The day started with us scaling the 280 steps down to ground level and hunting down breakfast. This was a near instant fail as both Jack and I started sneezing, rubbing our stinging eyes and nostrils. Tear gas was in the air and we were back in our hotel in a flash.
We had decided to best thing to do was bail Cairo for the day. The problems in Cairo have scared off most tourists, embassy’s have closed, and the touts at Giza pyramids were now beyond desperate. A visit to the world famous Giza Pyramids was fraught with potential issues and so we decided to head out of town.
We hired a driver to head West and to a place some 30 miles, yet a century away from Cairo. The road runs along the side of a side river from the Nile, the concrete towers become fields and palm trees and the cars very quickly become horse and cart. It is Egypt proper and beautiful.
As we left Cairo the streets were filled with burned out cars, makeshift road blocks, fires still burning, and bricks and glass everywhere. It was every bit the war zone I had worried about, the driver made apologies for what his people were doing. He explained that that vast majority of Egyptians hated what was happening, and wished for an end to the violence and troubles.
As we left on one of the few remaining bridges not blocked out of Cairo I stopped to take a photograph of the beautiful city. And as we looked off the bridge, everything looked perfect, so silent and peaceful. The Nile glistened under the sun and Minerets pierced the sky, it is one of the most troubled cities on earth at the moment, yet for a minute it seemed perfect.
The journey to Dashur took just over an hour, down broken roads and through villages that time has long forgotten. Children whipped donkeys, chickens hung by the neck, families survived and thrived. But they thrived on nothing. In the UK we thrive on success, and kid ourselves that a day to the coast once every six months will reaffirm our place in the world. The true meaning of family in the UK is long forgotten. Family means relying on each other with an absolute unfettered trust, a love so powerful it becomes the reason for life. Like nothing else matters, a reason for waking, a means of survival and a smile so powerful it is craved by those without such purpose.
Entrance to Dashur was LE£30 with a few quid for the car. Total in English was about £3.50. Dashur has huge significance in Egyptian history. In many ways it was the trial ground for what the world believes to be amongst the most amazing human feats in history and probably the worlds first, and longest lasting fail. It was at Dashur that Pharoah Sneferu who lived some 6000 years ago decided to bang up a pyramid. Even today the best minds in the world struggle to ascertain how pyramids were built with such rudimentary equipment. Well rewind back to Dashur in 2613BC and look to the so called bent pyramid. This was a prototype if you like to building a pyramid. It was sussed out and built at 54 degrees, but when it started to collapse, the angle was changed to 43 degrees and the layers changed to horizontal bricks. Still, bent as it is, it still stands today. Closed to the public it was history’s first fail and led to Egypts largest true pyramid – The red pyramid; Also at Dashur.
The first thing we noticed about Dashur was that no one else was there. It was completely abandoned, no camels, not touts, no shoddy tourist restaurants. Nothing and no one. We made our way straight to the massive Red pyramid. Where I knew we could descend into and explore.
It was desert, with basically a pyramid plonked right in the middle of it and everyone had chipped. For me it was perfect, and for Jack it was heaven. The entrance to the pyramid was a climb up about half way up the side, and so yet again I muscled from Brussels my thighs, died a few times and met a dodgy looking bloke at the pyramid entrance. You have to understand, rules in Egypt exist for two reasons, the first is because no one has bothered their arse to actually think things through properly and so has just come up with a rule. The second is to make people money.
There is of course no cameras allowed in the pyramid, what this actually means is, technically you aren’t allowed to take a camera into the pyramid. But, and on payment of a little baksheesh I will look away and not notice the flashes as you click away. Sure enough, I slipped the bloke LE£5 (50 pence) on entrance and the camera was never even an issue.
I never actually realised just how deep a pyramid went, I mean I knew they we pretty much dug up, or down. But the descent was tight, claustrophobic, hot, stuffy and seemed to go on forever. Jack was a little nervous, but I went first and he was keen to follow. We both fell a few times and used our ninja skills to ensure we didn’t go flying down to the bottom. Once at the bottom however, we entered the tomb and stood mesmerised at the fact we were at the bottom of a massive pyramid. After picking our jaws up from the floor at just how amazing it looked a Japanese tourist appeared from around the corner in the next room. Jack asked “where the heck did that guy come from” the bloke just smiled, touched up his camera and was off. I explained to Jack that Japanese tourists are everywhere. And that when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, there was a Japanese tourist already there waiting to take a photo.
We had a moment in the pyramid, for a while things felt so surreal and as we sat playing 20 questions, in a 6000 year old structure, I felt closer to Jack than I ever had. Then he farted and we made our exit, up the long shaft. It was a killer, but at the top, several hundred feet up the side of a pyramid, looking out to the desert I smiled. The sort of genuine smile that comes along every now and again. A split second of perfection, a moment you know you’ll remember forever.
