Yes, everybody, I've made it to Egypt. After a moving learning experience or two in Ramallah, I made an impulse trip to float in the Dead Sea, rushed my way across to Amman, Jordan, and dropped down to see the cliffs of Petra by night, surrounded by candles, the echoes of a flute and Bedouin singing. Then it was across to the Sinai, New Year's Eve party on the beach, and then some diving in the Red Sea. Then a desert haul across the Suez canal and down the Nile river to the the town you see here.
Man, that was fast.
After celebrating officially having hit all seven continents, I teamed up with a Belarus-born Canadian to get from one town to the Valley of the Kings. For about $1.75 each, we rented two rusty rattletraps that almost passed for bicycles, pushed past the touts onto the ferry across the Nile, and rode past the donkey carts out towards the Sahara, to the tombs of the pharaohs.
Pretty cool stuff, but I'm sorry to tell you that the most obviously Egyptian things I've been seeing so far, the tombs of the pharaohs, did not allow photos. My friend got nailed for taking a picture inside the tomb of Thutmoses III-- the flash went off right in front of the irate attendant, who tried to take her camera away. If you do a little searching, I bet you'll find a couple pictures, though.
I spent a lazy day or two on the hotel rooftop with Swiss, German, Finnish, and Quebecois (edit: thanks Count C.) travelers, eating koshary and banana pancakes, talking and laughing about a lot of nothing in particular, and then I left for an overnight train to Cairo. It was scheduled to leave at 11:00pm, so naturally it arrived in the station at 11:40 and left a little before midnight. Welcome to Egypt.
Speaking of a welcome to Egypt, I'd been warned about Cairo. Everyone who'd been there seemed to have some warning to give about the place. The traffic is awful, the touts are unbelievable, the pollution is absurd. It's dirty, smelly, ugly, and you just want to leave.
They exaggerate. A little. It was a remarkably clear day and there wasn't *that* much trash in the streets. The cars do slow down for you to cross, if you're standing directly in front of them and if they're in a generous mood. But they were right about some of those touts. Those of you who know me know that I'm normally a patient guy, usually quite friendly, rarely if ever angry. I came very close to clocking two separate touts this morning because they simply would not leave me alone. They followed me into and out of shops and around whole city blocks. The second one was very lucky he didn't try grabbing my arm a third time.
After refusing half a dozen persistent taxi rides and shoving past two more touts convinced I still needed a hotel/tours/perfume, I hopped a bus to the suburb of Giza. The bus was stuck in traffic for only twenty minutes before moving. There would've maybe been enough leg room for me if I had stopped growing at age six. There was one overpowered A/c vent in the bus and it was pointed right at the only seat left. I scrunched up sideways and shivered for about half an hour, when other people finally started getting off.
I gratefully slid to an open window seat on the left side, watching the sunset over the buildings, thinking: What a day. This is the first productive thing I've tried to do since getting a hotel room and it's already sunset. Oh well. I still need to figure out what I'm doing after my flight to Ethiopia this weekend. I have a couchsurfing host, but no guidebook. Maybe I can wing it when I get there. I wonder if--
I only caught a brief glimpse of them rising behind some of the apartment buildings, but that was enough. Whatever I'd been worrying about before had been jarred out of my head. I knew they'd be here, I knew I'd see them, but knowing doesn't always prevent awe.
You can't blame me. It was my first glimpse of the pyramids of Egypt.
Some things are over hyped. Others are hidden gems that should have more hype than they get. But there are some things in this world that are so famous that, no matter what they are really like, seeing them floors you. There are many places claiming to be “wonders of the world”. There are even seven new ones because they got a lot of votes on the internet (to date, I've seen six of them). But only one original wonder of the world stands today: the Pyramids of Giza.
I got out, shook off a few more touts hawking horse rides, and walked up as close as I could for the time of day. Maybe without the title, I wouldn't stand in so much awe. They're just triangles of bricks, really. Ridiculously huge triangles of bricks, even bigger than I'd imagined, but still. Triangles of bricks. However, one of the really rewarding things about travel is the feeling of finding something you've heard about and seen imitated all your life. The felling of standing there, breathing it in and thinking “this is it.” And whatever else I'd had to deal with that day, that feeling made it worth it.
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