Journal: Sunday 16 November 2003
It was a familiar route, the hair-raising dash through downtown Cairo in the midst of the morning rush hour with Mohammed at the wheel of the minibus. Crossing 6th October Bridge, below which the Nile flows sluggishly around either side of Gezira Island, I looked down to see the bright green artificial-looking lawns of the sports club as we flew high above it. Our driver smoothly negotiated the wealthy suburbs of Dokki and before long we were on the wide Sharia al-Haram, the Pyramids Road. On the road through the less salubrious suburb of Giza, at every traffic light, boys in baseball caps wove their perilous way between the slow-moving traffic and tried to sell stems of roses or boxes of tissues to stressed drivers. This morning we were on our way to Saqqara.
Today was the last day for the group and the last day for Mohammed, who will head back home to Luxor tomorrow with the hired minibus. Saqqara is an outing not to be missed and several of the group had never been there – they were in for a treat.
But when we arrived, Sam took the group off to see the site’s highlights and Kevin and I once more wandered off on our own. Last time I was here, in January, Sam and I had seen the Buried Pyramid of Sekhemkhet and now Kevin wanted to see it. The two of us walked around the Unas Pyramid complex for a while and then struck off towards the Buried Pyramid, expecting to be turned back by the tourist police, but nobody bothered us. A gafir came out of a hut near the pyramid, but just stopped to chat a while and then left us to investigate on our own. You can never tell what’s going to happen in some of the sites. Sometimes places are off-limits and other times they’re not – it’s the luck of the draw and the unpredictability of Egypt is both frustrating and endearing. However, we ran out of luck when we began to walk into the desert towards the Gisr el-Mudir enclosure and were hauled back by the police.
Kevin and I met up again with the rest of the group later in the tomb of Mereruka. I had hoped to be able to get some photographs here but this was not allowed. It’s one of my favourite tombs at Saqqara and there is always something new to see that I haven’t noticed before. We left Saqqara in the mid-afternoon, hoping to beat the evening rush hour, but it seems to me that the rush hour lasts all day, or is at least indistinguishable to us. We stopped near Midan Tahrir to visit the American University bookshop. I’d been hoping we wouldn’t because the place is just too much of a temptation for me and as usual I came away with several books. I found a copy of Ahmed Fakhry’s Bahariya and Farafra that I’d been looking for and also a new book about the Oases with fabulous pictures that made me hope all the more that my own would come out. I also bought a very good new map of Egypt published by Rough Guide that is better than the one I already have.
An early ‘last night’ dinner at Felfella – a real feast for this special occasion – was followed by several hours in Fishawi’s coffee shop in the Khan el-Kalili. The old bazaar was busier than I’d ever seen it before because of Ramadan and crowds of Egyptian families were out for the evening. We all commented on the fact that in Egypt the children seem to go to bed at the same time as their parents, so it is not unusual here to see babies and young children scampering about until midnight. There was a very festive air to the place tonight.