We decided to walk around to the back of the pyramid, and see what was going on. Not really sure what we expected as it was pretty much the same as the front, but this time there was absolutely no one around. No one looking for baksheesh, just miles of sand, a bent pyramid in the distance, and me and Jack.
I told Jack he had 15 minutes to do whatever he wanted, absolutely anything. He decided to eat some sand, then climb the pyramid. Of course he didn’t get very far since the blocks are the height of him, but for 15 minutes he had no restrictions, no care, and was allowed to be a kid. After the 15 minutes was up his smile told of a child coming of age, a child excited and that had free reign to just be a kid. I told him there was no longer any rules, and within reason he could do whatever he wanted. For the next hour, alone in the desert with Jack, with the worlds biggest playground obstacle within touching distance, I watched my boy love life. And it was sad. I knew this would be one of a handful of times he would feel this way. For me, watching Jack scale a pyramid, run into the desert, have absolutely no problems, no cares, and to know there was no one but us for miles around. One of the happiest days of my life, for a moment I felt content and though Jack will probably forget, today will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The next stop for us was Saqqara, a real time archeological site, mummies are popping up every few years. In true Egyptian style it has been decided that rebuilding the famous Saqqara pyramid using wooden scaffolding is just the same as it been built thousands of years ago. Personally I think they should let history take its course.
Saqqara is a reasonably famous tourists site and so there were a few people dotted about looking for that perfect picture opportunity. What this meant for us was that touts were out in force and I seriously got pissed off. Having paid LE£60 I was already looking for someone’s dog to kick. Yet every tomb we went to there was some guy saying “this is closed” and forcibly trying to stop us gaining access. The tourist police were busy trying to get baksheesh for taking photos and so absolutely everything was a mission. Someone even tried telling me that a Camel ride was mandatory, and tried pinging me a few quid because jack took a piss in some hole that was supposedly a billion years old. I mean, we did enjoy our time there and did manage to get our Indian Jones on, but it wasn’t easy. I considered Jackie Channing everyone, but we were in the middle of a desert and the humidity put me off.
In the end I stopped listening to people, and they did get quite heavy with us. For instance I took a photo of Jack next to some hieroglyphics and supposedly this wasn’t allowed. Neither was photos of the pyramid, tombs, shit – even grains of sand came with a LE£1 fee. Eventually we bailed down some pathway that was quite obviously closed and when three guys came chasing us we ran. It had become an absolute joke by this point, and we jumped onto the roof of a tomb that was closed and supposedly the most scared thing in Egypt, these fellas were phoning their wives and updating Facebook on the go. The tourist police showed their face and kicked off, waving sticks at us. As we climbed down I was explaining that everyone in Egypt was a knob head and it seems we actually did climb into one of the most scared tombs in Egypt. The police asked for my ticket and the whipped it out of my hand, shouted at me in Arabic and kicked us out of Saqqara. My driver took life seriously, but genuinely, I believe there is a cartel of hustlers running that place and as we drove back to Cairo I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit legendary about getting bared from Saqqara.
As we entered the perimeter of Cairo reality bit hard and we found ourselves caught up in a riot. The doors were locked but someone posted something through the window, I quickly grabbed it. It was a spent smoke grenade, I knew we needed to leave and so after we seriously struggled to get to our hotel due to the road blocks we headed straight to Ramses station. The railway station of Cairo. A sandstorm was on the city and supposedly hitting up most of the Western Desert, my priority was getting me and Jack out of there.
There were no buses, not a single one as everything was booked up. The train station told a different story and the train to Luxor is fully booked until the 4th February. 16 hours away by road, our only option to escape Cairo to Luxor would be to hop on a train and hope for the guard to not kick us off for not having a seat. Best case scenario we sit on the floor for 11 hours, worst – we get kicked off somewhere along the Nile.
The train was a no go, and then outside, no one would take us to our hotel, believe me I tried and suddenly the the LE£ had no voice. The Metro was operating, but the stop nearest to our hotel was Sadat, which is Tahrir square, the final place of of 5 more people last night, killed in the trouble. We hopped onto the Metro and decided to get off at Nasser, a stop North of where we needed to be. Waiting on the station we got lots of looks, and once in the train a guy sat next to us and quietly told me to get off and leave. We were not safe. At Nasser we jumped off and the trains next stop was Sadat, young guys hung off the train from the outside and stood between the carriages.
We made our way outside the station and found our way back to the hotel. The manager told us to stay here and that the police station had been taken, the was a police car on fire at the end of our road and that things were now very serious.
As it stands I might have a black market ticket out of here tomorrow.
And so hopefully, next stop Luxor. Or Aswan, or anywhere.