GIZA, EGYPT — When in Egypt do what millions of other visitors do each year: see the pyramids, take hundreds of photographs, and ride a camel.
In a capsule, I followed that advice with friends Mary Ellen Say, of Toledo, and the Rev. James Say, of Oak Harbor, in late May.
Standing in front of the pyramids was an incredible thrill. It was as though lessons learned and pictures memorized in world history class at Adrian High School were jumping into reality six decades later.
The drive from Alexandria to the Giza pyramids was more than three hours in heavy traffic past industrial sites and olive tree groves, but Ahmed, our guide, and Essam, the van driver, made the long drive interesting with regional information. Often Ahmed, who has a master’s degree in English, spoke of his love of the country and desire to share its history as the reason he has been a travel guide 20 years.
Suddenly, without fanfare and with no signs or billboards, the Giza Pyramids were visible: three majestic triangular stone structures ruling over the desert landscape as they have for 4,500 years.
The Giza Pyramids are the most popular of the 87 pyramids in Egypt. In early Egyptian culture the great temples served as elaborate graves built as a message of hope of immortality.
Ahmed referred to the site as the royal cemetery as he explained the three pyramids and the kings who built them. The largest is the temple of Kyufu Cheops. The others were built for Kyufu Chefren and Mecherenis Menkaure. Smaller pyramids nearby were for the burial of children.
Now I wonder if I should have gone inside the largest pyramid and crawled down the descending corridor to reach the burial chamber. There is no cost to go into the interior, but at the time I could think of nothing more claustrophobic. Many people took the challenge and emerged proudly, but still shaky. The wife of a 6 foot 4, 300-pound man said “he came out looking like he had just come from the shower.”
Had I gone into the pyramid I wouldn’t have been surprised to be approached by a vendor inside. That of course is an exaggeration, but vendors were a definite distraction and the only negative aspect of the pyramid venture. It was impossible to walk or even to take a photograph easily without a vendor begging us to buy a souvenir. The insistence of aggressive men, women, and children was a major distraction and obviously a sign of the country’s economy. We were told repeatedly that 60 percent of Egyptian people under 30 are unemployed. We were also often told that in June, at the end of the current president’s term, to expect a revolution.
When Ahmed introduced us to a friend who owned five camels, I said yes to a $10 ride on Mickey, a camel said to be gentle and understanding of nervous women “passengers.” The camels are suited with colorful blankets and saddles. I didn’t pet Mickey because I understand they spit. With much effort I climbed onto Mickey’s back and thought I was nicely situated when the owner instructed him to stand for our walk.
Do you know how tall a camel is? The answer is too tall. I panicked and within minutes Mickey was back down on his knees to allow me to disembark.
The trip to Egypt was on the Holland America cruise ship, the Noordam, with other port stops in Turkey and Greece. After returning home, the calls from friends and relatives made it obvious they were more interested in my safety because of the political unrest in Mediterranean countries than they were in what I had seen.
However, the only indication of possible danger was an announcement from the ship's captain two days before the scheduled stop in Port Said, Egypt when he said that for the safety of the 1,400 passengers on board, the plans had changed and we would anchor in Alexandria.
Shipboard rumors of possible danger circulated, but were unfounded. The 40 passengers who opted to leave the ship and stay overnight in Cairo one night to be closer to the pyramids, avoid the long drive to and from in one day, and see the night light show in Giza returned with only good news.
We prefer small private shore tours that are prearranged online with tour companies.
Generally the large tours offered by the ship are more costly and impersonal. When I gave Essam and Ahmed a warm American hug it was like saying goodbye to friends. You can be sure they will receive this column via e-mail from Posey Lake, Mich., to Alexandria, Egypt. Imagine!
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.