“Would headphones work?” I asked Mohamed, Cairo host.
I was about to head out to see the wonder of the ancient world, the great pyramids of Egypt, in Giza, a city that is part of many that make up Cairo.
“They might,” he answered. “But you’ll still get harassed. And because tourism is low, the harassments are quite aggressive now.”
I did some online research about the level of harassment at the pyramids by guys trying to get you to ride a horse, a camel, both, a caleche (horse ‘n’ buggy) with a camel tied onto the back. Whatever combo they could come up with.
So my counter-harrassment weapon of choice? A pair of headphones and doing the unthinkable as an open-minded traveller – ignore everyone.
The pyramids were a short microbus (minivan) ride across the Nile. I was dropped under a bridge and told to walk towards Haram street (‘Haram’ means ‘pyramid’). The signal to get a ride to the pyramids was an upside-down victory sign creating a triangular shape between the index and middle finger. That way, you get the right ride.
I signaled a passing microbus who stopped and picked me up.
And then dropped me two meters later.
“Last stop,” said the driver.
“I just got on,” I said. “I could’ve walked.”
“Come, I’ll show you,” a young local offered to help.
“You’re an asshole,” I said blatantly to the driver as I hopped off. “A fuckin’ asshole.”
The kid lead me to the main street where he flagged down a VW Combie which acts as the minivan bus services in Giza.
I thanked the kid even though I was on my guard in case of dodgy activity. But he walked off to his destination, just happy to help out a foreigner. I was still pissed at the other driver as the Combie drove along Haram street but when I caught a glimpse of The Great Pyramid of Giza the anger washed away. I was let off at the entrance to the complex where I plugged headphones into my ears.
I don’t have a player of sorts to plug into and I don’t usually wear headphones unless I’m watching something on my laptop before I go to bed. So I just shoved the jack into my pocket and pretended to be deaf to the world.
As soon as I stepped off the Combie I was approached. I could hear the, “Excuse me, sir, which country? Camel ride? Do you know how much? Horse ride? Do you have a sister I can marry? Ticket to see the pyramids?”
One guy got a little cocky and tried to grab my arm.I whipped around and detached him from me and without speaking wagged my finger in his face to indicate that he should avoid doing that for the safety of his immediate future.
I ignored everyone, acting the right prick, pointing at my headphones. Surprisingly, it worked and the harrassers let me be.
Not before reaching screaming levels and then cursing in Arabic.
I suppressed my grins.
I was happy that there won’t many tourists aside the local ones. It made for easier photos without anyone in the frame doing the ol’ ‘finger atop the pyramid’ shot which takes up half an hour as I witnessed a Korean couple taking about a hundred shots.
I walked around upbeat, focusing on the 4,000 year-old energy of a civilisation so advanced that it still boggles minds as to how they built this structures.
The Great Pyramid – the Pyramid of Khufu – a Pharaoh in the third dynasty, took 23 years to complete and weighs in at 6.5 million tons. It’s said to be built from 2.5 million blocks. The blocks were precisely fit to a margin of error of only 58 mm. It was regarded the tallest structure in the world for 3,800 years (until the spire of the Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1311 in Lincoln, England), standing at 481 feet.
Next to it is the Pyramid of Khafre, tomb to Pharaoh Khafre of the fourth dynasty. It’s also the only pyramid where the top is still covered by the casing stones. The other structures had there’s stripped off to build roads, bridges and mosques somewhere in the 15th century.
The smallest structure, the Pyramid of Menkaure, was the first in line to be demolished by the hands of al-Malek al-Aziz Othman ben Yusuf (1171-1198), Egypt’s second Sultan at the end of the 12th century.
He ordered for the pyramids to be taken apart and it took workers eight months to wedge out a small vertical gash before the idea was given up due to costs that were higher than building the actual structures.
Looking up I couldn’t help but wonder how? How the hell did they even come up with the idea of a pyramid let alone position them astronomically aligned with Orion’s Belt, according to Robert Bauval’s theory from 1983 (published in 1989 in Discussions in Egyptology, Volume XIII).
And then came the Sphinx. I was a bit disappointed. It looks so much bigger in photos and documentaries. What I saw appeared to be the house-sphinx version.
Where’s the real one? I asked myself, ignoring the hawkers trying to get me to ride a camel that had a look on its face that said, ‘Shoot me. Please, just shoot me’ (if you ever find yourself at the pyramids, make sure the animal you ride is well-treated).
The sphinx is a mythological creature that acts as the guardian of the gateway to the after world. In Greek mythology it is a woman with lion haunches and wings with the head of a human. The most famous is the one featured in the story of Oedipus.
The Egyptian sphinx is regarded usually as male, although Queen Hatshepsut had one made with her face. The sphinxes of Egypt are benevolent as opposed to Greek’s malevolent. The one in Giza, Abu al-Haul (Father of the Dread) is thought to have had the face of Pharaoh Khafra but that has long disintegrated.
In fact, it’s yet to be proven if the Great Sphinx of Egypt is associated with Khafra. But what is known is that it’s the largest monolith statue in the world standing at 20 meters height and 73 meters in length (19 meters wide), it’s still not known what its creators called it. In the New Kingdom, it was called Hor-em-akhet, which means ‘Horus of the Horizon’. The word ‘Sphinx’ is Greek and was given to the statue in Giza 2,000 years after its construction.
As I posed Animal in front of it with the pyramids behind for a photo, a police officer said that I couldn’t take the shot with my mascot.
“Why not?” I frowned.
“No photo,” he said. “I take camera.”
I scoffed and, as I usually do when it comes to people with a power trip because of uniform, I turned my back on him, took my photo, thanked him and walked off as he tried to ponder whether it was really worth chasing his belly after me in this heat to play to his ego which just took a beating.
I walked out and wondered how the government allowed the city of Cairo and Giza to be built right up to this most historical of places of the ancient world. I mean, there’s a golf links at the bottom of the complex.
A golf links!
It might explain how the Sphinx lost its face.