Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Memphis (not the Elvis one) and Saqqara

Following another bountiful display of food called “breakfast” we loaded our coaches and headed out of thecity of Giza toward the countryside and villages of Memphis and Saqqara.  Our route took us off the “ring road” and through agricultural back roads and a real glimpse of how rural Egyptians live.   The sights were almost overwhelming at first as they were so “foreign” to those of us who live in the agricultural heartlands of America……verdant , well kept fields ran up against rough looking buildings and homes…….tuk tuks darted in and out of modern Mercedes Benz buses and small mini-vans left over from WWII ran about with people literally jumping from the open doors as the vehicle slowed....all this while hugging the curbs were oxen, water buffalo, donkey carts, the largest cabbages ever seen and kids playing in the dirt/sand.   There was almost too much to look at!

Typical view out the bus window!

The route we followed was alongside a canal which brought water to the fields from the Nile. We were grateful to learn that this canal was not the source of drinking water (or for any other use for that matter) as the canal and many miles of the streets themselves were full of garbage – piles of garbage – some burning, some just piled up.   But it seemed that wherever we looked, we saw people sweeping the front steps of their homes or shops, yet garbage was piled just steps away.   Life was on, and life goes on – perhaps differently from the way we view our surroundings/environment, but seemingly normal to them.   Sometimes that’s a hard concept to handle, but it will become easier as the days go on. This is NORMAL here.  We have to accept that.

Did you know that there are at last count, 139 pyramids in Egypt?  We do.   Today we saw several more, and they were quite fascinating to visit.  On our way to see the “oldest” of the Pyramids, we stopped to visit the area known as Memphis – once the capital of Egypt (3100 BC or thereabouts!) – and home to only a few remnants of what once was a magnificent city. Most of Memphis has vanished and only a few artifacts remain - the most interesting being the huge fallen limestone statue of Ramses II.   This statue is made from a solid block of limestone and is intricately carved.   We learned a lot about Ramses himself and spent some time walking the area.

The two photos above are student groups, awaiting their entrance into the Ramses viewing area.....see if you can find YOUR student - I believe that if you click on any photo, it will increase in size.........

Here you see the head and crown of Ramses (and more Augie students!)

The Alumni group took time for a photo near the Alabaster Sphinx at Memphis.

Memphis was selected as the ancient capital because it was located where the Nile Delta met the valley – we were at “the bottom” of the “V” as it were – and on either side of us was desert.    As we drove to our second stop of the day it became apparent that the Nile Valley was green indeed – as we drove up the side of the valley one couldn’t help but be in awe at the number of palm trees and lush farmland below and the stark contrast of the sand of the desert suddenly around us.

Shopping anyone?   There are bountiful opportunities to do so!

Our guides still seem to be happy with us!   Khaled, Walla, Hassan and Ahmed (aka "Bob")

Saqqara is basically a necropolis (burial ground) for ancient Egypt.  It’s the final resting place for many pharaohs, their families, staffs and sacred animals.  Here you find more than 11 major pyramids, the most impressive of which is the Pyramid of Zoser who died in 2648 BC.   It is Egypt’s oldest and most significant stone monument known to many as the “Step Pyramid.”  This was the first structure that built “up” rather than down, and is quite impressive.  Surrounding this pyramid is a huge funeral complex and enough has been uncovered that you can almost imagine what life must have been like in these times.

This is the "Step Pyramid."  Our guide kept quizzing us - "Which pyramid is the oldest in Egypt?" he would say.  The group finally turned around and said "That one!"

In the distance, we could clearly see the “Reddish Pyramid” as well as the Pyramid of Titi and other mounds depicting places of burial.  One of our guides was heard to say, “Do you see this one here – it is all squished and not very impressive – I think it looks likea melting Chiclet, so I call it the Chiclate Pyramid.”   “What?” we asked, “Chiclates don’t melt…do they?”  “Yes, don’t you see – it looks just like a melting Chiclate – don’t you agree?”   After a few moments of being completely stumped, one great mind realized our guide was calling it the “Chocolate Pyramid!”  Ohhhhh, melting Choc-o-late!  Hmmmm.   Language is fun, yes?

This is the infamous "Chiclate Pyramid"

Lunch today was at the Saqqara Country Club……..ok, you can call it a Country Club, but where was the pool?   We were met at the stairs by three musicians who played some pretty interesting Arabic music, then ate at long tables under huge tents and with LOTS of tour groups.   Food was good, the company was wonderful (after all, we enjoy one another) but Country Club?  Well, ok.  Whatever…………. J
By the way, people in Egypt do not eat lunch until at least 2:00 in the afternoon.  3:00 is even more preferred.  That certainly makes for a shorter afternoon!

Students headed back into Cairo for a visit to the Papyrus Institute (the same the alumni group visited yesterday) and the Alumni group headed to the Wissa Wapfa Carpet School.   Saqqara is home to many such schools where young children are taught a trade (carpet weaving) to give them and their families an income and keep them off the streets.   While it’s a bit disturbing to see children working in this way, we learned that most of them would not have the chance to even think about schooling without the support of this “job” and, frankly, the opportunity to learn a trade will benefit them far more in the years to come.    The finished products are gorgeous – they can take up to several years to complete, and are priced accordingly.  The silk carpets are the most coveted, but none of us had a $10,000 bill popping out of our wallets to pack one up and take it home.

Carpet school demonstration.  The young lady at the loom is 13 years old.

This evening, a busload of students headed off to spend some time at a local shopping area and mall, and another load (mostly alumni and two brave students!) headed off to see the Great Pyramid Light and Sound Show.    For those who have see the Light and Sound Show at the Falls of the Big Sioux (!), you know what this is like.  But………this is in Egypt…..and on the Pyramids…..gee

By the way, (notice that I'm saving this for the end), the weather today was 72 balmy degrees and while it was a bit hazy (smoggy) this morning, it cleared off beautifully by the afternoon.   Ahhhhhh.....sorry!

An attempt to capture the beauty of the Sound and Light Show.



  1. Thanks again for the updates. I love reading your posts! You are right-if you click on them the photos get larger. I saw my daughter and she looks to be having a good time. All is well in Minnesota...another snow storm on the way! :(

  2. Brad and alumni friends! So great to see you are having a fun experience. It is so neat to see familiar faces is such a far-off place. Special hi to Dale and Nadine, Bruce and Mary, and Dianne!

    ~ Mary