Egypt is hot y’all. And when someone tells you “Yes, but it’s a dry heat so it’s not so bad,” feel free to punch them in the head for me. Egyptians say that July and August are the hottest and by September things ease up, but when it’s over 100 degrees in the desert and you’re climbing around inside pyramids or studying the hieroglyphs carved into tombs, it’s like trying to exercise in an oven.
It’s no joke…Two people in our tour group got heat stroke. I’m told if I ever come back, we should aim for January or February, so, keep that in mind for yourselves as well. But don’t expect snow. (Heh heh.)
I will say this. Being here and seeing all of these things in person is absolutely mesmerizing. First stop in Saqqara was the Step Pyramid created in the 27th century B.C. by the architect Imhotep for the Pharaoh Djoser, the Old Kingdom pharaoh who launched the tradition of constructing pyramids as monumental royal tombs. We climbed around inside and underneath, then walked through the ritualistic mummification chamber and the large square where the Pharaoh would run around half-naked after 7 days of “playing dead” at his rejuvenation ceremony much to the delight of the citizens watching the spectacle. There was even a statue of Djoser staring out two small peepholes — straight towards the North Star so he could “see” where his soul would be going after death. All very dramatic.
The next stop in Saqqara was all about animals, so of course it was my favorite. We walked for what felt like forever to reach the Serapeum, in order to see the sarcophagi of the Sacred bulls of the Apis cult at Memphis. These bulls were treated as gods because they were believed to be the reincarnation of Phthah, in Egyptian religion, the creator-god and maker of things, and as if that weren’t enough, a patron of craftsmen, especially sculptors.
As a result of their status, each bull upon his death, was mummified as a king, and then interred in the Serapeum in one of the HUGE sarcophagi (photos of one of the black leaded sarcophagi to follow).
After that incredible site (which has been closed for over 7 years), we traveled to Dahshur to see the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, where those willing to brave more extreme hiking in the heat, could crawl the length of the two pyramids through secret channels and passageways.
I was told it was harrowing by several people who had done this before — that you are bent over literally into a 90 degree angel while you are walking almost straight down, then you climb rickety ladders upwards in the dark and descend steps back down, again in the dark. It sounded like an evil game of Chutes and Ladders to me.
Yousef, our guide, told us “It is dark, it is humid, it is very hot, and there are bats. And there is literally no light and nothing to see. But if you want to go into the galleries and chambers of a pyramid, this is when you do it.” Leon decided to do not one, but both of those climbs to the top of the tombs…Needless to say, I passed. (In full disclosure, Leon swears he didn’t see any bats.)
I have tried to learn a few phrases in Arabic because I truly believe it is rude to travel to a foreign country and not learn enough of that country’s language to show respect to its people and culture. I thought you might get a kick out of learning them too. (I may be making a few tiny errors here and there, but by and large I think these are right. At the very least, they seem to elicit huge grins from everyone I use them on.)
Hello – Sa-LAAM aLAI-kum*
Hello to you too – Wa-Alaikum-Salaam*
Water – Maya
Thank you – SHU-kran
Good bye – MA-as-salāma
Yalla yalla – quick, quick!
Yalla bina – Let’s go!
(*This actually means “Peace be upon you” but people use it as a greeting here)
The first thing that struck me arriving in Cairo is the hazy, orange sky at sunset. It’s gorgeous. At first I thought that was caused by smog or pollution, but I found out later, it is actually the sand in the air — sand so fine you can’t feel it anywhere except your eyes, but wow…they sure feel it! I am so grateful that I brought loads of eye drops. My eyes are so swollen, and they feel like sad, little golf balls bumping around in their little hidey-holes…Ah, the glamour of travel!
Tomorrow we tackle the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Tonight however…is reserved for a glass of dry white wine and whispered conversation with my sweetheart. Talk to you again soon.