Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 45- Alexandria to Cairo, Egypt

I saw the sunrise this morning around 6:15 with little land in sight. Our SAS trip met in classroom 8 at 8:30 to prepare to debark as soon as we were cleared. There are 23 students on the trip and a family. Professor Stamper, his two sons Grant and Matt, and his wife are traveling with us. His wife is actually leaving tonight to go back to Virginia because their dog got hit by a car and has brain damage. She is very sad and Rick is very sad to see her go. He said he is already counting down the days till he sees her again and she hasn’t even left yet.


We jumped on the bus right away to get a head start before the Cairo/Luxor trip that has 4 buses full of students left. The trip to Cairo from Alexandria takes about three hours. We won’t get to experience any of Alexandria which is a bummer. Since there are so few of us, we each got our own row of seats on the bus. I think everyone napped the whole way to Cairo and missed the “beautiful” desert scenery on the way to Giza. Once in Giza, which is about 45 minutes outside Cairo, we stopped at a hotel called Meridien Pyramids for lunch. All SAS trips going to Cairo and elsewhere were having lunch at this hotel so we took over the whole ballroom upstairs. There was a buffet lunch which was mostly identifiable, thanks to some handy labels. Unfortunately there are many things we were advised not to eat because of the poor tap water quality. So salad and many of the vegetables were off limits unless we want to bring the TD on this early in the trip. Back on the bus we headed straight to the pyramids which could be seen from the hotel. I could not get over the fact that you might just be driving down the road to the store or to work and see the pyramids just chillin out the window. Totally blew my mind.


So we went over to the pyramids and went to a place where you can take pictures of all three pyramids at the same time. They call it the panorama and it’s a little plateau a ways off from the pyramids. This is where we had our first camel ride. JJ and I paid 50 egyptian pounds each to ride double on a camel named Banana. From the plateau a young boy led our camel train down to the pyramids which took about 20 minutes. At the end of our little trip he took our picture (you can’t really see me because JJ thought it would be smart to sit in front of me…he is over six feet tall)  and of course asked for a tip. In Egypt everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) requires a tip. Photo ops, directions, toilets, anything you can think of will require you to pay at least ten pounds. Luckily most people will accept various currencies so it’s handy to have a supply of 1 USD bills for such situations.


The pyramids are gigantic, we all know this, but there is no accurate description for how tiny I felt next to the massive structures. The bottom layer is taller than me by at least a foot and there are possibly 300,000 stones in each pyramid. It took 20 years to build just one and was totally built by hand. They are absolutely magnificent and I am still struggling to warp my head around the fact that I was there and I touched something that is thousands or years old. Interesting fact: Obama visited the pyramids a couple weeks before us and is the first president of any country to go inside the pyramid. However, he did not ride a camel. What would people say if the President of a country was seen participating in tourist activities. Would anyone take him less seriously for riding a camel? Ask any man who has ridden a camel and he will tell you it is quite an accomplishment.


After visiting the pyramids we strolled by the Sphinx and speculated which animal it most closely resembles. It has the head of a human and the disproportional body of a cat (?). Once we rescued Dan from a camel man and reclaimed his 300 pounds we were back on the bus driving through Cairo, past the Nile, and to Conrad Hotel to check in for the night. We took showers to get rid of the pyramid dust on us and had dinner at the hotel. The dinner conversation was pleasant as I sat next to the Global Studies professor, Alex Nalbach, and his partner Marc Vincent. The figs for dessert were some of the best figs I have ever had in my life.


Our small group returned to Giza at sunset to see the Sound and Light show at the pyramids and Sphinx. Between the lasers, colorful lights, booming music, and animation I learned some interesting Egypt facts. For example, it took 100,000 people to build the pyramids, the granite comes from Aswan, and the pyramids belong to Cheops (and two other guys I can’t remember). I saw a shooting star over Cheops’ pyramid which was a perfect ending to an outstanding day.


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I walked like an Egyptian today but resisted the temptation to buy a “traditional” head cover like many other people. I felt way too cheesy wearing it, like it was part of a Halloween costume.


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We have a 5 am wakeup call tomorrow.


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