Cairo Day 2 – May 3, 2011
Half a world away we found out our watches were one hour fast, by coming down to breakfast too early, at 6:30 when breakfast only started at 7. The waiter setting everything out was very apologetic that breakfast wasn’t ready – but the coffee was and that’s really all that matters. Yesterday no one had noticed the time difference! Anyway, we were in plenty of time for our driver at real 8 am! Today we explored the southern towns with early pyramids: Saqqara, Dahshur and Memphis.
1st stop Saqqara: a vast site with a very nice new museum explaining it all (named in honour of the French archeologist who came for a season and stayed for 75 years!). Saqqara has the pre-pyramids, flat mounds (Mastaba) which covered up the tombs beneath them. The mounds have been excavated and there are fantastically well preserved carved scenes and hieroglyphs. We were “adopted” by a persistent “guide” who actually proved quite helpful in showing us the way around (and in allowing us to take photos in the tombs – all very hush-hush!). Saqqara is also where the Step Pyramid – the earliest – is; basically it’s several Mastaba on to of each other, built in 2600 BC. We spent a couple of increasingly hot hours here and then decided on “lunch”. Actually only Colin was hungry, but the cold water was very welcome and reviving. The touristic restaurant played a welcoming “fanfare” as each group entered, which was way too loud; nicer sitting inside and hearing it played for others! Women were making and cooking pita in round ovens – interesting.
After lunch we continued on to Dahshur, and the first ”real” pyramids, the Bent Pyramid (where they had to change the angle at the top to prevent it collapsing) and the Red Pyramid. We were able to climb up to the Red Pyramid’s entrance, only then to go down even more internal steps (crouched over due to the low ceiling height). Inside at the bottom I was overwhelmed (almost literally!) by an overwhelming stench of ammonia – whether due to pee or some more natural phenomena, we couldn’t!!! Not all that exciting inside, except you can see the building structure. Had to wait ages for a very slow-moving and large group to clamber down! Our driver then drove us as close as he could to the Bent pyramid – but it’s in a military zone so you can’t get right there. Far off in the distance we also saw the collapsed pyramid of Meidum.
Our final stop was in Memphis (ancient capital, not much remaining) Museum mainly to see the recumbent colossal statue of Ramses II. Stopping at Memphis made us later back into Cairo and we hit ”rush hour” (unless it’s always rush hour here!). But the drive out and back was very interesting: seeing the newer suburbs of Cairo and the countryside with small towns and busy road-side fabrication plants. We also stopped at one of many carpet schools and saw young girls and boys knotting carpets. We were told they get 25 EP per day ($3.75!) and 3% when a rug sells. The girl was 13, the boys looked about 8, but we were told they attended school half-day. Upstairs we looked at their showroom but didn’t have to buy one!
Explore Egypt through some great fiction: