Shelby in Cairo

Shelby is a junior with majors in history and anthropology, and a minor in classical studies and Latin, in SMU’s Dedman College. This Spring she plans to take Egyptology classes at the American University in Cairo, in preparation for a career in Egyptology, and she also is looking forward to traveling and exploring the region.

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Land of the pharaohs: Inside the Giza pyramids

DSC01485-sm.jpg After being in Cairo for nearly two weeks, I was astonished that I had not seen the Giza pyramids yet! My friends and I sought to remedy this as soon as possible.

We woke up at the crack of dawn, or rather the call to prayer, and we left the dorms at 7:30 a.m. As college students we have few funds, and we want to make those funds last longer, so I figured out a cheap (and safe) way to get to the pyramids. We took a taxi to the bus station and then took a bus to Giza. The bus ride itself only cost 2 Egyptian pounds, or about $0.36! I’m glad that I recently learned Arabic numbers, because otherwise I would not have been able to identify the right bus or route!

We weren’t on the bus for very long when one of my friends said, “Look! Over there!” I quickly turned to look out my window when I saw them. There they were, one pyramid and then the other, towering in the near distance majestically over the tops of modern buildings lining the busy street we were on.

I knew before that the city of Giza was built up around the pyramid complex, but still it surprised me how close modern civilization was to something so ancient. The city of Giza is teeming with life, filled with people, buildings and cars – whereas the pyramid complex was intended to be away from the capitals of ancient times, so as to be the peaceful final resting places of the pharaohs. Life and Death, the Past and the Present abut each other in an unusual way, forming a dichotomy unique to Egypt.

n10912121_34695193_5380-sm.jpgWe had left the dorms so early because we knew that only 300 people total (150 in the morning and 150 in the afternoon) are allowed inside the pyramids per day. This is because human breath is quite damaging to Egyptian art and architecture, and they wish to preserve it for future generations. So we immediately made our way over to the Great Pyramid, climbed up its big stones to the entrance to the tomb.

n10912121_34695178_3086-sm.jpgWe entered into the cavernous space, which was rocky and appeared to be like a natural cave. Then came the more treacherous part, which involved climbing up a rickety iron ladder and into the tunnel. Here we had to bend our bodies completely in half to climb up a 45-degree angle. The space was probably about three feet high, and even though I’m not very tall, it was quite a task. There were rails on either side, but the pathway was just made of plywood and slippery metal rungs. People were also coming down at the same time we were climbing up, so this required a bit of skill.

The air was stale and hot inside the pyramids, and although it was still early in the morning and cool outside, we sweat through our clothes. I can’t imagine what it would be like during the heat of the summer!

We made it to the top and had to crawl through a seemingly smaller tunnel to see the “King’s Chamber.” This was a cool, carved stone chamber, with high ceilings and an empty rectangular stone coffin in the corner of the room. While it had no paintings or decoration of any sort, this was a fascinating room. I can’t even begin to imagine what sorts of treasures this chamber once held.

As the rest of my group left the room, I lingered for a little while longer. Alone, in this quiet chamber, it was beyond surreal. This chamber along with the pyramid which surrounded it has survived for thousands of years. As the world around it has grown and changed, it has remained static, unchanging as a monument of a past civilization.

When we left the pyramid and cooled down a bit, we sought out some camel rides. We did not accept the multiple offers from one Egyptian man who followed us, insisting he would give us a good price on a camel ride for two reasons. One, he was too persistent and two, he didn’t have a camel with him, nor was there a camel in sight.

DSC01477-sm.jpgSo we continued on, found a camel driver who actually had a camel and agreed to take the “long trip” that promised us a spectacular view of the pyramids. I was in the front of the saddle, while my friend got on behind me. At first, it was quite a scary experience, as we were very high off the ground and felt like we were constantly going to fall off. However, we got used to it. Our camel driver, Ali, was really friendly and delivered us as promised to the best view of the pyramids.

Here we were away from the bustle of the tour buses and cars that drive right up to the pyramids. Here it was calm and quiet, and I could see the pyramids more as they once existed in antiquity.

While the city looms in the distance, here the pyramids were mostly surrounded by the desert sands, as they should be.

DSC01418-sm.jpgAfter we had admired the pyramids for far too long, we decided it was probably time to go back. So we hopped on our camel with Ali, our camel driver, and galloped back toward humanity and re-entered the hustle and bustle of the Egyptian city.

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