Friday 20 December, 2013 by Uncle Spike
Ok, hands up who has been into space? No, me neither, but I have done some daft things in my day. And one of my most memorable things was being deep inside an ancient pyramid – obvious really, not many ‘modern’ ones around are there, doh.
It was around the time of the start of the Iraq War in late March 2003. I know that as Egypt was practically empty of tourists, most being ‘scared off’ travelling to the Middle East. Yeah right, as if London or NYC is exactly the haven of safety – but I kid you not, many places that were normally swarming with visitors we almost found to be all to ourselves – result! Thankfully, the British adventure travel company had not cancelled the trip, although a couple of last minutes dropper-outers did reduce our numbers from 16 to 14 as I recall – again, result!
Yes we saw the Pyramids at Giza, yawn. In the brochures one sees these marvels of human endeavour standing proud and alone in the desert…. yeah right, it’s a tourist Mecca, with fleets of coaches and hordes of people, even then. What’s more, it literally right on the outskirts of Cairo, the mega large city that dominates that part of North Africa.
However, ours was an adventure trip, so we got to go off the main tourist track and explore some of the real stuff first hand. Our guide was an Egyptologist. He was a real one too, spending 8 months of the year digging, brushing and cataloguing ancient artefacts that litter his homeland, and the other 4 months he spends on the road with daft adventure tourists such as us lot.
As well as the war situation, Egypt was not that long since recovering from the Luxor tourist massacre of 62 people literally outside Djeser-Djeseru (Hatshepsut’s Temple) on the west bank of the Nile near the Valley of the Kings, close to Luxor. In fact a friend of ours back in the UK had lost a family member that fateful day; so the threats were tangible to us, but nevertheless, not something that ever put me off. When my day comes, it comes – guess that is why I emigrated to live in an area of the world known for regular seismic activity. As for our friend, she thought we had gone to Spain, and we left it at that.
We travelled in a midibus with a driver, our Egyptologist guide and two large chaps wearing jeans, shades and over-sized suit jackets, even though it was pretty warm (we were all in t-shirts). After a while we sussed it out, they had machine guns under their jackets.
Once out of town, we pulled over at a coffee shop, not Starbucks by a long shot, but a large shack that sold warm beverages, bottled water and the usual array of overpriced genuine fake tourist trinkets at top dollar prices. It was also a meeting point, and we saw one of our suited chaps shaking hands and talking to some roughty-toughty types in tight t-shirts, big boots, sporting bandanna’s and tattoos. When we left to resume our journey deeper into the desert, we noticed we had been joined by a military looking Jeep, piled full of these roughty-toughty guys; all carrying weapons of varying size as well as mean looking expressions. We had picked up our main armed escort – two suits was not considered adequate I guess.
We spent hour after hour, driving across almost deserted desert roads, visiting one pyramid after another. Each was different, unique by style, design and the era from which it was built. Such a change from Giza – THIS was real Egypt. THIS is what we had travelled here to see.
Now here’s something I didn’t previously know – the ‘entrance’ to a pyramid is over half way up one side. And then, once you enter, you need to climb down, and then down, and then down some more to reach the burial chambers and all the ante rooms. Whilst not particularly tight or scary like going potholing, if you are of a claustrophobic disposition, I guess you could say it’s gonna be a challenge, mentally if not physically!
It’s dark, a bit scary, and so… so…. quiet.
It’s also not something you do every day, and one of those memories you can safely lock away in the grey cells to live over and over as the years pass. It’s gotta be what, 10 years now, I can still sense the feeling of being deep inside an Egyptian pyramid, the smell, the coolness, the mystery (shivers)…