Day 9 (March 17, 2007): First to Sakkara to see the oldest pyramid in the world, the Step Pyramid. We continue on to the citadel, Alabaster Mosque and Sultan Husan Mosque. Tonight we have a final get-together. (Breakfast and dinner included)
This morning breakfast was at 6:45 with a 7:15 departure for the step pyramid. Our first stop was at the pyramid complex at Saqqara. Here we saw was the tomb of a regular person (Tomb of Mere – Ruka). We couldn’t take photos inside and were with a guide so we really couldn’t. Sherif told us that while they are protecting the tomb by not allowing photos they are allowing too much sand inside the tomb, which is slowly erasing the etchings on the walls. I love Egyptians!
After that we went to the Titi Pyramid which was a pyramid shaped mound of sand. Apparently you can tell how well Egypt was doing by the state of the pyramids – the better the pyramid the better the country was doing. Apparently Titi wasn’t the most successful pharaoh. Inside the pyramid you walked down a shaft into a room which had two smaller rooms off of it. When we came back outside it was raining. It was a light drizzle for about 5 minutes which apparently qualified the day as rainy for Egyptians.
From there we went over to the step pyramid, which was built during the 3rd dynasty. The design was pretty much an accident, but seems to have worked out for the Egyptians. Walking to the pyramid we went through the first colonnade room, the columns are all attached to the outer wall because they didn’t know if the columns would hold the ceiling. It was interesting to see and to consider that thousands of years ago no one thought columns would hold up a roof, yet it’s such a basic part of building design today, amazing! On the other side of the colonnade room was the step pyramid where we made Sherif take a group picture of us with everyone’s camera. We would have taken a picture of him with our cameras sitting in front of him, but he already had all our cameras. Then as he took the last one we thought he should have been in the picture. But things had gotten a bit ridiculous as it was, so there are no pictures of him with the group, but gosh, everyone has a group picture from that day. During our picture taking session a dog was running around, well he got his head stuck in a plastic bag and started to flip out a bit trying to get out and being disoriented and all. I felt bad for him, but it was hysterical. I was laughing too hard to even take a picture of it.
After the pyramid we walked a little bit more towards the desert to get a better look, we got many offers for camel rides or something equally unwanted, it really never ends does it! Back on the bus we started towards the mosques, luckily Sherif left us alone so we could nap.
Our next stop was the Citadel of Salah al-Din, better known as the Alabaster Mosque. Before we went in we had to take off our shoes and those of us who were dressed to revealingly were given green robes to wear. Inside the mosque Sherif showed us a few things in the Mosque and explained about some of the writings on the ceiling. Outside there was a great view of the city, too bad it was cloudy out. I also noticed a lot of women with burqas and in general more conservatively dressed then we had seen through most of the trip. But then again, we hadn’t seen THAT many women. Most of the workers at the sites were men, and most of the people in the markets were men or tourists so I guess I hadn’t seen much of a cross section of Egyptian women. One place I had noticed women who were working was in hotels. I guess I could make a lot of assymptions about that, but I’ll leave you to make your own. Our next stop was another Mosque – The Mosque of Sultan Hasan, where Sherif was going to talk about the Muslim religion.
I should tell you a little about myself: I consider myself a non-practicing Catholic. I think religion is a good thing in peoples lives, but don’t participate myself. I believe in being respectful of all religions for two reasons – one is that others believe it and you should be respectful of other people; and second, because you never know when one is going to be right and I think whatever god I encounter at the other side would be pissed at me if I was disrespectful of their religion. Having said that, I really didn’t know much about the Muslim Religion except that women have to wear Burqas and seem to be oppressed, they pray a lot and radical Muslims don’t like the US.
At the Mosque of Sultan Hasan we again took our shoes off and Sherif told us where the good pictures were and had us sit while he explained a bit about the religion. So far during the tour Sherif had been fairly low key about being Muslim and never did anything overtly religious, watching him talk about it you could tell that he certainly was religious. I always enjoy watching someone who is passionate about thier topic. Sherif was passionate about everything, but especially so about Islam. He showed us how they pray and that Muslims pray 5 times a day, but it does not have to correspond with the calls to prayer. They pray for themselves and sins they might commit or thought about committing. Women pray in the back of the Mosque so they don’t distract the men, not as a sign of disrespect or to treat them as second class. Maybe I’m cynical, but while I understood it on a logical level, I didn’t totally get it. Women are forced to cover themselves because men can’t control themselves – I realize there is some sort of respect thing in there to protect women, but it takes away their freedoms too. Sherif took us to a room where the, I think Imam, read/chanted/sang the Arabic writing from the Quran that were on the wall.
