Journal: Saturday 15 November 2003
Many of our little group have never been to Cairo before and they naturally wanted to make the Giza Pyramids their first stop. Sam arranged with the hotel to hire an Egyptian guide for the day because she’s not allowed to guide the group herself at Giza. Kevin and I have both visited Giza many times and although I’ve never been with a guide, I decided to go off with Kevin to look around the plateau on our own, first hitching a ride with the rest of the group in the minibus. We picked up the young Egyptian guide on the road to the pyramids and he immediately started in on the usual witticisms and jokes – so I was glad to have opted out.
It was still early when we arrived at the entrance to the Plateau, a perfect morning with the sun just beginning to burn off the mist with wisps of thin smoky vapour drifting across the sand. The pyramids looked huge and majestic and we could hardly make out the rag-bag of tall buildings that are always just a stone’s throw from the site and seem to be closer every time I come here. Saying goodbye to the group, Kev and I struck off across the desert, pretending to be deaf or stupid whenever we were approached by the few early morning touts selling horse or camel rides. They didn’t believe that anyone could want to walk here. For most of the morning Kevin and I wandered around, taking time to look at things that tourists often don’t get enough time to do. We explored the eastern mastaba field and were left totally alone – no touts or gafirs offered to ‘show us something special’.
By the time the Plateau got really crowded, around Mid-day, we were right over on the southern side and we climbed up the rocky outcrop that overlooks the whole area. A policeman called after us in Arabic that we were not allowed to climb the hill, but we didn’t hear him. From the top there is the classic view of the three pyramids nestled closely together on the desert plain, the monuments of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure with his three queens were laid out before us to the north and from this perspective they really looked like they were alone in the desert. To the east the layout of the mastaba cemeteries could be clearly seen. Immediately below us the modern Muslim and Coptic cemeteries reached out over the earlier necropolis towards Khafre’s causeway and the Sphinx, while down below us to the east stretched the enigmatic ‘Wall of the Crow’, a huge stone structure with a colossal gateway that may once have been the entrance to the ancient necropolis. Beyond this we had a good overview of the excavations directed by Mark Lehner of the Pyramid town, the workmen’s village where archaeologists have recently discovered the bakeries, breweries, houses and burial places of the population who sustained the building and maintaining of the pyramids. We spent a couple of hours up on the hill in wonderful undisturbed peace and quiet.
In the mid-afternoon heat we walked back down to the mayhem on the Plateau, back into the throng of tourists and touts and we had to fight our way through crowds of Egyptian schoolchildren to get out of the entrance near the Sphinx Temple. We were in luck and found a taxi easily and the driver agreed to take us all the way across the city to our hotel for only LE30, a journey of about an hour at that time of day. It has probably been the most enjoyable day in Giza I’ve ever had.
I had time for a shower and a rest before joining the others who returned later in the afternoon. Some of us went back over the river to eat at Kadoura, Sam’s favourite fish restaurant in Mohandesin and to sit and while away the hours until Midnight, watching Cairo’s trendy young set under the bright lights of Shakawa coffee shop opposite the restaurant.