Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dashur and Abu Sir

The theory that my brain has been fried by the sun stands. Today was a super-pyramid day and I am basically exhausted. I don’t even know if I can be held accountable for my actions at this hour. Hopefully whatever I write will be in complete-ish sentences.

We left this morning to visit Dashur, a pyramid complex that opened to the public in 1996 and is on one of the roads less traveled by. So we like it a lot.

I went down inside the pyramid with Miriam strapped to my front since she hadn’t been down before. Josie and Amanda came with me. Andrew and Rachel sat at the top and chilled with the guards—as it turns out, Rachel is a bit of a pussy when it comes to dark, cramped crawlspaces. I wasn’t so sure about going inside again, myself, once I started reflecting on my previous experiences—pain, pain, and more pain—but Miriam hadn’t ever been inside a pyramid and I just wasn’t sure that she would ever forgive me for not taking her in one.

So today she went down inside the Red Pyramid with me and now she’ll be able to tell all her friends that she went down inside a pyramid. She just won’t be able to tell them about the burning sensations being that deep in a pyramid causes—burning in your nose, throat, and lungs from the ammonia hanging in the dead air and burning in your quads from squatting for so long.

But we did it, and we survived to tell the tale!

20100512 - 02320100512 - 01020100512 - 001

It isn’t really that much of a harrowing experience but it does make your legs feel like jelly for a while afterward and the farther inside you go the more intense the stench gets. But at least they’ve rigged the place with lights—what did they do back in 1836?

20100512 - 036

Graffiti in the dark? That’s got to be difficult.

We spent quite some time down there because we didn’t want to be going up the entrance shaft at the same time that other people were coming down. That meant that we got to see several people come down after us. One man was well over six feet tall—I almost want to say he was about seven feet tall—he was gigantic. He was literally crawling on his hands and knees through passageways for which we were only ducking a little. He was seriously so tall.

20100512 - 029

We had a good time and got thoroughly hot and sweaty, of course.

20100512 - 02820100512 - 03020100512 - 032

And when the coast was clear we made our way to the fresh desert air we had left behind, killing our thighs in the process. Oi, it’s a long way up!

20100512 - 03420100512 - 03720100512 - 038

Technically no photos are allowed inside the tomb, but the site isn’t very well maintained. Since the walls are covered in graffiti dating from hundreds of years ago to yesterday, I don’t feel too bad taking a few pictures to capture the moment. At least we didn’t write on the walls.

20100512 - 022

Walking down the stairs after having done all the work to make it up that ramp in the pyramid is like torture. I suppose it is nice of them to get us used to that since walking down any stairs will most likely be torturous for several days to come.

20100512 - 040

When we had all made it down the pyramid safely and hobbled to the car, we drove down to the Bent Pyramid.

20100512 - 00820100512 - 044

Because the base of the pyramid is crumbling quicker than the top there is a nice, shady ring around the pyramid… and if you’re brave enough to join in an ancient game of Jenga you can sit and enjoy the shade while staring up at huge slabs of stones floating in midair, held in place by nothing other than the stones beside them.

20100512 - 005 20100512 - 00420100512 - 00620100512 - 045

Rachel was being a bit of a downer until she decided to “make a fire.” Then she ran around collecting rocks and building a huge fire that no one else could touch because it was “very dangerous and hot.”

20100512 - 009  20100512 - 04820100512 - 04720100512 - 050

We didn’t stay too long because we wanted to be sure to get to Abu Sir in time to do a healthy bit of exploring there. Trying to cram in all our sightseeing before 3 PM is rather difficult, but I suppose work is as equally important as play.

20100512 - 051

Abu Sir was amazing—the car ride over, alone, was insane. We were driving through the village at around noon, which happens to be right when school gets out, so the streets were thronging with school children. We passed several groups of girls who peered into the windows, noticed Miriam, and erupted into excited shrieks and giggles. Babies are so popular here.

20100512 - 052

I didn’t get many pictures because I was too busy people-watching to actively take photos. And because the camera was in my pocket and I had children on my lap, which makes pockets rather inaccessible. It was amazing, though.

We saw a man on a bicycle get hit by an auto rickshaw. I was pointing things out to Rachel, who kept demanding to be shown donkeys.

“I can’t magically make donkeys appear. I am not in charge of when donkeys are outside your window and when they aren’t. But, look, a herd of sheep!”

“I want to see a donkey! Show me a donkey!”

“Ummm…there’s a goat…”


“Ooh, look a man on a bicycle!”


Just like that. The man on a bicycle (I’d call him a cyclist but that would make him sound professional. He wasn’t. He was wearing a galabia. He was just a man. On a bicycle.) decided, suddenly, to make a left-hand turn. It was a bad decision to make since the rickshaw clearly didn’t have time to stop.

We were in line right behind the rickshaw and almost didn’t have time to stop ourselves. And it wasn’t like we were even going all that fast considering how we were on a dirt road surrounded by animals, children, and vendors, flanked by the canal on one side and storefronts on the other. We were crawling through the village.

Somehow, though, this man managed to get knocked off his bicycle and stopped traffic just like that. The driver of the rickshaw jumped out of his vehicle to help the man up. He didn’t seem to be injured too badly, if at all.

Later we saw a kid on a bike get pounced on by several other children and pummeled. I think he got hurt worse than the man in the other bicycle incident.

