Giza Again

Before leaving Cairo we returned to Giza. Who can resist the opportunity to gaze at and explore those crazy pyramids? This time we skipped our previous camel salesman and found out just how badly he had ripped us off the time before. It was a slow day for tourism and the other vendor/hagglers were desperate for business. Turns out that the same camel ride we paid 150 EGP for was now going for 20 EGP or less!

I bring this up only because of the title of this blog, “Journey to Ancient Civilizations.” It’s difficult to get to the ancient civilizations. They are buried, all muddled and entwined in millennia of successive cultures. Traveling to the physical locations of these civilizations is not that difficult for the most part. But actually visiting and experiencing the ancient appears quite rare.

Take this day for example. I already mentioned the camel vendors. We were overrun with all sorts of salespeople who make their living haggling with tourists - selling their wares and services. For whatever reason, tourists were few this day and we had all the vendors to ourselves. Better put, they had us all to themselves. So much for the ancient experience; instead we spent the day fighting off the temptation to either hit somebody or buy because it’s a good deal. It reminds me of shopping with my mom at an after-Christmas sale.

We also visited the impressive Solar Boat museum at the foot of Khufu’s pyramid. It is a large, ugly, metal structure that houses quite possibly the oldest boat in the world. Four of these cedar wood boats were found disassembled and buried on the east side of the pyramid. Archaeologists have reconstructed the one in this museum from about 1200 pieces. It is believed that Khufu’s body was brought across the Nile as part of a funeral procession in one of these boats. The boats became part of the actual burial because of their necessity in the afterlife. They were to be used to carry Khufu’s spirit or Ka, west following Ra, the god of the sun into the afterlife. It’s a really ancient boat but in a modern museum complete with mandatory dust booties to be worn over one’s shoes. It felt a bit like watching a Discovery Channel special, interesting but a bit sterile.

The highlight and lowlight of today’s journey into the ancient was when Sam, Sarah Jane, and I decided to enter Khufu’s pyramid, to climb to his burial tomb. We were all very excited and a bit nervous. I mean, this is “The Great Pyramid!” We quickly moved from the quasi-modern ticketing shed, to the well-armed security check at the tomb entrance, and passed through a cave cut into the pyramid by archaeologists searching for the tomb chamber almost 200 years ago. A short way in we were greeted by another security guard who directed us up a narrow shaft (about four feet tall and three and a half feet wide) that steeply ascended deep into the pyramid. It felt like an eternal climb due to the claustrophobic nature of the shaft and the line of sweaty people descending, squeezing by us. Soon we reached the entrance to the Great Gallery. This steep hallway is about 8 feet wide, 30 feet tall and 180 feet long. While I call it a hallway, it too is really just a glorified ladder. This room was amazing in its size and engineering integrity. We were way up inside the pyramid and trying hard not to think about the tremendous weight of the structure looming over us. By now I was also beginning to feel like we were really journeying somewhere ancient. This was very cool. After a short breather we crawled into Khufu’s tomb. We were instructed by yet another guard to enter in silence. The room is about 18 feet wide and 35 feet long. At the end opposite the crawl-through entrance lay Khufu’s stone sarcophagus. The room was dark and stuffy. I felt sweaty and ancient, maybe just like the attendants who helped bring Khufu’s mummy to the tomb some forty-five hundred years ago. This was what I was hoping to experience, but it only lasted about five seconds. There was a large crowd quietly huddled around the sarcophagus, and as we approached the stone box of Khufu it became awkwardly clear what they were doing. It was a group of retirement-age , well-dressed Anglos with palms outstretched, eyes closed, and quietly humming. The volume of the humming increased and members of their group began chanting out calls for the spirit of Khufu and Ra to speak to them. It was some kind of new-age channeling, a harmonic convergence of sorts. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but it just seemed so out of place. I can’t help but wonder at what the Muslim community here thinks about this kind of activity. I have heard what Egyptologists think as they strive to cover smiles as these hum circles take place. I think the ancient Egyptians would have been embarrassed, dumbfounded by it all. For me, while the humming did add an interesting eerie ambiance, it broke the spell of the ancient culture and replaced it with a bunch of rich white folks blocking the sarcophagus from our sight.

The upside of all this was that they must have paid some serious baksheesh to the guards who were policing the tomb for quiet and limiting people from entering. This meant that Sam, Sarah Jane and I had the entire exit all to ourselves. I used the opportunity to record a little bit of video of the journey out. I hope you enjoy it. My legs still ache from the squat-like frog walk I did while recording on the descent.

Journey Inside Khufu's Tomb


Rusty said...

Great post and video, Marty. And an excellent question by one of your kids re: less oxygen. With all the tourists they get, I wonder what kind of ventilation system they have in there?

I especially liked the humming / chanting sequence, although I'm left wondering why you didn't try to add some responsive harmonization of your own from the other end of the room? Or, at least you could have chimed in with DA's "Sanctuary"?

Bogsider said...

And as you travel further up the Nile, I bet you'll meet other (or the same) new-agers at the temples, tombs and other ancient sites ;o)

Kevin said...

Hi I think that you should be interested by theis amazing 3D website around the mystery of Khufu building

Marty Robertson said...

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for the link to the Khufu 3-D project. It looks incredibly interesting and I look forward to to the web site's full launch in March.

GraceE said...

Man! I knew 150 pounds was too much! I sure wish I could return to Cairo and give that no-good smooth-taker why-don't-you-come-to-my-shop-for-drinks Egyptian a piece of my mind! ...But I must say, it's almost worth 150 pounds to have the vendors leave you alone!