Posted by: Tommy | November 28, 2010

Cairo – the short version

When we extended our stay in Dahab, we knew we’d be making some sacrifices in other parts of Egypt.  We cut Alexandria and Aswan altogether and narrowed Luxor and Cairo down as far as possible.  We spent 2 days, total, in Luxor and traveled by horrible overnight train to Cairo on Wednesday.  We ended up sleeping most of Wednesday, recovering from the train.  Thursday was Thanksgiving, so we ate turkey, watched football and basically tried to celebrate America as best we could in Egypt.  That really left only 2 days – Friday and Saturday- before our flight to South Africa.

Luckily, there are only 2 things we felt like we absolutely HAD to do in Cairo – the Egypt Museum and the Pyramids.  We tackled the museum on Friday and left the Pyramids for Saturday, thinking we might gain some knowledge at the museum that would make the pyramids more interesting.

The museum is unlike anything that could possibly exist in America.  They have tons and tons (literally) of priceless sculptures, many of which are 3-5000 years old.  They have hundreds of sarcophagi, mummies and the incomparable King Tut collection.  And they have like 5 security guards.  Last month, we visited the Hermitage – where there was a security guard or two in every single room, cameras and motion sensors everywhere.

In contrast, the Egypt museum has 2 large signs in the front that say “Don’t Touch!”.  That’s about it.  We saw tour guides leaning against 5000 year old sarcophagi, Japanese tourists picking up small statues and countless people running their fingers over the hieroglyphics.  It was really strange, being from a place where museums mean that you never touch anything.  The only thing the Egyptians were serious about in this museum was not taking any pictures.  We saw a few people who had managed to sneak a camera past the three checkpoints, but the guards were quick to confiscate those cameras.

Another odd thing about the museum – it seemed that there was about 25% too much to exhibit for the size of the museum.  Consequently, each room had a few pieces that had been shoved in the corner, or stored behind something else, or just generally looked like it didn’t belong.  There were amazing pieces of history – and sometimes some of the most interesting stuff- just stuck somewhere with no plan.  It was really strange, but it really overwhelmed me to think that Egypt is so old, and so much of its art has been preserved, that they can’t even hold it all.

And these things were remarkable for their age.  I don’t remember a single piece that was from an A.D. year or even anything younger than 1200 BC.  That means that everything we saw in the Egypt museum would be the oldest thing we’ve seen on the trip, if not for the rest of Egypt.  It’s impressive to think that Egypt has been in this spot, conquered by different people numerous times but always remaining and returning to be Egypt, for over 7,000 years.

The King Tut exhibit (which was in an enclosed room with its own guards) was mind-blowing as well.  Our guide in Luxor explained something to us that we’d never known growing up.  King Tut was not that important.  He ruled for only 11 years – from age 8 to age 19.  His tomb is well known because it was discovered fully stocked with all the goodies that he had been buried with – but that was only because all Egyptian kings get buried in the Valley of the Kings.  And when a later, more important king was having his tomb built, the entrance to Tut’s tomb was covered with tons and tons of rock and gravel, effectively hiding it from grave robbers for 5,000 years, until it was discovered in the early 20th century and preserved by British archaeologists.  We probably wouldn’t know the name of King Tut if he’d been more important – his tomb would have been robbed long ago.

That said, the haul from his tomb is astounding.  His mummy was encased in 3 sarcophagi.  The closest one to him was made entirely of gold with colored glass set into the gold providing the decorations, along with 2 solid gold hands where Tut’s hands were placed and a solid gold face in the shape of the king’s face.  The middle one was also made of gold, with elaborate hieroglyphics cut into it telling the death story.  The outer sarcophagus sits in the tomb itself so the Egyptian government can justify charging tourists 100 pounds to enter the tomb (empty other than the mummy and the outer (least impressive) sarcophagus.

King Tut's Golden Mask

Saturday, we set out to see the great Egyptian tourist attraction – the Pyramids at Giza.  Giza is a suburb of Cairo and its possible to take the subway, then a $2 taxi ride out to the pyramids. I didn’t realize that the pyramids sit right next to a city of 21 million people.

