17 April 2001 - Day 6 - Giza, Part II
(On the evening of the 16th we transferred to a new hotel in Giza and went to the Egyptian Museum on the morning of the 17th. After the museum trip in Cairo we returned to the pyramids in the afternoon for another walk-around tour and to go inside them, so this is in essence an extension of Day 3's Giza story. Our tourguide on this day was a young Christian Egyptian girl in her mid-20s named Hebba.)
By the afternoon of Day 6 it appeared that our 2nd visit to The Great Pyramids was going to be an overcast one. Despite the warm sunny skies of the morning, clouds began rolling in around 2 p.m. and led to much darker skies, although I must admit it was a welcomed change from the intense sun of the previous five days. Also, since we had already visited and photographed the pyramids on Day 3, I didn't mind the gray skies so much since this visit would largely be spend inside the pyramids.
Our return to Giza actually began at the Menna Hotel which is a heinously expensive joint located right next to the pyramids. As is often the case with mid-level packaged tours, like the one we had transferred to the day before, they often try to butter you up by taking you to expensive-ish hotels for a set lunch in order to help you forget your less-than-first-class accommodations at night. The lunch was actually pretty good and I was rather impressed by the desert below. Hebba, our tourguide, actually turned out to be quite a conversationalist and was very informative.
Above left: a picture of The Great Pyramid of Cheops from the Menna Hotel Garden.
Above right: dessert at the Menna Hotel. Yes, I probably looked like a big ol' geek taking a picture of my desert in the middle of some ritzy hotel restaurant, but whatever. Life is short, and so is my memory, so I needed a picture! :-)
While we sat at lunch we all chit-chatted back and forth and I was quite interested in probing Hebba for some Egyptian cultural information. The first thing I noticed about her was that she wasn't wearing a head covering, which I thought was a bit strange assuming that she was Muslim, so I asked, "Hebba, are you Muslim? You're not wearing a head covering." to which she replied, "Oh no, I'm not Muslim! I am a Coptic Christian (ancient Egyptian Christian) and so I am not required to wear the head covering as Christians do not wear it."
And the conversation continued along these lines and I was rather intrigued by the stories she told about life in Egypt. I was also rather impressed by the fact that she had learned all her English in Egypt and that she had never travelled or studied in the English speaking world before. She has relatives who live in Washington D.C. but she has never been there herself, and one day once she has saved up enough money from her job, she'd love to visit the USA.
So after our little lunch at the Menna Hotel we drove around the corner, up a barren plateau and found ourselves beside The Great Pyramids of Egypt once again! Since Hebba was quite sick on the day of our tour Aungela and I mentioned that it would probably be best if she just stayed in the car and got some rest instead of running around the pyramids getting sick all over the place as she had done on our way to and from the Egyptian Museum earlier in the day. Besides, Aungela and I were savvy enough by now to figure out how to get our own tickets and whatever else we might have to commandeer. Our first stop: the base of The Great Pyramid of Cheops as seen above. For perspective's sake, each of the above stones is approximately 3 feet / 1m high. A mosaic of the entire Cheops Pyramid can be seen below.
Above: a mosaic of six individual photos of The Great Pyramid of Cheops.
For a sense of size, note the person trying to scale it on the left.
Now, what trip to the Great Pyramids of Egypt would be complete without actually climbing deep inside at least one of them? Originally when we arrived Hebba told us that the pyramids were closed to tourists for renovation, or were closed for the afternoon, or something along those lines, but Aungela and I were hell-bent on getting inside them so did a little bit of our own research and found out that they were in fact open so I quickly raced over to the ticket vending booth on the far side of Cheops, bought two tickets and two camera passes (an extra fee they lob onto tourists) and raced back toward Cheops before it was scheduled to close in 15 minutes.
With our tickets in hand I ran up to Aungela who was standing at the base of Cheops, turning away a mini-barrage of Egyptians along the way all asking me to take a picture of them wearing their traditional clothes in front of the pyramids in exchange for baksheesh (a tip). "Thank you, no." I repeated about a million times.
