Cairo, the land of discovery…. in fact that is all of Egypt. There are active excavation sites everywhere. They are always finding some new tomb or ancient treasure. It is really quite astonishing when you think of it, that there is so much more to uncover in the sand. For the avid traveler this is great news because every time you visit Egypt you are guaranteed to see something new!
On our first day in Cairo, we were greeted by our Memphis Tour guide, Hoda but her nick name is Dee Dee. She has been a tour guide for years. She was a walking encyclopedia, well versed in the history and culture of the ancient Egyptians. She was so kind and welcoming and was eager to share her culture with us, which we are so grateful for. She helped us to feel comfortable and safe. We were escorted to our private, WiFi enabled vehicle and started our day, first stop- Memphis.
Memphis was the original capital of Egypt, where it is believed the first Pharaoh ruled in 3,100 BC. Now an outdoor museum, you can see sculptures such as the colossus of Pharaoh Rameses II and the first alabaster sphinx. Memphis located in the mouth of the Nile River was eventually abandoned during the 7th Century due to the first Muslim invasion.
After Memphis, we traveled to Saqqara- home to the Step Pyramid. This pyramid is pretty amazing because it was the first and basically their learning curve- hey we all have to start somewhere am I right?! Imhotep decided to make a burial site for the dead pharaoh. These burial sites were usually a rectangle shaped building with a flat roof. Since you couldn’t really see this smaller structure from far away they decided to build it up like steps leading to heaven. Py Ra Mid, has a lose translation meaning stairway to heaven to god Ra. This complex is massive and is surrounded by very tall walls, with many false doors to deter tomb raiders.
From the Saqqara, you can see in the distance the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. The Bent Pyramid, which I am guessing is the second attempt at a pyramid, is bent because half way up the slope changes drastically. The Red Pyramid is the first of the Pyramid to have the smooth slope, like those in Giza. The reason they call it the Red Pyramid is because of the way the stone glows at sunset.
After a traditional Egyptian lunch of bread, baba ganoush, tahini, kababs, humus and so much more we set off to see the Pyramids. The Pyramids of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is home to the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Chephren and Mykerinus. This is the old stuff, this is what we came to see! I was so excited; I can’t even describe to you the feeling to stand in front of this massive structure. All I could do was stand in aw with my mouth agape. The moment is quickly killed by locals hawking their wears and who can blame them. Tourism is the way the locals survive and with a drop of around 70% in tourists visiting from year 2010 to 2016, the industry and people are suffering.
There is an option to go inside of the large pyramid for an extra fee. We were advised against it as it was a very long journey deep inside and as you can imagine you are basically crawling down the shaft. We were able to go inside one of the smaller pyramids that was built for one of the queens and let me tell you that was enough for me. It was narrow, dark, and full of smelly tourists. After checking out the sites, we were taken to the top of the hill and negotiated a camel ride. Chris was offered “1 million camel for your wife”, to which he replied “sold!” but then our guide argued with him and said “no she is worth 2 million for sure.” Yea he was working for that tip, but it reminded me of Blues Brothers (anyone else get that reference?) It was a fantastic experience, with a view of the entire complex.
On our way out of Giza, we stopped off to see the Sphinx. One of the best fun facts from this day was that the sphinx was really just an afterthought. While making the funeral temples for the pharaohs the quarry wasn’t a site to behold. The pharaoh didn’t like that and told his architect to make something grand and so he did. He made a Sphinx with the head of the Pharaoh and the body of a lion. Inside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a smaller statue of what the sphinx actually looks like- see below. The Sphinx lost his nose, thanks to Napoleon and his troops who used it as target practice. With that being said, imagine the entire structure being covered in sand to only leave the top of the head for them to shoot at… that was a major excavation!
- Stick with your guide. They are great to tell the local merchants to get lost if you are being harassed.
- Do not talk to anyone except your guide. We found that once someone was talking to us and when we acknowledged them just to be nice they would expect a tip. Easier if you just ignore them and go about checking out the site.
- Forget the long trek inside the large pyramid- go for the smaller trek in the queen’s tomb.
- Always ask to take someone’s photo. I had grabbed a couple of quick shots to which my guide pointed out (culturally) they always appreciate if they are asked first.
- Never give a tip until you are finished with the service. For example our camel ride guide kept asking for his tip while we were very far away from where we started. I thought if we gave him a tip now and he didn’t like it he would make us walk back.
- Carry USD. The merchants, tour guides, drivers, everyone prefers if you have USD to the Egyptian Pound.
- Take your kids! There is nothing scary about Cairo or these sites. We were in the busy season at Easter and we had a great time and never felt unsafe.