After assuring our taxi driver that we weren’t going to be paying 80 pounds each to ride a camel around the outskirts of the pyramids and that we were in fact wanting to pay the “tourist price” (30 pounds), we were dropped off at the Pyramids, right in front of the Sphinx.  First impression: Wow!

The Great Pyramid

Shortly after entering, we were accosted by a teenage Egyptian boy who insisted on showing us where to pose for silly pictures featuring the Sphinx.  I assured him we wouldn’t be paying him for this service – he said no problem.  He had Anna pose kissing the Sphinx, having the Sphinx kiss her hand, etc.  Then me, punching the Sphinx, presumably for kissing my wife.  Then a few of us holding up the head of the Sphinx.  The pictures were funny, but it wasn’t funny when he got upset that I refused to pay him.   It was probably worth a pound to have the funny pictures, but I don’t want to encourage the hassling of tourists, which everyone who gives that guy money does.

Sphinx kissing Anna's hand

After visiting the Sphinx, we took the trite tourist camel ride.  Rather than 80 pounds, we found a camel for 20 pounds.  We rode for about 10 minutes, then posed with the camels for more silly pictures (available on Flickr) with the pyramids.  It was worth $4, I guess.  I’d been wanting to try the camel ride and now we won’t have to do it again.

The pyramids are really mind blowing.  The Great Pyramid stands nearly 400 ft. tall.  And is constructed entirely of 2.5 ton blocks.  With only manual labor- no cranes, no trucks.  Seeing them in person, comparing Anna to the height of one block (she’s about an inch taller than the shortest side) only makes the magnitude of the feat more impressive.  The two smaller pyramids still stand over 300 feet tall.

There has been a lot of erosion over the 7,000 years that they’ve stood in the same place, but there was a small area on the smallest pyramid where you could still see the original facade.  All the rest of the pyramids are missing the triangular stones that made the faces flat – they look more like staircases.  We were wondering whether they were ever flat, until we came upon the small section that was smooth.  The pyramids would be even more impressive if they were smooth all over.

Another “we’re not in America” moment – one of the tourism police who guard the pyramids asked us if we wanted to climb the pyramid.  We’d read about this on wikitravel – the cops ask for tips in exchange for allowing tourists to climb the pyramids.  This is both bad for the pyramid and bad for the tourist (apparently a lot of tourists have died or been badly hurt falling from the top of the pyramids).  So we declined, but it did lead to a discussion on corruption – that would just never happen in America, but is totally accepted here.  In fact, we saw dozens of tourists climbing all over the 9 pyramids despite the “No Climbing” signs everywhere.

We spent about 2 hours wandering the Pyramid complex and it was a memorable way to spend our last day in Egypt.  If we had more time in Cairo, I’m sure we’d have found more to do and been more in love.  But I wouldn’t trade our time in Dahab for a few extra days in Cairo.  We saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx and the museum.  Get me outta here.

Definitely check out the Egypt photos for more pyramid views, here.



  1. Awesomeness!!

    • I agree. That’s semi-LeBronish and almost quasi-Kobe-esque.

  2. I have heard from more than one friend that seeing the Pyramids is amazing but it is too bad you have to travel to Egypt to do it. I am so glad you did it because I got to sort of experience it without actually going. Just like here — I dislike going to stores who treat you badly and giving them my hard earned money, I would dislike going to a country and spending my hard earned money when the experience has such a high dose of unpleasantness. I definitely would go to Dahab based on your experience, I would go to Russia, but I wouldn’t go to Cairo or Luxor. I definitely, definitely, definitely go to Israel based on your experiences. I have wanted to go anyway and despite the crowds, hope I can some day.

  3. My idea of great photos! Are you wearing sunscreen??? xoxo kita

    • How many times have I told you to RESPECT THE SUN? I wasn’t kidding. I even used CAPITAL LETTERS. Between raising orphaned kittens and taking strangers to Uzbeki restaurants, Ruslan Kim finds the time TO WEAR SUNSCREEN!

  4. […] Sites: Petra Ta Prohm Taj Mahal Sossusvlei Bethlehem Anna’s Top 5 Coolest Sites: Kremlin Pyramids Stations of the Cross Corrigidor Island Angkor Wat Five Most Disappointing Things: Asian Food […]

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