Aungela was just as excited as I was to get inside Cheops so we followed the little walkway carved out of the giant limestones comprising the pyramids as fast as we could and ascended several levels of massive blocks to reach the point of entry of the pyramid which was staffed by two middle-aged Egyptian men and a younger-ish woman wearing the usual colorful Egyptian headcovering. We proudly handed our tickets over to the door keepers and they happily pointed us straight into the bowels of this giant stone monster! In general, guided tours are not allowed in the monuments with narrow passageways so there weren't any big groups clogging up the corridors, and since we were getting so close to the time that the pyramid would be closing, there were nearly no people in it beside us which made the whole experience all that much creepier!
Above left and right: as you walk into the entrance of the pyramid, which is located about 25 or 30 feet above its base, you walk into a narrow, rocky corridor which is approximately five feet high, making it relatively easy to navigate through as long as you crouch over slightly. The corridor is wide enough to walk two abreast, although it would most certainly be a tight fit and so Aungela and I walked single file as we followed its curvy and ragged lead. Right in the middle of the walkway we posed and took the picture above left of our excited and spazzy selves. :-)
But there was no time to pose for a million pictures - we had the interior of the Great Pyramid of Cheops to see!
Once you get through the dimly lit and jagged unfinished portion of the entry corridor of the pyramid, you come up to a well lit, roughly 1 meter by 1 meter hallway that ascends straight toward the center of the structure. At this point people who suffer from claustrophobia should really consider turning back! To help guide you are two rails - one on each side of you affixed to the walls - as well as a wooden walkway with slats nailed into it to help you keep your footing. (See above right.)
In contrast to what one might think of being inside a stone structure, the interior of the pyramid was not cool and comfortable, but rather it was warm and muggy, laden heavily with the scent of thousands of humans, their body odor, and their breath. Panting all the way as you make your way deeper into the pyramids, there is nowhere for all this human exhaust to go as there is no ventilation system. I assume that it eventually reaches the outside of the pyramid through the entrance or is absorbed by the interior stone walls, but it must be a slow process judging by the thickness of the air surrounding us and filling our lungs.
Once you reach the end of the long, low corridor you come upon a flight of steep stairs which twists upward to bi-level transition area where you can either continue your ascent to the top chamber of the pyramid or make a sudden descent into another chamber below. We climbed up another flight of stairs where we then reached a magnificent vaulted corridor whose steep incline leads you straight up to the upper chamber. As Aungela and I stood there at the base of the incline, above left, we were both totally overcome with excitement of how absolutely **COOL** it was that we were standing in the middle of The Great Pyramid of Cheops of all places in the world!!! We stood there for a moment, trying to catch our breath from our rapid clip through the pyramid thus far, and were just dumbfounded by the enormity of it all and that this very structure we were standing in was well over FOUR AND A HALF THOUSAND years old!!!
Perhaps I'm not conveying my sentiment here directly enough: THE BUILDING IS FOUR AND A HALF THOUSAND YEARS OLD!!!!!!!!! IS THAT NOT AMAZING?!?!?!?!?!?
And here we were, right in the middle of it!!!
I don't know about you, but I think that's cool beyond words.
Well, after pondering the coolness factor for a while, we caught our breath and made our way up through the vaulted incline up to the upper chamber of Cheops where we were greeted by absolutely NOTHING. This wasn't unexpected, however, since it is reported that the pyramids had been looted repetitively over the course of the intervening four and a half millennia. What you see above is what you get at the top of Cheops: a badly lit room with a single fluorescent light off in the corner illuminating a crumbled old stone box which appears one time to have been a sarcophagus of some sort. And while it may be more exciting to tell you that the marks on the floor are blood stains from a ritual sacrifice, in reality they were nothing more than spilled drink blotches most likely from a careless tourist. As for the wooden box on the right, it too was empty. I wonder though if it's used as one of those oxygen deprivation bird cages that lets you know right when you're about to be asphyxiated? Maybe? (Maybe not?)