We also saw a mother carrying a large tub of some kind of root vegetable on her head in a big, metal tub. Three of her daughters followed behind her, each of them veiled and carrying a similar, but proportionally smaller, load on their heads. It was like a matryoshka doll come to life. At the very end of the line a little toddler tripped along behind his sisters. He was trying desperately to balance a pot of nothing on his head but was failing quite miserably at it. Finally he took both hands, pressed the pot to his forehead, and ran to catch up with his mother and siblings. It was probably one of the cutest things I have ever seen.

I was a little sad when we pulled up to the ticket booth—I wanted to drive around the village longer. technically Abu Sir is closed to the public, but it hasn’t always been that way. It isn’t very difficult to get in, but it does involve bribery and a bit of petty rule-breaking.

Andrew had already been to Abu Sir once with the local Scout Troop, back in February 2009, so we figured that if the Scouts could do some petty rule-breaking we could, too. And it was well worth it.

Abu Sir is amazing!

Part of the charm, though, I think, was that we were exploring it by ourselves, and only with grudging permission.

20100512 - 053

We made our way up the causeway to the Temple of Sahure while our “guide” made small talk. Our guide turned out to be pretty cool in the end, although he insisted on a large tip for his services.

20100512 - 05420100512 - 059

There are some amazing things at this site—I understand why they are trying to make it more tourist-friendly before reopening it, but it’s a real shame that so many people are missing out on it. Of course, I also like that it wasn’t swarming with tourists…so maybe I just don’t know what I want.

20100512 - 01120100512 - 05620100512 - 013

There are fourteen pyramids at this site, although we only counted four of them. In total, and including the pyramids as Dashur, Saqqara, and Giza, we saw upwards of a dozen pyramids today. The other pyramids at Abu Sir must be either covered with sand or crumbled beyond recognition because we couldn’t locate them.

20100512 - 01420100512 - 057

Most of the pyramids here were built with local stone instead of imported granite from Aswan which might indicate a less wealthy dynasty and also explains why the pyramids are in such a state of disrepair.

20100512 - 01520100512 - 061

We went inside this pyramid, which I think was the Pyramid of Sahure. The ramp leading into the pyramid isn’t very long so we even convinced Rachel to go inside somehow.

20100512 - 016

It was quite different inside this pyramid than it is in the Red Pyramid at Dashur. The air was nice and cool and it didn’t smell at all. I wonder if the difference is that this pyramid has been pretty much left alone, whereas the other one was abused when it was part of the army base.

A friend of mine suggested that the smell in the Red Pyramid is from bat urine. However, I am almost certain now that the stench is from human urine because this pyramid didn’t smell at all and was just as likely to house bats as the Red Pyramid. I’m quite sure the Red Pyramid played the role of urinal during its interim on the base.

I’m not sure they will ever get rid of that smell.

Rachel was still very happy to leave the inside of the pyramid. She was screaming the whole way up the ramp. “I’m going to slip! I’m going to slip! I’m going to slip!”

20100512 - 063

But she was brave and walked up the whole way while holding her Daddy’s hand. She did end up slipping, but not until she was at the last step and only because she was freaking out while trying to run into my arms.

Somehow we managed to get her to go down another shaft in a temple of sorts. We told her that it was a slide and that it would be fun—it didn’t have any steps on it, so we really did slide down. She had to hold my hand while going down because Daddy let her fall.

20100512 - 017

During dinner tonight Amanda said “I wish we could slide in temples on a regular basis.” It was funny.

There was an open sarcophagus in the room we slid into, so we had to use it, of course. Our guide was heckling us to, and how could we not after hearing the story of how Zahi Hawwas took Senator Joe Lieberman to the bottom of one of the pyramids at Giza and when they got to the bottom told Lieberman to be quiet. Hawwas pointed to a pair of shoes sticking out of a sarcophagus and admitted to taking a bribe to allow someone to take a nap down there.

That’s all hearsay, of course, but bribery is alive and well here so I almost wouldn’t doubt it.

Josie did a good job pretending to be a mummy.

20100512 - 019

I, on the other hand, always look far too satisfied to actually be dead.

20100512 - 020

And my “scary mummy” face is far too cheerful. If this is anything like my Mommy-means-business face it’s no wonder my children don’t take me seriously. I’m the happiest zombie I’ve ever seen.

20100512 - 021

Andrew was so excited to show us everything that he had explored before. He reminded me of how his dad acts when he takes people to Grover—so excited to be helping other people have a good time.

20100512 - 068

Going back up the slide was far more difficult than coming down, which isn’t something I thought about when I slid down with both our baby girls. Andrew ended up helping Rachel while I lugged Miriam up. And you would think that we would have learned our lesson from that but instead we went climbing over temple walls with them.

20100512 - 06620100512 - 06720100512 - 070

There were some neat hieroglyphics inside the temple, which I’m glad Josie got to see since we won’t be taking her down to Luxor.

20100512 - 069

A lot of the hieroglyphics were a greenish colour. Our guide said that was because they were plated with bronze, which makes sense.

20100512 - 064

We had to run after visiting that last temple, which was unfortunate because there were a lot of other things we could have visited but I barely had time to shower and eat lunch before leaving for tutoring as it was. You can see Maadi in the distance in this picture—all the high rises past the trees? That’s Maadi.

20100512 - 060

Tomorrow we’re headed to Alexandria for the day and we do not have to be back by 3 PM so we shouldn’t feel rushed for once!


  1. Wow! What a neat trip. All you were pics were great. I can almost smell the ammonia!

  2. I want to know what Rachel is holding onto so tightly through the last portion of the pictures--is it an important bag of cookies or something?

  3. Haha, yes. :) It's a bag of bagel bites.