The Pyramids of Giza loomed over us as our bus made its way up to the Giza Plateau. It's desolate - I almost expectated to see tumbleweed blow by. My first thought was - where's all the sand? The ground is rocky underfoot with a fine dusting of sand that whips about, and in patches jagged rocks jut up from the ground, a danger to all but the most sure-footed. The Great Pyramid of Giza is breathtaking and the first thing I noticed with the gaping hole near the bottom. At some point an enterprising sultan decided to drill a hole through it, and no one knows what he found, but he did build one of the most expensive mosques in all of Islam, so one can bet he found something good. Only 150 tickets are sold per day for entry to The Great Pyramid and we happened to score them. Buying tickets for The Great Pyramid is almost like purchasing a membership at a gym - you are paying for a better workout than the thighmaster. Two long shafts upward at 45 degrees await you, one of which has a ceiling that is half of your height and forces you into a duck-walk position (or a stoop, depending on your preference). The heat is oppressive, and when you finally reach the top you are rewarded with a single room with an empty stone tomb and little else but the knowledge that you have just been admitted to the Great Pyramid of Giza, and that is something in and of itself.
We did not have an opportunity to visit the other two Pyramids (not to forget the three mini-pyramids), but we did have an opportunity for that quintessential Egyptian tourist experience - riding a camel. There is a camel parking lot at the panorama spot, so after securing your photos of yourselves standing in front of the three Pyramids, you can have your pick of camels. Clambering onto the back of this poor creature is easy. What is not easy is when the camel decides to move. Camels stand up two legs at a time and, not realizing this, I breathed a sigh of relief when I thought the camel had finally stood up and then noticed with dismay that it had two more legs to go. We were led by an 8-year old boy through the desert from the panorama to the small Pyramid - a journey of approximately thirty minutes (though perhaps it only seemed that long since I was terrified that my camel would have an individual thought and race off for freedom). I survived, however, and made sure to pet my camel in thanks for allowing me to ride on its back.
The Sphinx was our next stop, and its much like Stonehenge in the fact that its been cut off from the throngs of tourists that would wish to lay their hands upon it. First you must navigate through a small temple's ruins and then you are afforded your close-up. It's small in the face of the Pyramids, and yet ancient and mysterious in its own right. Even today, superstition abounds regarding the Sphinx and people are careful not to anger the spirits. The Sphinx was always a mighty creature of Ancient Egyptian legend, but what makes this Sphinx so notable is an enterprising pharaoh decided to put his head on the animal's body - an almost unnatural union, and one that made the hair stand up straight on my arms. I noticed with dismay how easy it is to tell how the beard, nose and cobra have been lopped off, but noticed with happiness that there is scaffolding on the rear of the Sphinx as they attempt to save it from elemental damage.
We polished off our evening at Felfala's, a restaurant within walking distance of our hotel. The food was inexpensive, delicious, and the the waitstaff was attentive, despite the final football match where Cairo was playing. I had never before tasted falafel that melted in my mouth, or hummus that made me crave seconds, and the pita bread flowed freely. Even the rice pudding I had for dessert was made with care and coconut was luxuriously sprinkled on top. All in all, a wonderful first day to this beautiful country.
Stay Tuned for Luxor - Karnak & Luxor Temple