More pyramids

Sun, 28 Apr 2002 09:35:24 +0900

My first day back in Cairo was a bit of clean up action. I returned to the Giza plateu to a look inside the Great Pyramid and the Solar Boat museum. I wasn't too thrilled about the Great Pyramid. It is empty and undecorated. Further, the shafts leading to Queens Chamber and the Unfinished Chamber were locked and guards seemed uninterested in their usual scam of opening up locked doors for bakhsheesh. All it all, probably not worth the 40 pounds to get in.

The solar boat was interesting but not greatly so. It's pretty amazing how they put it all together. But that is an intellectual pursuit and seeing the boat in person doesn't add much.

I was hoping that more of the Sphinx would be open but it was much the same as before.

Yesterday, was a trip to North Saqqara to see the grand daddy of all pyramids: Zozer's Step Pyramid. North Saqqara is not an easy place to get to. While transit does serve the area, it can only be reached by cobbling together multiple unlabeled buses with unknowable routes. Taxis can get rather expensive if you expect them to wait for you.

So I took a hybrid approach: A taxi in the morning, one way and I would just have to figure out how to get back. I found a taxi willing to take the 20 pound fare but it soon became obvious that he didn't really know where we were going. He must have stopped a dozen times to ask for directions, the last time being less than 5K from the destination. Towards the end he tried to up the fare but I held firm to our agreement and I reached my destination without issue.

The Step Pyramid and other in the vicinity are reasonably worth seeing. (Well, IMHO, not seeing the Step Pyramid would have been just wrong). There are also various Old Kingdom tombs. Unlike the New Kingdom, the Old Kingdom didn't hide their tombs. The ones at Saqqara are mostly above ground and look a bit like temples. There are some nice detailed reliefs in some of the tombs, similar to the temple at Abydos. It's a nice surprise. Now I wonder why the interior of the Great Pyramid is plain. Some of the subject matter is interesting too. Crocodiles, hippos gazelles. You don't see these much in New Kingdom reliefs. I wonder if this is due to changes in the natural environment between Old Kingdom and New.

I finished up around 3:00pm: A little early but not enough time to go anywhere else. I walked back into the village of Saqqara. I soon found a local who advised me to turn left and then catch a bus back to Cairo. After about 15 minutes I finally reached an road that went left. Sure enough, there were unlabeled minibuses there. Another local showed me which one to take. This bus didn't go to the Cairo exactly. It took me to another bus stop where I was advised to take a second unlabeled minibus. This one took me to the Metro Station in Giza. From there, getting back to Cairo was straight forward.

Today I set off for Dashur to see the Bent Pyramid and anything else in area. The plan was pretty much the same as yesterday: take a taxi to the site and return by whatever means seem to work.

I found a taxi who seemed willing to take the fare at a reasonable price. (He said 13 pounds and I was prepared to pay the going rate of 20 pounds) Much like yesterday, he spoke little English and didn't seem to really know where Dashur was. (Why taxi drivers are willing to take a fare to a place they are not familiar with is beyond me) By the time we reached Giza, he had asked enough people that he understood where we were going. Then he wanted 100 pounds. He claimed it was 150 kilometers. I could see from that map that it was less than 1/3 that distance. In the end, he was unwilling to accept a fare that was reasonable (or even payable given that taxi drivers never give change). I got out of the car.

The next driver was just as unreasonable so I decided taxis were not the way today. 'Trouble is, I was somewhere unknown in Giza where few people spoke much English. Amazingly enough, I was able to find a Metro station nearby. Between the subway, 2 minibuses, and a pickup, I managed to reach the gate at Dashur. It took nearly 3 hours but it only cost me 7 pounds and the people were much more agreeable than the taxi drivers. The Bent Pyramid is unique in two ways: It rises more steeply than any other and then halfway up, changes to a shallower angle. It also has most of the original limestone casing stones. It is very striking rising out of the sands as it does. Definitely worth the 2K walk from the Red Pyramid.

The Red Pyramid is sort of a prototype of the Great Pyramid. The sides have shallower angles and it is 10 meters shorter than the Great Pyramid, making it the second largest of all the Egyptian pyramids. Unlike the Great Pyramid though, which is always crawling with tourists, the Red Pyramid is visited by only a handful of tours each day. When I climbed to the entrance, all the tours were out to lunch or something. I spent probably 10 minutes, maybe more, completely alone inside the pyramid. As I exited, a tour of about 20 was coming up.

Probably 2k from the Bent Pyramid is the core of the Black Pyramid. It doesn't look like much more than a steeper than normal lump of dirt. I took a couple of photos from afar but did not approach. The pyramids of South Saqqara are also visible. They are about 6K away and not in good shape. 'Worth a telephoto shot but probably not worth the travel and entry ticket. Not this time, anyway.

I returned to Cairo much the way I came. A local minibus went to somewhere in Giza and then I took another bus to across the river to Cairo.

Shortly after midnight tonight, I get on an 8 hour bus to Dahab for a few days of staring at fishes. I have decided not to do Petra (Jordan) on this trip. There just isn't enough time to do it right. I will save it for later. What I will do, probably, is bring in my return flight a few days. This will give me enough time to do Great Zimbabwe and a quick safari in Kruger National Park. Zimbabwe appears to be safe at the moment. The action is happening in the courts rather than the street.