The journey of a thousand miles begins with...the perfect pair of shoes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cruise: Egypt, Day Two

Did you enjoy yesterday's bit of Egypt? I hope so. We sure did. And now on to day 2! After we left the sumptuous hotel, we headed down toward Memphis and the Necropolis at Saqqara. It was another ridiculously hot day and once again, the traffic was insane. Our bus driver must have either nerves of steel, or the biggest stress hernia in the world.

We drove for about 30-45 minutes and passed by the Step Pyramid.  Indy almost had a heart attack until I assured him we were actually going there later.  Whew!  We stopped at an open air museum near (or in, I wasn't quite clear on this) Memphis that houses the largest standing statue of Ramses II (the Great) found to date.  The statue is not complete and while it is a standing statue, it's not actually standing.  Ramses was seriously in love with himself.  He had statues made by the dozen and had his face and/or cartouche cut into everything.  Megalomaniacs, what are you going to do? Still, it is seriously impressive.  There is a replica standing (actually standing) in Ramses Square (convenient!) in Cairo, but we didn't get to see it.  Check out how big it is!  That's what she said.

Apparently it was common for pharaohs to have a picture of their heir carved between their legs in standing statues.  I had no idea.  This is Merneptah, who was still quite young at the time this statue was carved.  BTW, Ramses lived to be around 90 and poor Merneptah didn't get the throne until he was in his 60's.  Huh, I guess Prince Charles has something in common with him.

This is the 2nd largest sphinx discovered to date.  It is quite small compared to the Great Sphinx! 

Hey, here's another statue of Ramses II.  The courtyard was quite literally packed with them.

And here's Indy practicing his mad whip skills.  He said it was "authentic" Indiana Jones because he was in Egypt.  Okay.  BTW, did you notice how there are pretty much no other people in these photos?  There were almost no other tourists there.

We piled back on the bus and drove to the Necropolis complex.  Indy was salivating.  On the way we passed many, many palms that were full of red things, the same red things that had been on the breakfast buffet earlier in the day and no one knew what they were.  I asked Hussein and he said they were dates.  I have never seen fresh dates before!  I also didn't know they grew on palms.  I'm not sure where I thought they came from, but then again, I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought.
There is a small museum at the front of the Necropolis that houses antiquities and the mummy of Imhotep, who was the architect of the Step Pyramid.  There was a 10 minute movie about the site before we actually went to it, but Han Solo was tired of sitting and needed to run about.  I decided to take him outside while the others watched the film, and he was so happy.  Look at that happy little face.  Also, notice how there's no one around.

When the film and museum were complete, we got on the bus once again. and traveled further into the complex where we passed several piles of rocks that are actually pyramids.  We even got to go down in one!  This is our tour group headed down to the tomb of Lepsius XXIX (IIRC).  The pyramid itself is northeast of the Step Pyramid and next to the tomb of Mere-Ruka which dates to about 2340 BC (it's in the second photo below).

See this pile of dirt?  Yeah, that's the pyramid.  Sweet!

Indy and I at the entrance.  There were tons of Egyptian men sitting around who offered to "take" us down in the tomb and of course expected a tip in return.  Emmy, who you can just see to the left of me in the white top and beige head scarf, said emphatically to NOT give any of them money.  They were not sanctioned guides, and we had already paid for our entry into the complex.  Four of them followed Indy and I down with two more in front of the group and all kept asking for money.  Emmy shooed them away with some very loud words in Egyptian and much hand gesturing.  It was kind of funny.

 Tomb entrance.

Indy, about 15 feet down the shaft.  We were at about a 45 degree angle.  Gigi had recently had back surgery and opted out of this excursion, and stayed with Han Solo and a few other tour members on the bus.  Wise move.

Once we got down the shaft, we had a long hall to get through.  See how Indy is hunched over?  Yeah, there was no standing straight for anyone until we got to the burial chambers.

 Hieroglyphs on the walls of the burial chambers.

Indy doing some more whip action in the chamber that housed the sarcophagus which you can see in the background.  The mummy and treasures were looted thousands of years ago, but the sarcophagus is still there.

We left the tomb, which was blissfully cool, and emerged into the blazing heat once more and then trooped over to one of the temples.  You were not supposed to take photos inside, but I did a quick snap (so was everyone else).  The paint is still on the walls.

