Monday, April 02, 2007

Step Off

Sorry for not posting sooner. Last week was midterm evaluation at the AUC and this brought with it a flurry of activity. I've been half-writing an entry on the sandstorms that have blown into Cairo over the past few weeks, but that entry hasn't caught fire or held my attention like I hoped it would.

Now I'm falling behind: tomorrow we depart with our friend Michael for the Sinai Penninsula, where 3,000 Steps of Repentance await us on Mt. Sinai. (There will also be a beach, and snorkeling in the pristine waters of the Gulf of Aqaba.) This trip will warrant at least one post, maybe more. And yesterday, Michael and I traveled south of Cairo to the ancient pyamids at Sakkara and Dashur. We drove through small agricultural villages, so green and irrigated, and then as we approached the Sakkara complex, the green simply ceased, and sandy desert began.

Sakkara is best known for the Step Pyramid, which as you can see is mightily impressive. It predates the Giza pyramids by several thousand years. But the area is actually an enormous funerary complex--aside from the ruins bunched near the Step Pyramid, it seems at first as if there is very little to see. But the longer you stay, the more the eye discerns: off in the desert, you see huts that protect the entryways to ancient graves dating back several centuries. It's not surprising to me that archaelogists are still finding tombs here. Also, the vendors are much less aggressive here than at Giza--though one guy did manage to dress Michael in decidedly non-Egyptian, Obi Wan Kenobi-like garb while I had my head turned.

Dashur is best known for the Bent Pyramid, so named because it rises at a very steep angle for a time before literally bending--the pyramid's angle of incline was adjusted and the structure was brought to completion. It's a mystery why the Bent Pyramid is, in fact, bent. There are a lot of theories. Also, this pyramid had more armed guards than tourists. There were only a few of us out there. Really great. The desert is a quiet place.

Dashur also has the Red Pyramid, which more closely resembles the ones at Giza. This one you can climb into. First you climb a hundred uneven steps to get to the entrance, then you bend over and lower yourself about a hundred feet into the center of the pyramid, which smells like sweat, urine and ammonia. Then you have to come out the way you entered, and your legs feel like they are being stabbed with a thousand little knives, and the next day your ass is extremely sore. Or so I've been told.

More on all this soon. In the meantime...

James

1 comment:

Josef Assad said...

I did the St. Catherine thing summer before last. Pearls of wisdom:

1. The light from your cellphone isn't good enough illumination
2. If you get lost, find fresh camel dung
3. It is far more than a thousand steps. It is somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen million. I am certain.
4. There is precisely one snake in all of Sinai and it is to the right just after the monastery at the bottom. Either that, or there is precisely one naughty bedouin boy hiding in the rocks there scaring silly foreigners with hisses. Your pick.
5. Don't start climbing the wrong mountain at the outset; legs don't grow back.
6. If your climbing companions put all the bottled water in your backpack, don't let them wait until you've been to the top and back down again before drinking it.
7. When you get to the top, assuming it is nighttime, you will be offered sleeping mats for a few pounds. Studies have shown that, yes, that is mucus.

No, really. It is a marvelous experience; do enjoy it.