Friday, August 13, 2010

Egypt - fun stuff

Upon arrival we both knew that Egypt would be a whirlwind tour. So we buckled up and readied ourselves to be inundated with a load of excitement and a shock to the senses. We were not disappointed right from the get-go. Our tour guide, Hend greeted us with lots of excitement and actually seemed rather eager to show us her world. She did not want to waste a minute because there was so much to see and so little time to see it all. As Katie mentioned, I decided to buy a tour package for us so we could just relax and enjoy the ride partly because I knew we would eventually grow tired of having to plan excursions, meals, etc. each and every day and partly because Egypt is just one of those kind of places with so much historical importance that it made more sense to have someone take us around and educate us while we just absorbed everything like a sponge and partly because I knew that Egypt would be a perfect romantic getaway for the both of us. Turned out, I was right on all counts. :)

Upon arrival I wasn't quite sure what to expect of Cairo. The only thing that I was certain of was that it was going to be extremely hot and that it was! As for what the places might look like, I had no clue. Hend organized the whole tour for us and planned all the activities for us before we got there. She put us in a 3 star hotel that I thought was a little below what I had paid for. I was expecting a 4 star hotel by international standards but in the end I was very happy with what she picked for us. Now with hindsight as 20/20 I realize why she put us there. It was mostly because she wanted us to be right next to all the action in Cairo and because she didn't want us to waste any unnecessary dinero. We were only a few streets away from all the plaza's, etc. which meant we had immediate access to fun and good eating every night. As we would both find out later, all the 4 and 5 star hotels would be located right along the Nile river. Ofcourse, where else would they be? Duh! It didn't make sense for us to stay in a fancy hotel anyway because our schedule was such that we would have never had any time to enjoy the amenities of a swanky hotel because we were always on the go and never there. All we really needed was a nice, clean, safe place to sleep and Hend knew that. We were able to secure a room on one of the top floors with a view of the pyramids from the balcony thanks to Hend's negotiation skills. Thanks Hend for making our stay so nice and for going out of your way to get the extra's for us. :)

As for what Cairo looked like, it was very dusty and seemingly dirty in some of the main areas. This is most likely attributed to the sands that have been blowing there for the past 1000 years or so. Inside the buildings it's very cosmo and sheik but outside the winds have made there mark on the buildings. Maybe that is because a lot of them had white exteriors? Hmmm? Walking in and about Cairo kinda felt like walking around in Las Vegas in the dead heat of the summer only there are cool ass pyramids on the horizon to look at instead of casino land. Inside it is a cool 72%, outside it is 100! Cairo is a much more vivid scene than Vegas I must say not that I don't like Vegas cause I do. You can literally see the pyramids from the town center just hanging out there stretching endlessly toward the sky. I had to slap myself a couple of times just to make sure I was really there.

I wasn't sure what to expect when we headed off for the pyramids. I knew they would be big up close but just how big I had no clue. I would soon find out just how gargantuan these things are as you can probably tell from the pictures. Just one of those giant blocks weighs 1000's of tons. How in the hell did they stack those damn things up. If you think it's unimaginable just by looking at it in pictures imagine what it looks like just being there up and close. There's no way in hell they lifted those rocks with a ramp and pulley system. BS! Trust me, if you saw what I saw you would agree with me that something else had to be at play here. Try this on for size. There is no technology that exists today that could match the accuracy with which they built the great pyramids so long ago. The symmetry alone cannot be duplicated with today's technology. The margin of error(gaps in the blocks) on these great edifices is almost nill. How is that possible? How was an ancient society that was supposedly far less intelligent than we are today able to build something that we cannot? Not enough for you? Try this one. There are only 2 cranes that currently exist in the world that are even capable of lifting one of the huge blocks off the ground. Never mind trying to park it on a dime with no base threshold to hold on to while heaving it 400 feet into the air. That's what they somehow did! Can you say, uh, little greens guys at work? As agent Molder would say, "The truth is out there". :)

