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Cairo, Egypt | Day 2

Saturday | October 1, 2016

My day began very early, but that was just fine with me because I was off to see the pyramids– the highlight of my trip to Cairo.

We enjoyed a lovely buffet breakfast in the Four Seasons Hotel before heading out at 7:30 AM.

As we drove through Cairo, we noticed police everywhere. And unlike many of the countries in the world, all of these police officers are armed. Moreover, when we say armed, I do not just mean a single handgun on a hip holster (which they all had). But many of them had assault rifles slung over their shoulders. At some of the more important sites, like the pyramids and museums, officers were adorned in full body armor, including helmets, and ceramic plated threat shields, and stood with machine guns pointing at the vehicles as they drove in.


I must share a word about the driving in Egypt. While it is not quite as bad as Vietnam or Cambodia, it seems like organized chaos. People weave in and out and turn wherever they want. Stop signs, traffic lights and crosswalks appear to be only suggestions.

We also noticed that the engine covers on all the buses have been removed. This is because Egypt is very hot, and they have not figured out how to cool the engine appropriately.

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Also surprising, the way people literally jump on and off the buses while they are moving!

Migrant workers just hang off the backs of trucks – literally.


These fellows just pulled their truck alongside the road and stopped for a meal.


Moses instructed us about how to behave at the pyramids. He told us that we should never talk to the vendors or even look them in the eyes. The same is true with the camel boys. He told us that one of the tricks of the camel boys is to offer a ride for $1. Then, after they ride you into the desert they ask for $50 dollars to take you back. You have no choice but to give in to this extortion.

Let’s go back to a little bit of Egyptian history. The Fourth Dynasty ruled in the old Kingdom around 2700 B.C.E. To date, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of approximately 123 pyramids. It is estimated that there may be hundreds of others still underground.

Finally, we arrived at the pyramids– one of the most revered and amazing sites to see in this entire world. The first pyramid is the most famous.


It took 30 years to build– 10 years of preparation and 20 years of construction. It is now 137 meters high, but was 146 when constructed. (Erosion took back the top 9 meters.)

Apparently, as soon as the king ascended to the throne, he began building his tomb, and the pyramid that was to go above it. The Egyptians were very smart and built the tombs in solid rock. Although it was difficult to drill 20 or 30 meters down in order to create the burial chamber, the solid rock formation was important to support the immense weight of these magnificent structures.

Once a leader died, there were 70 days of mummification. During that time, workers had to work assiduously in order to finish the burial chamber and wall it up. Once that was completed, they could always complete the construction of the pyramid afterwards.

As discussed in yesterday’s entry, there are three major pyramids here and they were the burial chambers of Kiops, Chephren and Marcurinus – the first, second, and third pyramids. After they were buried here, later rulers were buried in the Valley of the Kings in an entirely different style. Those tombs were sealed and hidden totally underground. They learned to do that because the pyramids advertised great wealth and treasure and were looted not too long after the rulers had been entombed.

The pyramids appeared to be very disjointed and the stones were laid in a series of steps.


But once they were completed, limestone was installed on the side surfaces of the pyramid; this was referred to as “kissing stone,” as shown at the bottom of these photographs.


On the first pyramid, which is the largest in the world, the limestone was removed and used in other buildings.

These ruins are parts of tombs of the officials and workers who built the pyramids. They were granted holy resting spaces near those rulers whom they served.


At one point, I began to climb one of the pyramids.


The second pyramid had a large opening down the middle.


Then, we drove to a second location where we were able to get a tremendous view of all the pyramids together.


And then we ended up at the Sphinx, a fourth dynasty creation of Chephren, the same man who built the second pyramid.

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The sphinx was not actually built, but carved out of solid rock. There are hundreds of smaller sphinxes throughout Egypt, but this is the oldest and most famous. Unfortunately, it was used as target practice by the Manlooks in the 12th century AD. That resulted in the destruction of the nose and beard of the sphinx.

We also saw nomadic camel riders in the desert.


And where there are riders, there are lazy camels.


Our next stop was the Mohammad Ali Mosque.


A sign declared this was the burial place of Ali.


And right behind these doors, he was entombed.


Of course, Mohammad Ali was the founder of modern Egypt, and not merely a heavyweight fighter. (King Farook was his last living descendant.)

Ali lived from 1805 to 1849. He became known for his activities around 1820 when he made a regular practice of sending Egyptians abroad, primarily to France, to study medicine, military intelligence, and engineering. Those men then returned and built schools in Egypt to teach those professions.

The Mohammad Ali Mosque was built between 1824 in 1857. As Ali died in 1849, it was finished by his son. The mosque is built in the style of the Blue Mosque of Istanbul. It is also known as the “Alabaster Mosque” because all the stone used to construct it was alabaster.


Even the outdoor archways were alabaster.


The mosque resides inside a citadel built by Sultan Saladine to defend Egypt against the Crusaders in 1170. The city was never used for its intended purpose as the Crusaders were stopped well before they got to this part of the world.

Outside the mosque we first found in an open court an ablution fountain where the Muslims wash themselves before going to prayer.


The inside of the mosque was, well, very mosque-like.


A few words about prayer – the call to prayer is sounded five times a day. The first one occurs immediately after sunrise, presently 4:20 AM. The last one occurs around sunset, presently 7:15 PM. (The others are around 12:15, 3:45 and 5:20 PM.) It is not critical for a Muslim to stop what he’s doing immediately and proceed to a mosque for prayer. The only thing important is they must pray, whether it is in the mosque, home, or even his office. And he need not do it as soon as he hears the call. He may do it at any point before the next call to prayers. Why does a Muslim have to pray five times a day? Initially, when Mohammed died and went to meet God, God told him he had to pray 50 times a day. On his journey, he met Moses and Moses told him 50 times was too many, and suggested he go back and ask God to reduce it. Mohammed did that and got reduced to 40. He then met Moses and again Moses told the same thing. This went on and on until Mohammed had gone back to God several times. Finally, when God told Mohammed to pray five times a day, Mohammed figured he should stop there. Moses insisted he try to get it further reduced, but Mohammed was too timid to go back one more time.

Our own Moses told us that Egypt is a very religious country. On Sundays, the churches are full with Christians, And on Fridays, the afternoon sessions of prayer in the mosques are also full. (Muslim women do need to pray five times a day, but they do not need to go to a mosque.)

And finally, we had a conversation about the Egyptian flag. The present flag came into being in 1952 after the revolution. It is red white and black. The red signifies the blood that was spilled to rid Egypt of the British. The white signifies a bright future and the black is a tribute to the dark history.

Finally, we made it to the airport, said goodbye to Moses, our driver, and our security detail, and boarded our plane back to Safaga. Once again, security was amazingly tight, but the flight was uneventful.

Once we landed, our new security detail picked us up and then we were returned to the ship. (This time, our suited guard in the front seat had an AK-47 under his jacket.) Piles of trash are everywhere along the highway.


It had been a most two days!


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