Like every great adventure, my trip to Egypt began at 5 AM.
Adventure of a Lifetime
Half a day later and I found myself looking out the window at another new continent as the plane flew over the Egyptian desert and I caught my first glimpse of the Pyramids at Giza.
When Dreams Become Reality
My second glimpse of the pyramids came on day two.
The representative from our travel agency, who had picked us up from the airport and given us our Egyptian visas, introduced us to our guide Ahmed. He and our driver, Mohammad, drove us to the providence of Giza.
Walking up, I was stunned by the sheer enormousness of the Pyramid of Cheops (the biggest one). I was torn between being in awe, being way out of my comfort zone and back to an almost overwhelming sense of joy that I felt standing at the base of a pyramid I’ve been reading books about since I was two.
After learning some general history about the pyramid, our guide gave us free time to wander around. With our free time came some specific instructions: don’t tell people you’re American, don’t buy chachkies from street vendors, and don’t take any unlicensed camel rides.
Camels and Tips and Pyramids, Oh My!
Well, we broke rule number three right out the gate.
Our guide hadn’t even been away from our sides for more than two minutes before we’d been forced to follow some Egyptian guy with a pyramids badge. He lead us to a place where we could crawl inside of a pyramid, where we were asked to tip the guy at the entrance, before being placed on camels and then were accosted for money for the privilege of sitting on top of a camel.
Fortunately, I’d done enough research to know that if you stand your ground, the shady business men will (hopefully) back of, which in this case they did (after I coughed up the amount of Egyptian pounds I was willing to pay and not a cent more).
Not going to lie, it was worth the equivalent of 10 bucks to learn our lesson and to sit on a camel at the base of the biggest pyramid in the world!
Made in China
Refraining from buying street chachkies on the street wasn’t difficult since our guides in both Cairo and Luxor took us to several shopping centers where I was able to purchase everything from an Egyptian cotton blouse to alabaster statues to a cartouche with my name on it!
When I snapped pictures of my cartouche to my friends and sent a photo to my mother I was surprised by the question ‘what does it say?’
It seemed that not everyone is as obsessed with Ancient Egypt as I am… In my excitement I’d forgotten how much of a nerd I truly am!
Rule Number One
Rule number one wasn’t actually an issue at any point, however scary it seems to not be able to tell people you’re from America.
Since I’m super pasty (surprise!) as is my traveling companion, we were clearly of European descent, which to street vendors and people looking to hassle tourists, means that we speak English. Not to mention that we both clearly look American (yes, you can tell. You can trust me on this one after I’ve spent time traveling around Europe).
We tried everything. We told some people that we were from Greece, to which most responded ‘poli kala!’ (Which means very good). Now, I’m enrolled in Greek 101, meaning I know a number of Greek phrases. However, my traveling companion is not and mostly stared blankly when the Egyptians would respond in Greek… basically giving away our lie.
Sometimes we tried to pretend we were Canadian because, really, who hates Canadians? Unfortunately, to most people in Egypt, Canadian is a synonym for ‘basically an American.’
Eventually, we found that no one we spoke to reacted negatively, at least outwardly, to the fact that we were indeed from America.
I don’t care how touristy it was, going for a camel ride with all three Giza Pyramids in the background was awesome!
Two Egyptian boys lead us out into the desert: one was wearing jeans and a baseball hat and the other was wearing the traditional galabeya, an ankle length, loosely fitted cotton garment, of an Egyptian villager.
Riding a camel in Giza is definitely near the top of the list of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I couldn’t stop smiling, especially when the boys asked us if we wanted the camels to go fast. I, of course, was eager for the camels to lop along at a quicker pace.
It was exhilarating and incredible and words don’t even do justice to how much fun I had with my new camel friend.
Mystery of the Sphinx
Next we visited the Sphinx, which, ironically, is a Greek word.
The statue, carved from a single block of stone, was larger than life. Photographs fail to demonstrate the true scale and majesty of the Sphinx.
After lunch we visited a papyrus factory where we learned how papyrus is made, which is a long and extensive process that doesn’t require skill so much as attention to detail and a lot of practice.
Our final stop on day two was Dahshur, easily my favorite part of day two in Egypt.
Highlights of Egypt
Dahshur is a small region outside of Cairo in which the pyramids of several pharaohs are located.
The guide took us to the Red Pyramid first. Not only was I able to take photos from outside, I was also able to crawl inside a second pyramid down a very long, very steep, very narrow shaft and all the way back up again. Totally worth the sore legs I had the next day.
Next was my absolute favorite pyramid: the Bent Pyramid.
The Bent Pyramid was one of my additions to the itinerary and therefore one of the sights I was most looking forward to seeing. It did not disappoint.
However, my second addition that I was equally if not more excited to visit, was a bit of a disappointment.
After visiting museums around the world and seeing the displays of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, I was beyond thrilled to spend part of the day in the Cairo Museum. My excitement was somewhat dashed by the reality of the museum.
As Egypt has fallen on hard political and economic times, things such as the Cairo Museum have suffered. It was still amazing to see the royal treasures of Tutankhamen and to be surrounded by artifacts from an amazing ancient civilization.
Dinner and a Show
Our final night in Cairo was marked by a Nile dinner cruise. We dined on the Nile amid traditional and non-traditional Egyptian music before a belly dancer performed along with two male dancers that had huge spinning skirts. The one man’s skirt even lit up with neon lights!
The next morning we said goodbye to Cairo because, like every great adventure, my trip to Luxor began at 5 AM.
Stay tuned for Egypt Part Two: Luxor