Egypt – Cairo capers

It’s bigger than it looks

I wasn’t quite sure about taking the trip to Cairo at first. There has been a lot of unrest there – well covered by the media – but I know how much this can sometimes affect visitors numbers to a country without real foundation, and Egypt relies heavily on its tourism trade. Also I had always wanted to see the great pyramid of Giza, the only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing. So we checked online and with other people in Sharm to see if the trips were still going ahead without incident. They were. We set off from Sharm airport for out 45 minutes flight in a rather small geriatric plane on Memphis air. Memphis, by the way was the ancient name for Cairo and was around long before Johnny Cash or country music. We then met our tour guide Abdul Nassar, who is a professional Egyptologist and he provided a fantastic introduction to the history of Egypt. He explained that when he started his job as a guide ten years ago Cairo was home to 18 million people. It now has a population of 30, yes 30 million souls.
Our first stop was the Egyptian Museum built in 1878 to house the amazingly preserved artifacts discovered in the tombs of the ancient Pharohs.

The museum cat

Of course we wanted to see the incredible death mask of Tutankhamun, the boy king. It is made from more than 24 pounds of solid gold. By analysing his mummy scientists found that he died of poisoning when he was only twenty years old. He had been king since he was eight or nine but he tried to give more prosperity back to his people, and reduced the tithes they had to pay to the multitude of Egyptian Gods. The politicians surrounding King Tut did not take kindly to this reduction in their wealth and were most likely responsible for getting rid of him. There is a lot of gold in the Egyptian Museum. Gold was plentiful in Egypt whereas silver was not. It is an interesting fact that the sarcophagus of the government ministers were made from silver and not gold because they considered it more valuable.

He loves only gold

Most of the treasures in the museum are more than three and half thousand years old and they look like they were left there yesterday. There is a decorated flip flop so well preserved it looks as if you could slip it on and make your way down to the pool in it. The Egyptians had an expert skill in preserving things which has never been equalled since. Abdul had a real passion for his subject – it really is a most amazing museum. He explained that everything about ancient  Egyptian culture was all geared towards the afterlife. It was all about rebirth and reincarnation. You took into your tomb everything that you would need in your next life, and archeologists found little evidence of how Egyptians actually lived from day to day. Everything we see today, the tombs and their contents, and the pyramids and temples, were all about what was going to happen to you after you were dead. Why spend so much time and energy on things which would be of no use in this life? I’m all for looking ahead but that is a five year plan taken to unreasonable extreme.. Did it help to control the masses – the threat of what might happen to them in the next life if they didn’t toe the line in this one? I suppose it’s a bit like suicide bombers being promised untold riches and twenty seven virgins if they blow themselves up at a bus stop in the name of Allah.

Police, Camel, Action!

Next stop were the pyramids themselves. It is quite a stressful experience running the gamut of the plastic pyramid touts, the camel and horse ride sellers and those locals  ‘helping’ you around the site. All for money of course. There isn’t any pester regulation and your attention is rather distracted by them. One couple complained that they got charged ten pounds for taking a picture of a camel. Well that’s just silly.
The largest and oldest pyramid is the pyramid of Cheops but there are smaller ones for his son and grandson and the Queens get the smallest pyramids of all, naturally. The great sphinx which has the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle and the face of a king is also an iconic Egyptian symbol. It was meant to guard the entrance to the pyramids but has proved fairly ineffective as much of the stone from the pyramids was stolen by locals to make bridges or houses or roads in Cairo. The sphinx’s nose and beard are damaged but she is still majestic and remains the largest monolith statue in the world, carved from a  single piece of limestone. Just look at what you could achieve when there’s no reality TV to distract you…Sunshine In Sharm El Sheik
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Lazy – moi?