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Published: December 4th 2015
"Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one's lifetime." -Mark Twain
So here we go for another life trip. This trip, as I have said about a few others, is one in which I have been dreaming of and planning in my mind for years and years. The Middle East is a region where there is never really a "good time" to visit as it is a place that is wrought with perpetual political and social turmoil to a greater or lesser extent.
I had purchased our plane tickets in May arriving in Egypt and 3 weeks later departing Turkey, with plans to visit Greece and Jordan in between. At the time of purchase the region was somewhat stable, but since that time there has been the financial crisis in Greece, increased ISIS attacks throughout the area to include a beheading outside Cairo, a heated war with Syria, last week a shooting down of a Russian jet by Turkey, and last month a tragic bombing of an airplane full of Russians returning from a holiday at the most famous Red Sea resort. One week
prior to our departure there were the terror attacks in Paris, prompting a worldwide travel safety alert that hasn't been done since the Sept. 11th attacks. I have spent a lot of time monitoring state department information and following fellow traveler reports and decided to proceed with our travel plans, albeit cautiously and much to our family and friends chagrin. I believe that the statistical likelihood of being involved in a terror attack overseas these days is practically the same as that of being in the U.S. with our seeming endless reports of mass shootings that oftentimes are occurring in our most secure and revered places.
I have traveled and worked throughout the Middle East previously and have been infatuated with its people and history, and have been welcomed and respected everywhere. It is an incredible region at the crossroads of three continents where countless empires have risen and fallen over epochs of time. It is the birthplace of civilization and the land of some of the greatest historical figures and societies of human history. Our trip began as we departed Phoenix Sky Harbor and had a direct British Airways red eye flight to London, then onwards to Cairo.
The flight was one of the more horrendous flights, being sandwiched in between an extremely friendly Arab woman drenched in choking awful perfume next to me, and four screaming children in the row in front of us. Having never flown BA for some reason I thought they were one of the better airlines, but it was as tight and budget as you can get for an international flight, but the attendants were extremely polite and friendly at least. Thankfully we were able to get 8 shooters of Gin, of which Dennis drank 6, to help ease the pain.
We arrived in Cairo just past 0100 and met our cab driver from the Pyramids View Inn Gabriel. Gabriel welcomed us warmly to his country, and made sure to mention that he dressed up in a suit and tie just for us. Gabriel told us he was a retired policeman and spent 35 years in the "mafia" police. My later understanding after many questions was what he meant by "mafia" was he worked in drug and weapons interdiction. I told him that I too was police, and he snapped to attention and saluted me, profusely thanking me and acting as though
he was honored to be our driver. Every other time I saw him from here he saluted me, embarrassing me more with every time.
We quickly learned that Gabriel was pretty batty and drove like a madman, reaching speeds over 80mph through downtown Cairo, cursing and beeping and laughing away. He gave us a hasty tour during the 45 min drive to our hotel, which is on the other side of the Nile from Cairo, in Giza. We arrove at the Pyramid View Inn ($40), the most highly rated hotel in the entire area by TripAdvisor . At first glance the hotel is a bit shabby, but we quickly learned why the reviews are so stellar. The front desk clerk walked us to the rooftop terrace of the hotel and showed us just how close we were to the Giza plateau, literally across the street. There were no buildings between us and the expanse of desert that houses the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. We could easily see the outlines of the pyramids in the darkness, and were completely blown away with how close and massive they were.
After a fitful 4 hours of sleep we awoke to
a scrumptious breakfast, to include some fresh felafel, on the rooftop terrace overlooking Giza. Words cannot describe just how magnificent the pyramids and the Sphinx are. It is truly one of those places where no matter how many times you have seen it in photos, seeing it in person cannot compare and all your expectations are wildly exceeded. It is no wonder that the Pyramids of Giza are one of the 7 seven wonders of the world, and the only one that is still in existence.
