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Khephren's pyramidNov. 1-3 & 8-11  1998  Giza & Cairo, Egypt

We land in Cairo just as the sun is setting over the sands of the Sahara. Our plane touches down, and almost before we know what is happening, we are sitting in a white Mercedes being whisked towards Giza on the outskirts of the city. A night of relaxation follows as we rest up for what promises to be an excitement filled day of exploring. The same Mercedes shows up at our hotel first thing the next morning. Following the friendly salutations to our guide and driver, we’re off for the short drive to the pyramids.

Across the sands on camels with Khephren's pyramid in the backgroundOf the seven Wonders of the World, only the pyramids of Egypt have survived the test of time. It’s a tough test too. The pharaohs built these monuments to their absolute power and influence over 4,500 years ago! The three mammoth structures (as well as the three smaller ones) all sit on a vast limestone plateau. Consider that this site is basically nothing more than a royal cemetery, but on the grandest of scales. It is to this final resting place, that the mummified bodies of the great pharaohs and their immediate families were laid, following their last trip down the Nile.

Up close with Kheops’ Great PyramidNeither the most descriptive of words, nor the clearest of pictures can come even close to describing the awe-inspiring grandeur of these ancient edifices. Even with today’s construction technologies, tools, and methods, raising these huge mounds in the middle of the desert would be a very challenging and difficult undertaking. The biggest of the three pyramids of Giza is Kheops’ Great Pyramid, measuring in at 450 feet high. It is simply amazing to see this evidence of 4,000 men’s efforts (at any given time) over 20 years, to carefully query, transport, cut, and pile these 2,000,000 blocks (each weighing about 2.5 tons) atop one another to construct this massive monument to their king.

The best way to get across the sandsAfter a quick trip down into the bowels of King Khephren's burial chamber, we take a short camel ride (about 20 minutes) around and about a bit, to Kheops’ entombment chamber and the great Sphinx. With the head of a man (most say it is Khephren, minus his nose and beard), and the body of a lion, it is the fearsome looking protector of the pyramids.

The great SphinxOver the centuries, time and time again, the Sphinx has been almost completely buried up to its neck in sand. As many times, it has been faithfully uncovered. One of these times, it was Tuthmosis IV who left an inscribed tablet telling how he had had the Sphinx promise him that he would become pharaoh only if he cleared away the sand. Apparently, he thought this to be a good deal, since he immediately complied.

Cairo from aboveCairo
Cairo is the city where old meets new. The passing of centuries serves as both a contrast and complement between the ancient and the modernistic in this, the capital of not only Egypt, but also a great political, economic, and cultural center of the entire middle east. In this city, past and present coexist, mingle, and in fact depend on one another, in the most interesting of ways.

As Laura and I sit in the atrium bar of the Ramses Hilton, we share our elegant ‘watering hole’ with business men (and women) dressed in both designer suites, as well as designer gallabiyas (think Lawrence of Arabia) complete with, cufflinks, and headdresses. Relaxing and getting a little work doneTuxedo clad waiters stand at attention waiting for even the slightest motion from their deal-making patrons ordering another mint tea. It seems there are few, although precious, moments of relative peacefulness between the ringing cellular phones (each with a different ‘cute’ sound). baada-ing, baada-ing . . . tweedaleet, tweedaleet . . . ridaliiing, ridaliiing . . . non-stop. The smoke from the dozens of sheeshas (water pipes, or hubble-bubbles) that seemingly everyone is casually puffing on (including me), rises lazily upward through the atrium in ghostly layers. All around us, traditions of the old, mix with conveniences of the new, for this is the city of Cairo.

The Egyptian police, armed and everywhereIt is in this city that modern autos clog olden streets. Computers and other high tech electronics are peddled from aged and decrepit arched merchant stalls. Modern era machine guns protect the most ancient of ruins from today’s political terrorism. Yesteryear’s pyramids are preserved by this year’s high-tech ventilation systems. The world’s new money is paid to experience a taste of the antique. Air-conditioned motor coaches wait patiently behind re-conditioned donkey coaches as they ramble down the roads.

Cariro by nightThe view from our hotel room displayed a tangle of urban highways, connected by cloverleaves and elevated ramps. These knots of asphalt sting, both link and separate the skyscrapers, minarets, and domes of this middle eastern hub. At night, streams of twinkling lights replace the black ribbons of road, as flashing neon signs punctuate the city’s centers.

One of the main streets of the bazaarFrom high above, the chaos seems manageable, but below, on the level of the street, there is anything but order. Traffic zooming in all directions barely avoids pedestrians darting in and out of the frantic flow. Street rules apply, as there are very few traffic signals to aid in managing the stream. The lights that do exist are largely ignored, so the civil authorities don’t bother installing and maintaining them.

Typical side alley in the bazaarCrossing any of these busy streets places you solely at the mercy of the passing motorists, who do their best to swerve to miss you as you stand trembling, in the middle of two or three lanes. Despite these deterrents, Laura and I venture out each day in search of adventure. The two biggest highlights of our stay in the city include the Egyptian Museum and the huge bazaar of Khan El Khalili.

Guarding the tomb of King Tut - nice doggie!!About 200 yards from our hotel, the Egyptian Museum dominates the northern side of Tahrir Square. This, one of the greatest museums in the world, contains a collection of Egyptian art that numbers more than 100,000 pieces. Needless to say, even if we tried, we couldn’t see more than a handful of these, even if we spent days in the building. We decided that a 2.5 hour whirlwind tour covering just the highlights would have to do. From imposing statues, to miniscule papyrus rolls, to mummies of monkeys, to mummies of cats, it was all here.

The gold desk mask of King TutankhamunThe most well known of all the pieces are the collection, found completely intact, of the pharaoh King Tutankhamun. The display of ancient wealth, even for a king with Tut’s relatively short rule and stature, is nothing short of truly awe-inspiring. No picture can come even close to depicting the beauty and craftsmanship of these glittering funeral pieces.

Sheeshas for saleThe Egyptian bazaar of Khan El Khalili is just that - bazar. Reportedly having more than 8,000 shops, this monument to pure free enterprise is a jumbled mess of dilapidated buildings and crumbling structures. Aside from the main street, there is no rhyme or reason to the myriad of ally ways which may or may not join to one another.

A booth in the spice section of the bazaarTruly a maze of merchandise lined passageways, this confusing labyrinth is, in fact the center of commerce for the entire area. From spices, to clothing, to radios, to cosmetics. If you can’t find it here, then you simply don’t need it. When in Cairo and searching for the one place that epitomizes the existence and lifestyle of the locals, if you’re comfortable with chaos, this is most definitely it.

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Last modified: August 19, 1999    Photographs and text 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.


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