After a whirlwind first day in Cairo, we woke up bright and early at 4am for the Pyramids. Just like good old times.
Today we changed nothing on the plan I did 10 years ago. Everything was planned to the tee to be exactly the same except that instead of 4-5 friends with me, I had 20.
We drove over from Tahrir Square to the bedouin horse stables where 16 horses were waiting for us by 5:00am. They quickly assigned each of us to a horse based on preferences for “fast”, “slow”, “strong”, or “small.”
10 years ago, I chose “crazy”:
Today I chose “crazy fast”:
We quickly befriended our horses and set off into the darkness (obviously any photos I took came out all black).
10 years ago,
. . . with a sound of a whip breaking through the cold air, my life would change forever. My horse raced off and so did my heart, and I held on for dear life. The poor bastard I was sitting on was galloping away as if we were trying to outrun a jaguar: we were outrunning fate. From the sound of crackling pavement to that of rustling sand, I slowly caught on that I was in the middle of the Sahara desert: Just my horse and I in the blind.
The darkness also overwhelmed me; I couldn’t see anything but the color black under a cloudy night sky. I’m not sure if I could brag that “I was riding that horse with my eyes closed!” but this was close enough. And I knew in my bones that if I had let go for a second, I’d fall and break something: my camera, my limbs, my head, my dignity. So I held tighter. I channeled prior experience on riding mechanical bulls back home. It seemed as every gallop would be the last thing I would ever hear. I remember there was a little voice in my head telling me that I *really* wasn’t in New York anymore (a little slow, a little late).
Then with a high-pitched whistle in front of me I saw a fire burn in the distance. Shadows in the light of the fire pointed. I turned my head over my shoulder . . .
As we reached the Giza plateau, dawn began to pierce the night. The muezzin call to prayer, the adhan, began to fill the air around us. Familiar emotions from 10 years ago came back as if stored like muscle memory. As if I smelled the perfume of a former lover, read an old letter to myself, or stepped in a room I used to grow up in, I wept. Luckily nobody saw me in tears through the thickness of twilight.
As the sun began to peek above the haze, we got off our horses to take it all in.
We watched as an occasional harras of horses galloped across the plain.
And as the sun continue to rise, we were treated to a breakfast for the ages by our bedouin guides, with the silhouettes of the great pyramids (too covered by a thick haze to be clearly seen) in front of us.
There was some photobombing.
And there were some emotions (not just from me): A little birdie tells me that Mihaela also had a moment where she wept out of pure joy.
Ironic since it was she herself who coined the quote that “at least one person always cries on a monsoon.”
We then wrapped up our morning with traditional tea by a makeshift bedouin campfire.
After an hour on the plain, we set off back on our horses back to the stables, bid our guides farewell and drove towards the Great Pyramids themselves.
And equally so, the rest of my monsooners on this very trip who joined me in my emotional return to a place that changed my life forever.
10 years ago:
After an hour with the Great Pyramids, we drove towards Saqqara: a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt that served as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis.
It is most famous for the Step pyramid of Djoser.
To the south, we then drove even further towards Dahshur, home to the failed Bent Pyramid, which construction was unsuccessful due to the miscalculations made on the structural weight.
You can see the big fail right from the outset.
Learning from these mistakes, King Sneferu then built the much more successful Red Pyramid:
…where we were able to go inside:
It’s a long long, seemingly interminable way down. Warning to those who get claustraphobic!
Once you climb down the 5-10 minutes it takes to reach the end, it takes about another 5 minutes to see whatever it is inside:
We then returned to our bus and finally rested for lunch in the area.
We then headed back to Cairo, taking the metro from the Coptic area for our overnight train to Aswan.
— AN ENCORE: ONE WEEK LATER —
On our very last day of the trip, only Diana, Grace, Kasie, Melissa, and I would remain after saying our goodbyes to everyone.
Since Grace and Kasie had missed the first 3 days of the trip to meet us in Aswan, I had to show them the Cairo as I knew it: we would return one week later for horseback riding by the pyramids at sunrise. This time the mist was gone.
And if at first you don’t succeed with the weather, try try again — the haze from our first go last week had now finally disappeared into this:
This view never gets old.
So how much have I changed the past 10 years?
Afterwards we sent off Grace and Kasie to view the pyramids up close . . .
. . . while Diana, Melissa and I retired to the bougie breakfast buffet spread nearby at the hallowed former palace (and current Marriott property) Mena House with the pyramids in full display.
After Grace and Kasie finished at the pyramids, we then took our van out to show them the Cave Church at the top of Manshiyat Nasir (aka “Garbage City”).
There we rendezvous’ed with Priyanka, a girl we had met in our van on the way to Abu Simbel one week ago!
From there we did our first day in Cairo entirely in reverse — first by walking downhill through Manshiyat Nasir . . .
. . . and then to Qarafa (aka “City of the Dead”) where a woman invited us into her garden of tombs, not accepting any tips from us for her hospitality, and instead left us all shedding a few joyful tears that felt like she was truly recognized by a vast world that seemed to have forgotten her.
We eventually reached back to where we had our first lunch together at Nagub Mafhouz in Khan Al-Khalili where we kicked back and relaxed. There Priyanka said her goodbyes so she could finish up the last of her sightseeing, and the rest of the group went shopping in the souq for a few hours.
If this post continues to update at the time of reading, it means I’m really trying to prolong this goodbye as long as possible. . . .
. . . this blogpost still in progress at the time of posting: if you’re reading this then that means I’m still typing away in Cairo with Diana, Grace, and Kasie laughing at me. . . .
- At time of posting in Giza, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 51% | Wind Speed: 15km/hr | Cloud Cover: hazy