The staff treated us like family, and were so thankful for our stay. We later spoke at length with the Egyptian owner Samy, who currently lives in LA with his American wife. We walked across the street, purchased our entry tickets ($12) and found ourselves to be the first tourists of the day and thus immediately approached by a few "guides" wishing to be our guardian angels to keep us safe from all the aggressive and "bad men" that would be swarming us throughout the day. We were warned by the hotel staff about the multitude of touts throughout the area, so we decided to choose one in hopes of having a carefree
day. Ibrahim said that he worked on tips only, and that we could pay whatever we felt was fair from our heart at the end. He asked where we were from, and he happily welcomed us to Egypt. He said that he felt many tourists from the US try to lie saying that they are from Canada, and that this was unnecessary. He went on to say that most people in the Middle East love Americans and that they separate the actions of the government from that of the people and know that we cannot control our foreign policy, just as they cannot control what the Egyptian government does. What words of wisdom from Ibrahim that we as Americans can all learn from.
Ibrahim guided us through the area, which is a necropolis (city of the dead), containing the 3 large pyramids that everyone is familiar with, 6 smaller pyramids, and the enigmatic Sphinx. The pyramids were constructed to house the remain of deceased Pharaohs. A portion of the Pharaoh's spirit called his ka was believed to remain with his corpse. Proper care of the remains was
necessary in order for the former Pharaoh to perform his new duties as king of the dead. It's theorized the pyramid not only served as a tomb for the Pharaoh, but also as storage for the various items he would need in the afterlife. The people of Ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the King was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife. Ibrahim claimed that he was a guard there at Giza and he allowed us access into places and encouraged us to take photos which were off limits to everyone else. At one point he offered for us to climb up one of the pyramids, which we never did, however I'm sure that everything here these days has its price. We climbed inside one of the pyramids and into a tomb, which is not for the physically unfit or claustrophobic.
I wanted to ride a camel around the pyramids and had imagined that this would be probably an expensive endeavor. Ibrahim brought us to a camel guide (undoubtedly his friend) who
proceeded to "kidnap" us on his camels before we agreed on a price. If you've never been on a camel they are really tall so once they stand up you cannot get down unless the owner pulls him down to his knees. We finally agreed on a price, half of his starting price but probably still double of what we should have, and proceeded on a camel trot through the desert and around to a scenic overlook of the pyramids. It was an unforgettable experience of a lifetime, and one which I was sore from for the next few days. The camel driver kept laughing telling Dennis "your wife she will walk like an Egyptian after." Dennis told me afterwards how even after paying so much for the ride the driver was trying to guilt and pressure him into paying an even larger tip, and said it would only be between them and God and that I didn't need to know about it.
As more tourists arrived throughout the morning we were greeted and welcomed by many schoolchildren, with bright huge smiles all telling us "Welcome to Egypt!" Ibrahim told us that tourism is at 10% or less of what it was, and we saw just a small handful of Western tourists among the hundreds that were at Giza that day. After touring Giza Ibrahim led us into the papyrus shop where we could "just look and not buy" and get a free demonstration on how they make papyrus paper. Of course this was the first of many papyrus shop offers, and I got pressured into buying 2 pieces by a salesman who was an expert.
Resisting the temptation to sleep during our short stay, we took a taxi back to Cairo to spend a few hours at the world famous Egyptian Museum, which is across the street from the infamous Tahir Square which was the location of the beginning of the Arab Spring. The Egyptian Museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts and it is said that if you were to look at every piece for 1 minute it would take you 9 months to see it all, and that is no exaggeration. We met several incredibly friendly locals throughout the day, all welcoming us and who were genuinely happy to speak with us for a few minutes.
We returned back to the hotel in time for dinner on the rooftop and watched the awesome sound and light show at the pyramids. We left for the airport after being given some souvenir pyramids as a gift from Kamal, one of the incredible hotel employees. Our flight to Aswan left at 2215, ending our 22 hour blitz tour of Cairo.
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