 2 antechambers and the burial chamber. I'd suggest, if you were to make the same climb, to follow a rigorous exercise regiment with the legendary thigh-master, because your lactic acid engorged legs will be begging for mercy by the time you get down to the first chamber (see above). That's unless you are shorter than 3 feet in height of course.

After the walking through the 2 antechambers, the burial chamber is accessed with these stairs.

Each of the three chambers featured elaborate corbelled ceilings. Beauty, eh? The workmanship of the early Egyptian pyramid builders was superb.

The burial chamber.

The pyramid wasn't always red. In fact, it was originally encased in white limestone. Much of the limestone was eventually hauled off to build mosques and such in Cairo; however, remnants of that limestone can still be found at the base of the pyramid.

The famous Bent Pyramid (left) stood in ominous isolation kilometres away. Strange pyramid to say the least. The lower half of the pyramid was steeper than the upper half (early pyramid designers encountered, in their architectural experiment, structural instability with the steeper bottom and had to cut down the angle of the top half).

We should have walked over to the Bent Pyramid but it was just too hot outside. Everyone was wilting under the desert sun. We decided hoof it back to the main gates...

View Larger Map
Map shows the location of the Red Pyramid...

Darshur's isolation and lack of convenient access ensured lack of tourists (which was good) but meant a slow trip home to Cairo. No methodology in getting back. At one point Alex befriended a roadside cop who in turn flagged down a ride for us. I asked Alex how he performs all these little logistical miracles.

He said, "Just smile and tell them how beautiful Egypt and its people are..."

That night we went out for Thai cuisine. The pad thai bore not resemblance to the real thing but the meal was delicious nonetheless. For all he had done for us that day, I thought I'd pick up the tab for Alex but he beat me to the bill... He picked up the bill for the entire table. At the end of the day he put us on an A/C bus for Midan Tahrir (closest stop to the Hostel).

He shook our hands and said, "See you in Heaven...".

That was the last we saw of him...

Out of Canuckistan: A travel blog, May 27/07
Buy Bubba a Beer Now!

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