Around 1:30 we finally went to lunch. Sherif took us to some place where for 40 LE we got Kebab and a lot of other good food. Apparently my journal entries about lunch are better then they were for the Mosques, opps. The tables were really low and I ate with Tara, Tim and Kelley. After the main course Jen and Tara went shopping, I opted not to go since I was still eating and I wanted dessert. While they were gone someone came around to collect our money for drinks, I paid for mine and Tara’s. After Jen and Tara came back they came around to collect money for lunch, but tried to get money for the drinks again. I explained that the drinks had been paid for, but the guy wasn’t getting it and I had to explain it to him twice, since Tara’s drink was paid for, it was really frustrating. Then Tara and Jen showed me the shirts they had gotten and I fell in love and decided I wanted one too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time. Sherif finally agreed we could go if we ran. So Tara and I ran down the streets of Cairo to this little shop, which caused a bit of a stir. Nothing like two Western girls running down the street of a Muslim city! But I grabbed my shirt, paid for it and ran back. When we got to the bus no one was there. Apparently Sherif had taken his time getting everyone to the bus so they wouldn’t be stuck waiting for us (and the bus wouldn’t get a ticket, but we beat them anyway. We probably should have just run slower, I thought I was going to die by the time we got to the bus.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the Egyptian cotton store. I had wanted to get myself a set of sheets for my bed. But I didn’t know what color I was going to be using when I set up my new apt and I didn’t want white (which according to Sherif is the best color to get) and it didn’t seem that cheap so I decided not to get sheets. I got a blouse and a shawl instead. I think on today’s drive through Cairo I was realizing it wasn’t quite as bad as I previously thought. I wouldn’t say it’s a clean city or that it’s pretty. More like it’s dirt covered because it never rains to clean it and the construction is ugly combined with it being very densely populated. But there are few cities that I’ve thought were terribly clean and pretty.
On the bus ride back to the hotel we passed the unfinished buildings again, I finally decided to ask Sherif about these. He explained that people pretty much up and build them and then people move in, since the buildings aren’t finished no one is paying taxes. From there the conversation went something like this:
Sherif: Poor people at home don’t do that?
Me: No, you have to get a permit to do work. If you don’t get a permit when you build you have to get it when you sell the house.
Sherif: Well here we just pass it down through the family, they don’t sell it.
Me: Well then the neighbors might call and report you.
Sherif: That’s not very nice.
He’s right, but it still happens. I hope the Egyptians never figure out the pure joy of red tape!
We got back to the hotel around 3:00 and had some time to rest before going to the Sound and Light Show. I used the time to do some packing and take a nap. But I didn’t sleep well (I kept thinking about the tour) and then my mother called. I left a folder of info for her but she couldn’t figure out when my plane was getting in, but it’s always nice to hear from her.
At 6:00 16 of us met in the lobby and Mohammed (one of the Spring Tour reps) took us to the Sound and Light show. We were dropped off near the Hard Rock Café and set off on our own. The main reason I had decided to go to the Sound and Light show was because I wanted to see the pyramids at night and I wanted to take pictures of them at night, I even dragged my tripod all the way to Egypt for this. I had heard the show was cheesy, but it was worse then I imagined. After about 2 minutes of the Sphinx talking, Tara and Jen had to leave because they were laughing and couldn’t take it anymore. I think everyone else made it through the show, but it was sooooo cheesy. Then while I was taking my pictures from the back of the arena some woman complained that the flash on my camera was bothering her and asked me to move over (never mind the fact that no one was on the other side of her), I moved over about an inch.
When we came out of the show we heard bagpipes (it was St. Patrick’s Day), they had Egyptian dressed bagpipers outside playing Irish music, cute. Our meeting place was in front of the Hard Rock Café and since Mohammed wasn’t around we were able to go inside, I got myself a pin. I’m not much of a Hard Rock Café person, but at least they had a pin that proved I had been to Egypt, I hadn’t found pins anywhere else in the country.
At 8:15 everyone met in the lobby of the hotel for dinner. Sherif was all dressed up for us and looking rather dapper. We had the hotels buffet dinner, which was good but nothing special. After dinner we all went out by the pool to hang out for the night. Everyone took lots of pictures. Rumor has it that Chi took about 4,000 pictures during the whole trip, I felt like I was slacking since I only took 1,200. Slowly as the night went on people started to head to bed, since we missed Reid going to bed a whole group of us went to say goodbye to her. But a bunch of us planned to meet in Philly and NYC a few weeks later so we knew this wasn’t the last time we would see each other. A little before midnight Sherif said goodbye to us, I knew I would miss him. He was a great Tour Manager and a link to the Egyptian and Muslim world, as well as a good friend. The tour wouldn’t have been the same without him and I don’t know if I would have appreciated Egypt as much without him there.