The world is full of amazing places to visit. And revisit. And when it comes to fuckin’ wondrous sights – it’s hard to top the ancient pyramids of Egypt.
So after an absence of 18 years it was time to see the mighty Pyramids of Giza again, located just south of the crazy, heaving capital, Cairo.
Last time here, I was broke and nearing the end of an Asia-Africa trip that has started in Thailand; now, it’s the beginning of a new journey across Africa.
Back then, I’d just wandered alone into the desert and drank a bottle of red wine in the winter sunshine some km away, staring at the great triangle vista.
But yesterday it was different. I went with a female friend who I’d meet in my Cairo hotel. Anji was also revisiting; she’d been here many dozens of times, as a student studying Arabic in Cairo, back in 1996.
Anji is a leading force within Punk Rock Marthas.
PRM is an artistic, caring women’s’ movement that’s based in Los Angeles and does deeds for social betterment and change. This means working in LA soup kitchens, holding art exhibitions and concerts, protesting against mainstream nonsense.
Anji was recently in Moscow supporting her friends in Pussy Riot: the Russian all girl punk group that were jailed after offending Putin by singing their protest song in St. Brasils’ Cathedral.
This time in Cairo Anji visited a girl’s orphanage to present them with gifts. She also had with her 22kg of new clothes donated by US companies that she handed out randomly – to the needy – in the streets of Cairo.
Other foreign jaunts have taken her to Costa Rica, Cuba, Cambodia, Argentina, etc, doing good deeds. She’s a cool chica to hang out with.
For the hell of it, we decided on the ultimate tourist kitsch. A camel ride around the area. I’d never done it, last time. And besides, the camel guys were desperate. Business was down to nothing since the revolution.
For 2 years very few tourists. He pleaded with us to tell people that Egypt is safe to return. AND IT IS.
Get there now punters – before the masses return.
And while our camel guy was mature and probably not guilty, I did wonder about which of the younger guys had been the ones charging thru the protesters at Tahrir Square that infamous day?
FROM CAIRO TRAVEL NOTES – 1995
I couldn’t quite believe it. Wow, finally ! The SPHINX ! The PYRAMIDS !
Startled; mouth wide-open and feeeeeeeling weird. But it wasn’t the picture I’d painted. The Sphinx is tiny, rather dull. Decided to head straight to the larger piles of stone. Triangular; towering; massive.
It was Friday – the Muslim weekend – and half of Cairo trailed the road. Then a shock – What! I’ve never seem that monstrosity in any postcards or picture books. My guidebook informed me this glass museum houses / protects one of the Pharaoh’s boats buried around the Cheops pyramid; that it’s his transportation into the next life. Whatever, it’s still an ugly structure amid the ancient sand and stone.
Why do so many photographs deceive the uninitiated tourist with unrealistic images of grand historical sites?
Sure, I see pyramids. But I also see roads and modern buildings nearby, and rubbish bins and signs saying – Don’t climb the pyramids. And of course people, zillions and zillions squeezing the ancient space like starved piranha’s in a public swimming pool.
Away from the masses and sitting in the sand, I cracked a bottle of red wine. And wrote:
I see the yellow sands dotted with rocks and rocks and people. People of the desert, on foot, dressed in robes; people of the hamburger, on camels, dressed in cameras.
The tourist touts are friendly, not a hassle at all – which is a surprise. Although a few can’t resist offering me drinks or camel rides at “SPECIAL” prices.
One man rides up and says, “Hello!” And I reply, “Salaam!” And on the basis of that one word he replies, “You speak very good Arabic.”
Now, I sit six giant steps up the smallest of the three main pyramids. The crowds are behind me, drifting round the base of the larger monuments. I gaze to the open desert and feel dreamy.
I have near-perfect tranquillity, absolute ancient space. Then a guard beckons me to come down, to check out the inside of three even smaller pyramids.
I tell him – “No thanks” and stay. I can’t be bothered scrumming it inside a pyramid. I’ve brought a ticket to enter the massive Cheops but no, not today; I’m happy here, where the sun sets across the desert sands, giant pyramids darkening, everything now silent and empty. Romantic like the postcard-imagery I was so intent on seeing, so intent on feeling.
While at Giza, a self-proclaimed “Bedouin” had offered me the chance to climb the great pyramid at dusk, to sit on the top and smoke hash during the Sound and Light Show. He’d asked $40 as his fee (some of which to bribe guards). It was tempting, but it was getting cold and I’d nothing beyond a t-shirt. He offered me a blanket – and the prospect of an Egyptian woman. And again I was tempted, but he also advanced a scheme to use my credit card fraudulently; to buy gold then report the card stolen. Such activity isn’t me.
And so I left the pyramids, thinking another time, another year …