Right next to the empty bird box was a small square cut out in the wall measuring about 10cm/5in x 10cm/5in which suddenly sparked my interest since it had a certain Indiana Jones poisoned-arrow-hidden-in-the-wall about-to-shoot-and-kill you quality about it. "How exciting!" I thought as I walked over to it. "Hmm. I wonder what's inside? Should I put my hand in there? What if there really is a poisoned arrow in there? What if there's a deadly Egyptian desert snake lurking inside?" My mind reeled at the possibilities. So I did just what any sane minded man with a digital camera would do - I stuck my camera inside, turned on the flash and snapped a quick picture of the mysterious hole in the wall and then quickly withdrew! Just look below to see what exciting finds were waiting for me within!
Trash and a plastic water bottle. Nice, eh?
And now, before I continue with the rest of my Cheops story at the bottom of this page, I thought I'd give you some very informative supplemental reading I found online at interoz.com/services, which gives a very vivid description of the interior or the pyramid as well. All credit for the following section goes to InterCity Oz, Inc., Copyright 1996.
How the Great Pyramid was built is a question that may never be answered. Herodotus said that it would have taken 30 years and 100,000 slaves to have built it. Another theory is that it was built by peasants who were unable to work the land while the Nile flooded between July and November. They may have been paid with food for their labor. The flooded waters would have also aided in the moving of the casing stones. These stones were brought from Aswan and Tura and the water would have brought the stones right to the pyramid. This pyramid is thought to have been built between 2589 - 2566 BC. It would have taken over 2,300,000 blocks of stone with an average weight of 2.5 tons each. The total weight would have been 6,000,000 tons and a height of 482 feet (140m). It is the largest and the oldest of the Pyramids of Giza.
Not much is known about Cheops (Khufu). The tomb had been robbed long before archeologists came upon it. Any information about him was taken with the objects inside the tomb. He is thought to have been the ruler of a highly structured society and he must have been very wealthy. He was buried alone in this massive tomb. His wives may have been buried nearby in smaller mastabas.
The encasing marble which covered the outside of the pyramid has eroded or been removed over time. With this casing off, the pyramid lost 33 feet (11m) of all of its dimensions. The top platform is 10m square. The base of the pyramid is 754 feet and covers 13 acres. The original entrance to the pyramid was about 15m higher than the entrance that is used today. Apparently Al Mamum, who opened up the new passage, could not find the original opening. The new passageway leads straight across and joins in with the original passage, the descending passage. The descending passage led only to a subterranean chamber. This descending passage that leads down is set at a 26 degree angle that descends down 345 feet (105m) into the earth under the pyramid. The passageway is only 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. The chamber is closed to the public. The chamber itself is room that measures about 46' x 27'1" x 11'6" (14 x 8.3 x 3.5m). There is a passage that leads 100 feet horizontally to the western side. The purpose of the pit is uncertain. It is possible that it could have been the burial chamber, but after a change of plan, it was abandoned.
The descending passage beyond where the new entrance meets it, is closed off by a steel door. The ascending passage rises at the same angle as the descending, 26 degrees. The ascending passage leads up into the pyramid. The ascending passage is the same dimensions as the descending, 3'6" (1.1m) wide and 3'11" (1.2m) high. It can be quite a difficult trek for some people. The passage leads on for 129 feet (39m).
At the point where the ascending passage levels off, you can go two different ways. If you continue on horizontally, this passageway leads into the Queen's Chamber. The Queen's Chamber was never used. The floor in this room was never polished, it's still rough. Egyptologists believe that the chamber was brought to this point and then the builders changed their minds and moved to the King's Chamber. The possible explanation for the abandonment is that the sarcophagus built for Cheops was much too large for the narrow passageways that had already been built. There are ventilating shafts that are another mystery. These shafts are sealed at the extremities on both shafts. The shafts must have been made as the pyramid went up, since the builders most likely would not have continued to make the shafts after the decision to abandon the chamber. It is also thought that these are not actually ventilation shafts, but more of a religious significance. This could be related to the Ancient Egyptian's beliefs that the stars are inhabited by gods and souls of the dead.
