Walking in Egypt means walking among the ruins. Except perhaps in Cairo, but here it’s still an adventure. On our first day in Cairo, my wife, Bonny, and I walk from the Conrad Hilton Hotel along the Nile to the Egyptian Museum. We look for stretches of walkable sidewalk, dodging cars with their constantly honking horns and skirting barriers. On another occasion we see two drivers having a fistfight in the middle of a busy street.
Armed guards are everywhere and the front entrance to the hotel is blockaded. However, people on the street are cheerful and offer assistance. Many women wear slacks or jeans and some don’t wear head scarves. There are many late-model cars on the road, but the taxis are often wrecks. On our way back to the hotel it starts raining, which is supposedly rare.
The three best known of the hundred and some pyramids are on the Giza Plateau. They were built for Cheops (the Great Pyramid, which is the only survivor of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”), Chephren and Mycerinus. I walk through the tunnel into the Great Pyramid, an agonizing climb up a steep ramp with low headroom. It is worse going down. The objective of this walk is a large, empty chamber. There isn’t much walking to be done at the nearby Sphinx, and the area is swarming with people.
We fly to Abu Simbel, near the border of Sudan. Two temples were built by Ramses II, Egypt’s longest ruling pharaoh. One was for his favorite wife, Queen Nefertari. The temples are carved out of huge rocks, an amazing piece of craftsmanship. Then, in a remarkable engineering feat, they were disassembled and moved in pieces to higher ground when the high dam was built in the twentieth century.
Back on the plane we fly north to Aswan, the southernmost city in Egypt, and get a look at the dam. We cruise north on the Nile for several days on a luxurious boat, but with no dead bodies in sight, ala Agatha Christy in Death on the Nile. The boat stops from time to time so that we can jump off and walk through temples.
At Luxor, we start our day on the east side of the Nile. Karnak Temple was built over more than a thousand years and reflects that in size and variety. In one area are 34 giant pillars. Also two obelisks, one of which is the largest ever completed at 300 tons. The temple has grace and beauty, but it would have been better if that egotistical Ramses II hadn’t added an area in his honor.
After lunch we cross to the west side of the Nile on a small boat and go to the Valley of the Kings and Queens. Here considerable walking is demanded. We visit a bunch of tombs dug into the brown hillside, including several of the Ramses clan. We go into the tomb of King Tut, Tutankhamun (local spelling). His mummy is in the tomb, along with the case displayed separately, even though all the other artifacts from the tomb are in the Egyptian Museum. The tombs have long corridors, some going downhill, with pictures and hieroglyphics on the walls and ceiling intended to help the deceased on their journey to the next world.
The temple of Hatshepsut sits on a hillside with a series of terraces. She was Egypt’s only female pharaoh. The beautiful building looks as if it could have been built 50 years ago. I am fooled at first and don’t bother to take a picture until I realize what it is.
Egypt is a place where historians and amateur archaeologists have to go at least once. The ruins are beautiful, but it is definitely a third-world country today.