The Greats of Giza: Pyramids, The Nile River, and Beyond

Sleeping while sitting up, guarding your belongings, and traveling at speeds of 200 kilometers per hour is not the easiest task. But if you allow yourself to relax into the train’s tempo, you’ll find the adjustment quite simple. The constant sways put you at ease as the train twists and turns down its predetermined path; repetitions of spinning and swaying set a mesmerizing rhythm to calm your every breath; the temperature can be adjusted simply by reaching up and spinning the vent above your head, the screeching breaks act as perfectly timed alarm clocks, waking you from slumber with just the right time to check if it is yet time to make your exit; and just in case you awaken earlier than anticipated, a ‘garçon’ awaits to bring your choice of coffee and breakfast sandwiches. It’s filled with plenty of perks to keep the light of heart satisfied. IMG_8448 Sugar coating aside, the train ride from Luxor back up to Cairo was peaceful, and I was able to sleep as soundly as can be expected in a moving steel enclosure. The brakes that screeched at 3:05 in the morning signaled my time to get up. Within minutes warm coffee set my body a-buzzing, and I strapped up my backpack and hopped onto Cairo Station’s platform. A blurry eyed man in his thirties met me with a sign, “Anneka”. Close enough, I figured. We exchanged greetings and laughed at the groggy beings we were, stumbling into the early morning darkness to his car. I had arranged through a company to have him pick me up and bring me to the hotel I had booked in Giza. The day’s plan was to walk from the hotel to the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, tool around for a while, and get ready for my last night in Egypt. IMG_8467 As we made our way toward Giza, he asked multiple times if I would want to cancel my reservation and instead stay nearby at a hotel his company had a working relationship with. Assuming it was simply a business tactic awaiting a split of profits amongst the two, I kindly declined and asked that we continue on our way to the hotel I’d already agreed upon and alerted to my arrival time. On the booking site, a map showed its close proximity to the Great Pyramids, and I was confident these two feet would be able to walk the short distance with minimal effort. As he was assigned to help me in whichever way he could, my driver reluctantly agreed to bring me to the resort-style hotel I’d prearranged an early morning arrival at, and he drove through the black skies to toward my  future relaxation grounds.

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A young Shepard leads his flock through the streets of Giza

We drove and drove and drove. Ten minutes. Thirty minutes. Nearly an hour had passed when we pulled into the gravel parking lot. A gated wall greeted us. No lights. No people. No sounds. “You’re sure?” he asked. “I’m sure. I really can’t wait to get some sleep and get over to see the Pyramids!” He agreed to wait in the car as I ran around to find a person, a bell, a door – anything that would allow me to enter in. With a look of defeat, I returned to the car. He grinned and showed me a map of our current location. It was far away. Too far to walk, too far to bike, and in a desolate area he said would most likely not house many taxis. I shut the car door, and off we drove. We drove and drove and drove. We drove right back to the hotel he’d previously encouraged me to stay at.

Downtown Cairo
Downtown Cairo

We arrived there at 6am and despite it being earlier than most guests had awoken from their night’s rest, the hotel allowed me to book a room immediately and stay for the price of only one night. All I had to pay for that morning was breakfast. More gracious than graceful, I arranged with the driver to rest, relax, and meet again in three hours’ time to venture through Cairo toward Giza once again. After a quick shower and snooze, we met and planned the day. We would first go to The Pyramids and the Sphinx, then to Memphis and other surrounding and attractions. After exploring the most famous of Egypt’s ancient sites, we’d return to the hotel. I was to have an afternoon of leisure (“Don’t you need to sleep?” he asked. “No! Do you?” “I do, very much. But that is what tomorrow is for.” I agree, good man.) At 7pm, he was to pick me up once again and drop me off at the Nile River for a much anticipated dinner cruise. That was it! Time to press on.

The back way in to Giza's Pyramids
The back way in to Giza’s Pyramids

We stopped briefly at the corner market and I picked up some waters, snacks, and two coffees for the road. He declined the coffee saying it was bad for him, and instead lit up a cigarette as a commencement to the day’s begun-again adventure. Lucky for both of us, we got along very well, and I finally learned to take his advice without second guessing the logistics behind it. He suggested a horse or camel ride into the desert would be the proper way to see The Great Pyramids, as it would allow a guided version and bring me back to the childhood days of horse camp and riding lessons from my neighbor. I opted for a horse ride as long as we could go fast. Done! At Giza, I spotted three pointed objects looming in the background as I saddled up for a run through the desert. The Egyptian cowboy who was to accompany me looked at me and questioned my ability to hold it together at high speeds. “Try it,” I assured him, “If a smile turns to a frown, we slow down.” The smile stayed the whole time. We ran and we flew. It felt like we were on a magic carpet ride through the great oasis: the imagined notions of both Aladdin and The Alchemist bottled into one morning. IMG_8379 We saw gangs of Arabian horses in the distance, stopped for the classic ‘jumping’ photo, and I timidly climbed up a few lengthy stones and onto one of the pyramids. I hopped off and walked around The Pyramids and Sphinx. Tourists were trickling in, but the early morning left much open space, particularly toward the desert. Making our return trip, screams slipped from my mouth as we galloped and leaped among the sand dunes. The Cairo Cowboy led me on an extended adventure back to the barn after we agreed how much fun this was. Tourism was down anyways, he said, and customers these days were few and far between.