The second, and more spectacular, way at the leveling off point of the ascending passage, is to continue upwards to the Grand Gallery. The gallery is 157 feet (48m) long and 28 feet (8.5m) high and is at the same 26 degree angle as the passages. The roof of the gallery is corbelled. It is said that not a piece of paper or a needle can be inserted between the stones making up the roof. The gallery is only 62 inches (1.6m) wide at the bottom and is only 41 inches (1m) wide at the top of the incline.
The Grand Gallery leads into the King's Chamber. The walls of the chamber are made of pink Aswan granite. Inside this chamber is the very large sarcophagus made of Aswan red granite, with no lid. The sarcophagus must have been placed inside the chamber as the pyramid was being built. It is much too large to have been moved in afterwards, as was the usual custom of that time. The King's Chamber is 34'4" x 17'2" x 19'1" high (5.2m x 10.8m x 5.8m high). This chamber also has the possible ventilation shafts as the Queen's Chamber. They are at the same angle as the shafts in the Queen's Chamber. The thought about the religious significance applies to these shafts as well. The main feature of the sky at night, was the Milky Way. The stars were thought to have been the Nile in the sky. The southern shaft from the King's Chamber points directly to where Orion's Belt would have been in the ancient sky. The southern shaft of the Queen's Chamber points to Sirius. The northern shaft of the King's Chamber points to the circumpolar stars. These stars never disappear in the sky. It is thought that these shafts were to help the spirit of the dead pharaoh find the important stars.
Above this chamber is a series of five relieving chambers which are essential to support the weight of the stones above and to distribute the weight away from the burial chamber. The top chamber has a pointed roof made of limestone blocks. This is the most important of the relieving chambers. In these chambers, are found the only inscriptions in the whole pyramid.
So anyways, there we were in the King's Chamber deep in the heart of The Great Pyramid of Cheops. After hanging out for a little while staring at four blank walls and an empty sarcophagus, we decided to make our way back toward the entrance of the pyramid where we would eventually meet our tourguide Hebba. Once we left the chamber we were greeted again by the narrow, angled gallery that led up to the King's Chamber and walked down its steep decline back toward the staircase transition point which would then connect us with the descending 1 meter x 1 meter corridor and return us to the main entry passage back outside the pyramid.
Upon reaching the base of the inclined walkway at the bottom of the gallery, I turned around to take a picture of the vaulted room. Aungela just kept truckin' along and walked over to the descending ladder that you have to climb down to reach the staircase transition area. She turned around, grabbed onto the railings, went down the ladder, and vanished into the darkness of a curved doorway straight toward the stairs. "I guess I'll catch up with her in a few minutes." I thought to myself as I lifted my camera and took a picture. Just then I hear Aungela scream, "OH MY GOD!!!!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!" followed by a horrible THUD! THUNK! CRASH! BOOM!! BANG!!!
"OH MY GOD, AUNGELA'S DEAD!!!!" I screamed in my head as I jammed the camera into the case slung around my neck and bolted straight down the ladder and toward the darkened staircase! I ran up to the slippery stone steps, and the next thing I know I see Aungela grasping onto one of the vertical staircase railings and dangling halfway into a giant chasm carved out beside the stairs! "GREAT GOD!!!" I blurted out as Aungela swung up her swaying limbs and bravely secured herself upon the stairs.
Aungela stood up, brushed herself off, and then we quickly positioned our cameras on a rocky ledge beside the stairs and snapped the commemorative picture above! :-)
It wasn't long after the "Stair Incident" that we reached the exit, descended the front of the pyramid, and walked back to our tourguide's blue Mazda where Hebba was resting her wary body and nursing an upset stomach. As we hopped into the car Hebba turned around, greeted us with a smile, and the driver turned on the ignition, hit the case and drove us around the far side of the Pyramid of Chephren where there was a nice little tourist market with all sorts of Egyptians selling their wares.
