Cairo - More Saqqara, Camels, Etc.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

This is continued, roughly, from the post I made yesterday. Sorry about the break…

Saqqara, continued. We actually went to Saqqara earlier in the same day that we saw the Mohammad Mounir concert, so you can keep your chronology straight. On Friday.

So. We walked around the Step Pyramid and the surrounding funerary complex. Most, of course, had crumbled over time, but several stretches of wall still stood along with a grove of columns on one end and, of course, the big pyramid and a few smaller pyramids. The area around Saqqara is, by the way, much more like the western vision of Egypt than the Giza Plateau and the larger, more famous pyramids there. For one thing, from Saqqara you can see several other collections of pyramids off in the distance — something especially cool from the back of a camel walking from the Step Pyramid complex out to another collection of artifacts as we did. South from Saqqara a few miles we could see the pyramids at Dashur — the Bent Pyramid (a protopyramid that had to be modified halfway through the construction, giving it an odd bent look) and the Red Pyramid (the first actual pyramid built, once covered in red rock of some sort, I believe — hence the name).

I’m all over the place in my description. Sorry.

So after walking around we decided to get some camels. It’s a couple kilometers to some of the further afield sites over the open desert, so this is pretty much a must. So three of us got camels — Haley, John, and myself. Darren, our Kiwi guide, got a horse. Cristina, allergic to animal spit, walked.

Sitting on a camel at first feels like sitting on a thick sofa cushion strapped vertically upon the back of a large, tall horse. Getting on the beast is quite simple: it kneels down on all fours and you throw a leg over. My camel, Ramses II, did a few rounds of phlegmy bleating at first but once I got myself settled, he shut up and took it like a king. The creatures stand back legs first, so I immediately felt like I was going to slide off the from of the saddle and wind up wound around Ramses’s neck. The back legs go up and you hang at a 45 degree angle for a few seconds before the front legs boost and suddenly you’re, like, sitting on something eight feet off the ground. Sitting on something that, like I said, kind of sways and doesn’t feel at all firm. I mean, a camel’s hump is more-or-less a water-boob, if I remember correctly. It’s not bone like the back of a horse would be. And these are dromedary camels — one-humpers. So one sits on a saddle that rests on a few layers of rug-ike fabric over the peak of the hump. So, anyway, we successfully got the camels up and moving and pretty soon my guide got tired of walking in front of Ramses II, pulling his reign, so the guide gave me the reign and some quick instructions and I took control. I could stop him by pulling the reign, start him or speed him up by heel-kicking him, and steer him by pulling side-to-side. Just like a horse, pretty much, except Ramses kind of lilted to the right when not explicitly controlled and had a weird habit of walking right up along side the other camels so close that my leg barely fit between them. Controlling a domesticated animal is always quite fascinating just because they really do respond just like a machine would. The communication is so pure and, for us city folk, at least, it’s so rare to be at that level with an animal. I can’t tell my cat to stop moving or walk over to the left and expect anything other than to be completely ignored.

John’s camel was named Banana, by the way, and I forget the name of Haley’s camel. John and I, though, got used to calling our camels ‘Habibi’ when we spoke to them. ‘Habibi’ is kind of Arabic for ‘Baby’ or ‘Sweety.’ Mohammad Mounir’s songs were littered with the word, pretty much the only thing of his we could understand. Habibi.

Banana was extremely talkative and throughout the trip engaged in the sort of bleating which is rather difficult to describe except to say it sounded like someone playing a broken trombone filled with snot — badly.

So we camelled out to another mosoleum and looked around and then camelled back to the Step Pyramid. It took maybe a half-hour each way and by the end I was really getting into it and wanted more. Darren told us that apparently you can pay to have the bedouins who own the camels to take you on a thre day trek out to one of the Saharan oases. If I get back to Cairo in an adventuresome mood (and maybe in the Spring instead of the dead of Summer), something like that actually sounds really cool. The Sahara desert fascinates me and being out in the desert makes one much more appreciate the pluck of the people who have been living in such places for the past several thousands of years. About 65% of Egypt is more-or-less uninhabitable Saharan desert. Another 30% or so is other various deserts. The remainder is the Nile Delta and the thin strip of fertile land that stretches into Nubia.

More soon.


Posted Sat, October 15, 2005, 9:39pm EST by karim

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