Now, on to the main attraction at Saqqara: the Step Pyramid, built for Zosser (also known as Djoser) around 2600 BC.  Prior to this pyramid, everyone was buried under a mastaba, which is basically, one step.  Imhotep, Zosser's architect, got the idea to stack the mastabas, creating the first pyramid tomb.  It is in very bad shape and is undergoing constant preservation work.  You can see the scaffolding to the right of the pyramid.

We had an entire Asian group on our tour, who said they were from Canada (?) and were the nicest people.  They loved Han Solo and played with him all the time.  Several of the guys asked Indy if they could borrow his hat and whip for photos.  They thought it was hilarious.  Indy graciously handed it over and they got their photos.

This is the grand gallery leading to the pyramid.  It was really, really long, but I couldn't get a good photo of it from the inside.

This is the only remaining section of the original roof.

Indy with a camel dromedary.

I swear this camel  dromedary was smiling at me!

Hey!  Look!  It's Pocket Indy!

Random Egyptian man who said he liked pretty American ladies.  :)

My Indy on a donkey with an Egyptian head scarf.

I thought these stairs were fascinating.   We were up at the top part of the wall that surrounds the temple complex, which was about  3 flights above ground level.  I don't know what these led to, but I wouldn't want to have to go up and down them more than once a day.

This is the back side of the temple.  The Step Pyramid is to the left.

We trudged back to the bus, exhausted yet excited over what we had seen.  The town of Saqqara was, well, filthy, just like the rest of the areas we had been through.  This is a canal from the Nile into Saqqara.  It was so disgusting.  There were dead animals floating in it.  We saw two sheep and a pig just floating.  About 30 feet from them there was a guy fishing and not far from him another guy was swimming!  Ack!  I couldn't get a good picture of the areas that were packed with trash, but trust me, it was there.

Here's something interesting.  In Egypt, if you don't finish your house/building, you don't pay taxes on it.  Guess what?  There are almost no completed houses anywhere!  They either have an unfinished top floor or in the case of apt buildings, a floor in the middle that's incomplete.  Isn't that weird?  BTW, it's a sign of prosperity

Our final sightseeing stop of the day was the Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali, also known as the Alabaster Mosque.  It sits on the highest point in Cairo and the roads going up were treacherous!  The mosques was built by Muhammad Ali in memory of his son Tunsun Pasha, who died in 1816.  It was so beautiful.  I couldn't get any good photos of the interior because we couldn't use flash and there was a prayer service going on.

Indy in the courtyard.  Notice his feet?  We had to wear shoe covers or take your shoes off when visiting.

The city of Cairo from the terrace of the mosque.  It was much bigger than I realized.

We left the mosque and came down the scary roads again to have lunch on a Nile river boat.  On the way to the boat, one of our guides, Hussein, left us.  The bus driver just stopped in the middle of traffic, in the center lane, and Hussein just got off and started walking through the street traffic. WHAT?  He was not the only person we had seen doing this though.  Cars would stop in traffic that was zipping around them and a passenger would open the door and hop out. 

After that is was time for the drive back to Alexandria.  The trip on the way back was just as scary and eventful as the drive out.  People just randomly walk across the highway.  There was a man in a wheelchair sitting on the highway.  Not on the edge of the highway, but right in the middle of it.  And of course there were donkey carts.  It was so weird!  When we got back we drove around the city instead of going through it like we had when we left, and Emmy pointed out where the Lighthouse of Alexandria once stood.  

Egypt was really a learning experience for all of us.  I was shocked by how poor the people were.  I mean, I knew Egypt was not a wealthy country, but I had no idea how bad it was for the average person. It was far more of an education for Indy than I bargained for.  The people were so friendly and kind and honestly happy to see us.  Or rather see our money.  They preferred American dollars and Euro to Egyptian pounds.  Gigi questioned that, but I assumed it was because the Egyptian gov't is so unsteady that if it falls again, and the economy crashes, the value of the EP will plummet but the USD will retain its value.

I have to say, our family was worried to pieces about us going to Egypt.   I kept teIling everyone that we would be fine, but they were still convinced we were going to be kidnapped and sold into slavery or something. When we got back to the ship, Gigi had to text my step-dad and about 10 other people to let them know we had survived.  Sheesh.    

So, that was our Egyptian experience.  I would love to go back and spend a week or so there.  Indy still wants to see the temple at Abu Simbal and I'd love to do the 4 or 5 night Nile River cruise.  Indy said he knows he'll be back one day when he's an archaeologist, and we can come visit him.  :)  

If you missed day one, you can read all about it here:  Egypt, Day One.  Come back in a day or two when I post our next stop, Israel. 



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