We walked around the market for about half an hour and I wasn't going to buy anything (as I almost never buy anything when on vacation) until I noticed Aungela being chit-chatted with by a middle-aged Egyptian vendor man who spoke English with a Texas twang! "Unbelievable!" I thought. "This world really is out of control when some random Egyptian vendor guy in the middle of the desert next to The Great Pyramids tries to get us to buy his things by speaking a regional American accent!" I figured his time and effort spent studying my country's culture and language should at least be rewarded with a purchase so I snagged myself a tacky little pyramid figurine with faux-gold ancient Egyptian scenes etched on it and gladly handed my money over to the man who thanked me with a nod of his head and uttering of "Y'all come back now, ya hear!"
(People really say that in Texas, don't they???) :-)
After the market, we jumped back into our little blue Mazda and zipped over to the Sphinx, as seen below.
Here's a little info on the Sphinx as derived from the All of Egypt: English Version book I picked up while in Cairo:
The Sphinx was quite impressive, albeit a bit smaller than the image of a towering behemoth often conveyed in various stories told of it. Actually, compared to the pyramids that serve as its backdrop, the Sphinx is simply diminutive. But then again, compared to the pyramids, what isn't?!?
Although I managed to avoid them in my pictures, the entire area around the Sphinx is swarming with tourists. Since tourists aren't allowed to walk on or beside the Sphinx (for good reason!), guests are directed through the ruins of an ancient temple and directed up toward an adjacent stone platform that you and a thousand of your fellow co-tourists can stand upon and shoot pictures of the monument to your heart's content. But because we arrived so late in the afternoon we didn't have a whole lot of time to just hang out, and the monument staffers started rounding us up and throwing us out within 15 minutes of our arrival. Not a problem though. I mean, how long can you reasonably stand and stare at a limestone man-animal from afar surrounded by gazillions of tourists before you start getting bored? I was glad, however, to have had the chance to see it because when we reached the entry gate into the Sphinx monument area, which was closed off to incoming tourists, there was a near mini-riot of unhappy tourists who had arrived too late and weren't being allowed in to see the Sphinx. I don't envy these tour gate operators though, since I imagine they have to go through this mini-riot scenario on a daily basis.
Our next and final stop on the Giza Part II tour was a brief visit to The Pyramid of Mycelium below (a.k.a. Menkaure) located near the Pyramid of Chefren. At a height of 62m (207ft), though originally 66.5m (222ft), this is the smallest of the three pyramids. Extensive damage was done to the red granite exterior by a 16th century caliph (Muslim ruler) who wanted to demolish all the pyramids, so all you see now is an edge pile of stones instead of the beautiful smooth structure that it once was.
By this time Aungela was feeling a little tired from all our running around and decided not to accompany me to the inside of Mycelium After purchasing my ticket I walked up to entrance of the pyramid which was about 15 feet (5m) above the surface of the ground. As I walked up to the entry way, staffed by a trio of Egyptians, I noticed a group of tourists all hunched over and tromping out of the pyramid's steep interior decline grumbling back and forth in German. As I entered the pyramid I noticed that the corridor leading down to the center of the pyramid was PITCH BLACK. "Hmm." I thought. "This all looks a bit wild. Two way tourist traffic through a passage way only 1 meter/yard wide in total darkness. Hmm." So I leaned over to a German woman stomping her way up to the surface and uttered in my best German, "So, what's the issue here?" to which Lady Fraulein replied, "The lights aren't working today!!!" Then I asked, "So, is there anything to see down there? Is it worth going in?" Her response: "Well, if tripping over yourself in the dark is your idea of a good time, then go for it!" and she continued her way out the mouth of Mycelium and disappeared into the light.
"Hmm. Well, apparently it's pitch dark down there and I won't be able to see anything, but how many times will I ever have the opportunity to feel my way through the interior of a gloomy and murky pyramid? I'll do it!"