The Museum of Cairo, home to King Tut's golden mask
The Museum of Cairo, home to King Tut’s golden mask

Upon returning and dismounting from the Arabian Stallion (might as well make it seems regal!), I met back up with the driver and let him know I was happy to continue as soon as I found a restroom. Of course, this would lead us to yet another business- one of Egypt’s famous perfume shops. Alerting the owner that there was no way I could afford one of his hand-crafted glass bottles of perfume, I agreed to a quick look at the stock only because he stood between me and the place I’d intended to be. Bad idea. Once you’re in, you’re in: Business is the name and business is their game. Leaving with a few very fragile and fragrant souvenirs, I thought to myself, “That was perhaps the most expensive toilet trip I have ever encountered!” and brushed any other thoughts aside. It was the last day of vacation, and I was high on life!

Imagine the height of this pyramid, if a single stone is as tall as I!
Imagine the height of this pyramid if a single stone is as tall as I!

Departing from The Pyramids, we continued on our way, and the day passed quickly as we visited Memphis, the fallen statue of Ramses II, and the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the first large-scale stone structure in the world. Several hours later, we returned to the city and I was to be dropped at my hotel for a mid-afternoon nap before dinner. “Can you drop me off at the Egyptian Museum instead, please?” Many artifacts from the tombs I had visited in Luxor are housed at the museum, and several tourists and locals spoke highly of its beauty and extensive collection.

Colossus of Ramses II, a statue over 10 meters in length (or height?!)
Colossus of Ramses II, a statue over 10 meters in length (or height?!)

Though the museum was set to close in just two hours’ time, my driver agreed to drop me off nearby so that I could fulfill my final afternoon’s desire and afterward walk back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. The museum was breathtaking. I can ramble for hours telling you about various antiquities: mummies, tombs, jewelry, even animals and two-wheeled chariots. I’ll stop myself soon, but only after telling you of the item I didn’t allow myself to see until right at closing time. I spotted this item’s room and avoided it intentionally, saving the best for last. The home of King Tut’s Mask.

The Open Air Museum on Memphis, Egypt
The Open Air Museum of Memphis, Egypt

Walking into the room, I noticed its location and walked, eyes cast downward, toward the glass case surrounding it. With a dramatic flair, I positioned myself directly in front of it and several feet away, and finally looked up and took in the glistening beauty of yet another vision we imagine only to see in textbooks. It is as spectacular as you will ever imagine, and so pristine that you would never believe it to be over 3000 years old. I circled the mask twice over, absorbed its magic, and left with a feeling of excitement that no doubt caused me to glow as bright as the gold of King Tut’s memorabilia. Making my way back to the hotel, I reflected on the day.

A group of friends enjoy coffee along the banks of the Nile River, with Cairo City's skyline in the background
A group of friends enjoy coffee along the banks of the Nile River, with Cairo City’s skyline in the background

From a 3am arrival to a trip to the unknown hotel and back; a horse ride through the Arabian Desert and a walk around the Pyramids; taking photos with random tourists at the Sphinx, spotting camels running through small town streets, and finally feasting my eyes on King Tut’s golden mask. IMG_8499 I continued along the Nile River, rounded the corner to the hotel we’d agreed upon, and freshened up as best as I could in just under five minutes. Running downstairs, I found my driver also dressed more properly than the morning’s jeans and sweatshirt. We hopped back in his car and drove to the riverside. He brought me to the boat, and boarded along with me. “I have to eat, too!” he exclaimed when I questioned why he didn’t drop me and leave. Laughing, we boarded the boat and departed for a night on the Nile River. Turns out, there were many other tourists and their guides, so we split up inside, and I joined a few others traveling on solo trips while the guides went to the top deck for the evening.

The night's entertainment, onboard a riverboat
The night’s entertainment, onboard a riverboat

IMG_8679 There was a belly dancer and a dance troupe, an extravagant buffet, and a top-deck view of Cairo’s lights and neon-infused glamour. At the end of the night, as seems to be my traveling tradition, I was brought onstage to dance with the troupe as the boat docked and the crowd of strangers laughed and applauded. Despite the previous night’s rest on an altogether agreeable train ride, I was more than happy to slip between the sheets of the hotel’s bed that night for one last Egyptian rest. And do not doubt that as I got ready for bed that night, the tune of “Sheets of Egyptian Cotton” played into the night’s air. IMG_8355 IMG_8494 Na na na na na na na na, Sheets of Egyptian Cotton (Thanks, Uptown Girls, for the sticky tune!)

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