Old. Hot. Big.

Of course I’m talking about the dusty hollowed out water buffalo carcass I saw today. Just kidding, I saw a live water buffalo. They are such beautiful and noble animals, and delicious as well I’ve heard. I wonder if there is any ancient Egyptian mythology detailing their extensive history helping the human race. Topic for a later blog….

No but seriously, I went to the pyramids today on an excursion organized through the Arabic Language Institute at the American University in Cairo. When you travel with AUC, you travel in style. I didn’t pay a dime for the trip, and we had a yacht on wheels to carry us out the pyramids and ferry us around them, an art history professor telling us about the history of the pyramids, and all admission fees to the boat museum, the temple, and the pyramids themselves paid for. The only thing lacking was some kind of on-board food and drink service, which would have come in handy right about noon when every drop of moisture I brought with me had been evaporated by the merciless sun.

The pyramids are not far from Cairo. In fact, they are almost directly within it and are slowly being surrounded by it. Millions of people are able to make out the pyramids through the smog from their windows in the many high rise apartment buildings in the city. It was so strange to be winding our way through Cairo streets and then all of the sudden to see a pyramid pop into sight right out my middle school history textbook.

They were everything I thought they would be (see the words above), but there’s something to be said for visiting a place that is 4500 years old. I love imaging all the people that walked where I was walking over the past millenia and remembering how they had such ordinary lives just like my own, except for the semi-frequent mummy attacks that must result from living so close to the pyramids.

We didn’t go into any of the big pyramids, but we did go into equally small and smelly spaces. One of them was the burial chamber for a notable, and on the walls were all these dumb pictures and I was just like “Come on, they couldn’t even speak English? Why do we bother even learning about this civilization.” But I guess the craftsmanship was incredible. Everything was done with stone tools (that’s what our “guide” said) and it was incredible to see how well preserved and elegant it was. That chamber had the distinct odor of feet, which resulted from a stinkier group having gone in before us and the lack of ventilation. I can only imagine what the bigger pyramids smell like after a long day of tourist stink filling up the stagnant air.

The other small smelly place we went down into was the queen’s pyramid, for which we had to crouch as we descended down a very steep and narrow shaft and then turned the corner around another very steep shaft into a chamber where about 20 of us  looked around at each other and at the stone walls and then decided it was time to leave. I almost had a moment of panic when I began to think about what would happen if we got stuck down there and slowly suffocated to death. We’d have had to kill people in order to save air. I was also worried about mummy wrath and plagues.

No description of the pyramids is complete without a describing the tourism workers that accompany the experience. Tourism is the number one income for Egypt as a country, and after the revolution there was a huge decline in the number of tourists, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people. Despite the fact it’s hard to see kids selling bookmarks all day when they should be in school, and men whose only source of income are the dumb camel rides that tourists seem to love, it doesn’t make it any less annoying to have people offering you “gifts” and “Egyptian prices.” That said, it wasn’t too bad. You just say no thanks a bunch and walk on, sister. Don’t take anything, don’t let them do anything for you and you should be fine. If you really want a singing stuffed camel, though, be my guest. Haggle away and don’t look back.

Note: look at pictures on Flikr. There are more than just ones of the Nile I promise.

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