So I turned my hat around, stuck my backpack on my chest, crouched over, and vanished into the hot and humid throat of little stone monster!
So I began my journey, if I can properly decipher the disorientation of the experience, by descending a narrow stone corridor covered in wooden boards with metal slats popping up an inch every meter/yard which allowed you to shuffle downwards without slipping and rolling all the way down to the blackened stomach of the hungry pyramid. As I stomped my way downwards, the tiny pin-prick of light from the entrance disappeared into the distance and I was surrounded by total darkness. And eerily enough, I was all alone in the passage way and briefly stopped to feel my surroundings. By this time my eyes were totally useless so my fingers communicated the surroundings into my mind. As my hot breath mixed with the humid air enveloping me, my fingers slowly slid over the rough stone walls on both sides of me. I then let my fingers drift up above my head and I could feel the uneven, lukewarm stone resting unbudgingly over my head. Beneath me I could hear the slight creaking of old wooden planks under my feet. I continued to try to use my eyes, but I might as well have just closed them since there was absolutely nothing to be seen. If you'd really like to know what I saw down there in the belly of Mycelium, just look below:
As I continued my slow crawl downwards, I came to a what felt like a small room with relatively high ceilings, high enough that I was able to fully stand up and stretch my arched back without bumping my head. Since I had seen several people enter the pyramid before I went in I figured that there was still somewhere else I should be going so I began to feel my way around the interior of this little chamber looking for another corridor. I had one hand following the wall to my right and the other hand stretched out before me to warn of any walls or sudden drops in the height of the ceiling. I felt the craggy wall to my right and followed my hands as they rounded a corner and felt my way into another 1 meter x 1 meter passage way father into the center of the pyramid. As I entered I could hear the shuffling of another person up ahead of me but I had absolutely no idea where exactly they were until I bumped into her and we nearly tripped all over one another. "Oh, uh, hi!" I said. The woman lit a small lighter, smiled at me and replied, "Hi!" and began moving deeper into the corridor and I followed. By the light of her small flame I was able to see that we were proceeding along through a series of tiny chambers connected by this network of narrow passage ways. The height of the ceiling in this portion of the pyramid was rather sporadic and increased and decreased by about 6 inches (14cm) depending on which chamber and which corridor we were in. Finally though we reached the main interior chamber of the pyramid and I noticed a larger group of tourists all standing their with their lighters illuminating the room, which like The Great Pyramid of Cheops contained nothing but the precisely aligned stone walls encasing what once would have been a majestic tomb.
The small group inside the chamber were speaking Italian and since my Italiano skills are totally lacking these days, I decided not to stick around and to try to find my way back up to the surface of Mycelium As soon as I departed the dimly lit tomb room I ran into the familiar fog of blackness that accompanied me on my way down. "No problem!" I thought and quickly made my way through the corridors occasionally feeling the walls and the ceiling around me. Well, I guess I must have gained a little too much confidence walking through the passage ways on my first time through them because I was feeling like an expert now and was moving along at a fairly speedy clip not paying attention to the height of the ceiling when suddenly in the darkness I felt this giant WHACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
"DOH!!!! $@#% !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MY HEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
I fell to my knees in the darkness, leaned against the wall and immediately grabbed my head as it suddenly began to throb and feel as if it had split open! "Man, my head. . . this hurts like a %@&# !!!" I knelt there for a moment, checking to feel for any blood - not that I'd be able to see it - and thought about how utterly stupid it was of me to not feel the ceiling for ceiling elevation changes and how totally avoidable this instant headache of mine could have been!
"That'll learn ya, Daniel!" I jokingly said to myself, and slowly and carefully recommenced my attempt at resurfacing from the pyramid. I am happy to report that within minutes I was back up at the entrance of Mycelium, blood free, and was able to meet up with Aungela and Hebba, and leave the Giza Pyramids in one piece with nothing more than a major headache and an interesting story to tell!