We spent around 3 hours just taking in the grandure of the greatest man-made(supposedly) structures ever made. Hend asked us if we wanted to walk through the tunnels inside but we decided not too for 2 reasons: 1)It was very, very, hot and the tunnels were very small and cramped and sweaty and 2) Hend said there was nothing really to see as there were no paintings, writings or anything on the walls. This gave us more time to see the other pyramids and ancient temples that were on the Giza plateau. So we went and visited Khafre's pyramid which happened to be just right next door. That was a big monster as well. The cool thing about Khafre's pyramid that was not visible on Khufu's pyramid was that the top of it still had the mud plaster that was used to seal all of the pyramids on the Giza plateau. You can see this really well in some of the pictures we took. When I asked what happened to the mud seal on the other pyramids she informe us that sadly it had been chipped away,hauled off and used by the egyptian people following ancient times for building material, etc. Talk about no respect for your ancestors. The other cool thing about the pyramids was a smaller pyramid that used to sit next to Khafre's pyramid on the other side. It no longer exists as it collapsed somehow but in this pyramid was a vessel that looked something like a viking ship that was perfectly sealed inside. Imagine one of those ships that you see inside a bottle, now multiply that scale by 10000 and you have Khafre's ship that would allow him to jet away in the afterlife. The ancient egyptians were obsessed with the afterlife. They basically spent their entire human lives preparing for it. Crazy huh! After getting a natural high from hangin' at the pyramids(as if that wasn't enough) we jetted around the corner just in front of them to the Sphinx. Now this is a whole different ball of wax or should I say ball of sand. As Katie said, it is the largest ingle scarved structure in the world. It is BIG! They say that the Sphinx holds the keys to the secrets of the universe. Just standing there staring at it you can see why they say this. Anyone or anything that could build something like that, keep in mind with such computer precision in ancient times when such knowledge was not supposed to exist,has to be of some higher power in some way or another. Some experts even believe that the Sphinx along with the Pyramids altogether represent a map of the earth and cosmos that has meaning that has yet to be fully understood. The math behind the orientation and symmetry of the Sphinx and the pyramids is just now being understood and is mindboggling as to the astronomical significance they might have. Myth has it that the people who built these grand structures weren't even egyptian. You heard me right, not egyptian! There are some schools of thought that believe that an ancient civilization even more ancient that the egyptians used to roam egypt and that they left the pyramids as a sign of their intelligence to someday be figured out by a society that would eventually be as smart as them. This is heavy stuff as you might imagine because this actualy defies the beginning of time and what egyptologists believe is the beginning of modern civilization. The egyptologist puke at this idea as you might imagine because it basically throws all their theories and hard work right in the garbage. If the egyptians didn't build the pyramids, then who did? As the egyptologists have said, Where is the evidence? The best part of this debate which the egyptologist hate that lends favor to some other master civilization as being responsible for the pyramids and the sphinx is this one telling fact: The experts have not been able to date the Sphinx as being built in the time of the Pharaohs or even date it at all. The only proof they have that it may have been built by the ancient egyptians was a sign that Khafre left on the Sphinx that did date back to his time that basically said in so many words "Khafre was here". This is what all the great egyptologists are hanging there hat on, a friggin' sign. The truth is and this is what most of the skeptics say: The pyramids and the sphinx could have very well already been here long before the egyptians arrived and they could have just decided that they were going to put their name on them and claim them as their own. How can you not consider this possibility if you are an egyptologist especially when the expert carbon-daters say that they are highly certain that the sphinx is most likely thousand of years older than ancient egypt as we know it ever existed? Regardless of who is right and who is wrong it is just such fascinating stuff. Just imagine the great Khafre strolling up on these magnificent things and saying: what the @$#^%^ is this? This is so cool! I think I will claim all of it as mine and put my name on it while I'm at it. It does make me wonder who is right and I have to say being right there next to it all makes we wonder even more: What if the sceptics are right?

After all the excitement ended Hend dropped us off at the hotel to get ready for our dinner cruise. We had fun that night watching Hend laugh at the entertainment all night.

The following day proved to be an eventful day as well. Now that our minds were spinning at 1000 revolutions per minute based on what we had already seen we needed some kind of distraction to wind down a bit. I had mentioned to Hend earlier that I wanted to get some kind of charm that had my name written on it in hieroglyphs just like the one she had. So she took us to the best jewelry shop in town so we could get an authentic, certified one just like hers. Katie ended up getting one that was much more rad than mine(pure gold,geez!), but my silver one still did the job.

Afterwards, Hend took us to see some ancient churches and the biggest and baddest mosque in Cairo. All of them were very interesting places. One of the churches was called the floating church as is had no foundation. It basically sat on pillars. The other church was even more interesting and highly significant in religious terms. It was the place that the Mother Mary hid the baby Jesus when she fled there in fear for his safety. We got to see the room where she actually spent her days hiding. Very surreal.

The mosque was very cool as well. It had an old clock tower on one side that France donated to Egypt as part of a good will act. The irony of the whole thing is that once put into place it never worked, Ha! Inside the mosque was just like any other. A large carpeted area to accomodate all the people that come to pray throughout the day. I asked Hend how the prayer thing worked as all Muslims are required to pray at least 5 times every day. I asked her how she could keep her work schedule and manage to go the the mosque and pray every day 5 times a day! She said that there is no set schedule as you might imagine. You just make it up on the days you couldn't make it. It was the consistency of going to pray that really mattered. The conversation then got a little awkward as she asked us what people in our country thought of women of her religion and she was very adamant about getting our own opinions as well. We were careful to make sure we didn't say anything that might offend her as she was quite defensive and proud of her religious background and rightfully so. All this excitement ofcourse made us very hungry. We had mentioned to Hend earlier that we wanted to have some local food while we were there so she took us to one of her favorite digs and we got the VIP treatment. As Katie mentioned, it was really good. Different, but very tasty.

