Wondering Egypt

Exploring Northern Egypt's Rich Historical Heritage
By Ethan Gelber & the BikeAbout team
  |  Gorp.com

After wandering around Khafre's pyramid, we made our way toward the other famous landmark in Giza: the mysterious Sphinx. We lunched at the foot of this mythical beast, watched the passing crowds, and gazed upon something even more fantastic and surreal than the Sphinx.

Bowling.

Some nutty people from a pro bowlers' association had taken great pains to set up two regulation lanes in the broad basin just down the hill from the Sphinx. As if this wasn't strange enough, a military brass band sat in the pavilion constructed around the lanes and added their own vigorous, if slightly off-key, accompaniment to the sound of falling pins. We're afraid that someone is angling to get bowling declared one of the great wonders of the modern world.

Actually, bowling isn't that much of a stretch at the Giza pyramids. Indeed the whole site has the feel of a chaotic, anything goes, open-air bazaar. Every few minutes someone stepped forward offering us the fabulous opportunity to buy something — papyrus, tiny pyramids, T-shirts, postcards, short cloth whips, little wooden canes, water. Whatever a tourist could desire. False ticket collectors for the different sites lurked in the quieter spots, and no one seemed to think us physically capable of walking. We were offered camel rides, donkey rides, pony rides, and carriage rides.

The thousands of Egyptian school children visiting the pyramids added to the chaos. Grouped in packs (often called classrooms) of between 50 and 75 children supervised by only one or two teachers, they seemed to swarm over everything.

While the teachers ran here and there trying to stop their students from climbing to the top of the pyramids or teasing the camels, many of the children seized the opportunity to run up to us and shout out a greeting. Since Egyptian students have to take English as a second language, most know some basics, but few of these children could have been over 10 years old — so their English language skills were very basic. They said"Hello, hello, hello." If we replied they would then ask, "What is your name?" The more advanced students knew a third line, "How are you?" After they made it through these lines, each child had to hear the answers individually. If a group of fifteen kids stood around us we would have to respond to the question fifteen times.

Not only didn't they mind being photographed by us, but many wanted to have their pictures taken with us. They handed their cameras to friends, jumped into the middle of our group and smiled. We managed to take our own picture on one occasion.

By the time we had walked around the entire site and told hundreds of schoolchildren our names, the sun was already setting. Sitting on huge limestone chunks that had fallen off the side of Khafre's pyramid, we took pictures of the setting sun behind Menkure's pyramid, the third and smallest of the Giza pyramids.

I was here with four of my colleagues from BikeAbout-The Mediterranean, an educational Internet adventure. Our goal was a full circumnavigation of the Inner Sea in order to spread peace, understanding and a heap-load of information about the cultures we would encounter. Two days ago we were in the Egyptian Museum, walking through rooms and rooms filled with old objects. Then we were outside among the big guys: the grand pyramids. The next two weeks in Egypt would be an encounter between the huge and the small, the vastly ancient and the immediate new.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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