The hightlight of the second day was ofcourse the Egyptian Museum. As I mentioned earlier, the sheer size and number of artifacts in the museum is enough to make anyone dizzy. For those of you who have been to the Met in NYC, it's bigger! There were a ton of fascinating sculptures that Hend took us to and gave us the history on. Hard to keep all of them straight. Just so many of them. The most memorable sculpture for me I guess was the one of Hatshepsut(the great female pharaoh). Mainly because her sculture had a significant angry red color in the face or head(a sort of calling card) as if to say "I am a bad ass, don't mess with me". We also went to King Tut's section of the museum. This part had heavy security as you might guess because of all the gold items on display. I wasn't too impressed with these exhibits as King Tut overall didn't excite me too much. He was just a boy King who had alot of gold, big deal. Blah, blah, blah! The best part of the museum for me,as Katie mentioned, was without a doubt the mummies that were on display. You had to pay extra to see the mummies and it wasn't cheap either. But who goes to the Egyptian museum and has a chance to come face to face with Ramses the Great and does not? NOT ME! So in we went. The rooms were all cold to keep the mummies at the right temperature. They were all in glass casings so you could get a very good glimpse of all sides of the mummies. I knew that Ramses was in there somewhere among the 100 some odd mummies they had on display so I immediately searched him out. There in the corner of one of the rooms I finally found him. It read: This is the mummy of Ramses II... As soon as I looked down onto the glass a chill went up my spine. There I was staring Ramses the Great right in the eye(uh, so to speak). It was definite a weird moment. He still had some of his hair and eyelashes after all these thousands of years. Hard to believe! I imagined what he might have looked like when he ruled Egypt. Based on the mummy I saw, I sensed that he must have been a very formidable man.

Luxor proved to be a very fascinating place as well. Hend prepped us by telling us that it would be hot, very hot. It was already Africa hot, how could it get any hotter? It was hotter, much hotter than Cairo. So hot that Hend decided she would have some other local Luxor guide, Mohammad, show us around. Probably so she would not have to endure the heat with us even though she claimed she had stuff to do. Mohammad's way of avoiding the heat was to have us meet him at dark-thirty in the morning so that we could be the first in line everywhere and rushed around so he could probably be home for lunch before the sweltering heat waves of the afternoon showed up. I immediate figured out his game and made a point to mention to him that we wanted more time at each place. He eventually conceded. You can imagine how hot it was in Luxor if our tour guide who has been in that hot place all his life was afraid to stay out too long. He took us to the Valley of the Kings and Queens to see some really cool tombs first as Katie has described very nicely. The highlights of Luxor for me not the tombs at the Valle of the Kings and Queens as you might think, but rather the two temples: The Luxor temple and the Karnak temple. Simply put, they were both awe inspiring. The Luxor for it's many massive statues of all the great pharoahs and the building itself that is so ancient. The Karnak for it's many massive pillars that were amazing to see and the way that the temple was built. Each dynasty would add on to the temple over the years and you could actually see where one dynasty ended and the other started to build. Thousands of years went into building the Karnk temple. That's one of the things that made it so fascinating. The biggest and most eye-catching part of the temple was of course the part built by Ramses II the Great that Katie talked about. He left his mark better than any pharaoh that ever lived by far.

On our last day in Egypt we headed to Alexandria just to see the Mediterranean Sea and get some relief from the heat and have some good food. Also because Hend told us that it was a very ubercool place to hang out and had a few very cool sites to see and it just happened to be her favorite place. We almost decided not to go and just rest a bit for our flight late that evening because we were so tired from all the excursions we had been doing non-stop. But with a little bit of encouragement from Katie I decided that the 3 hour car ride to Alexandria would be worth it. I'm so glad I did because we had a blast there as Katie has again very nicely described and the trip just would not have been the same without the road trip to Alexandria.

Overall the trip to Egypt was a smash hit! We saw and did so much in only 5 days time. So glad you had a good time babe, I did too! xo

Thanks for being such a great tour guide Hend. It just would not have been the same or maybe even worth it without you.


Anonymous,  August 14, 2010 at 9:30 PM  

Interesting - what did Hend think of your "little green men" theory? haha
God help us all if future generations find the phrase "Barela was here" on some statue or building....


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