Friday, February 23, 2007

Sands of Egypt

So the big story here today is that I rode from the Pyramids of Giza to another, much older and more primitive complex in Saqqara. The destination wasn't really the point, though - it was the voyage. It was one of the most amazing and crazy experiences of my life.

After dragging myself out of bed at 8am - keeping in mind that I only returned from partying and clubbing at 4 am...I headed down to Giza. It took two cabs, ten minutes of walking and a short horseride through Cairo traffic to get there, but I survived. There were 12 or 13 of us all told, none of whom had any particular riding experience.

After a bit of Egyptian tea, we headed out, winding our way through the alleys of Giza. Local kids rode all around us, some going to work by horse and camel, and some just fooling around. It was really fun. A quick briefing, and then we went off. For most of this first bit, this kid was holding onto the reins of my horse as well as our friend Aleema's. It was a bit limiting, but I was glad of it for the bit that came next.

We turned out of the alleys and rode along the city walls. A pungent smell kept getting more and more intense, until we realized we were in the part of the city where they dump all the dead horses and camels. It was scary and intense, and the horses were very skittish, understandably so.

Once we ran that gauntlet, a couple of people's horses flipped out, decided to roll around in the sand, refused to go forward. My escort had to let go of my reigns and I took advantage to gallop up to the head of group. It's a breathtaking feeling: charging through the rolling dunes, wind blowing in your hair, total freedom and liberating speed. Its also terrifying as the 1-ton beast under you has quite a mind of its own. Just control it and let it do its thing, however, and its one of the best experiences there is.

We sorted out the horse issues and continued along. Since there were these two kids walking along, we alternated walking and trotting or galloping. The desert is amazing - there are long smooth dunes, cliffs, eroded rock formations, and a billion different kinds of sand, some soft, some studded with rocks. We finally reached this little village where we picked up a minibus to take us to Saqqara proper.

The bus drove through real, rural Egypt. Green fields, kids riding donkeys, families pumping water from the canals - it was a sight to see. In many ways, it was more interesting than the pyramids/temples at Saqqara themselves. They were neat and all, but the countryside was just so different and fascinating.

We were pretty beat after walking up to the Step Pyramid, so we headed back. At this point I'd been going since 8 with just two pieces of bread and some glucose pills. Nevertheless, we remounted and headed back. We took a different route, this one through streets and alleys. People called out to us, cheered, honked horns, asked us questions. The level of friendliness is amazing. Tourists can't be that much of a novelty - nevertheless, people seem generally very excited to see you.

The last part was by far the most amazing. We left the side streets and headed into the desert behind the Pyramids of Giza, at a different angle than the way we left. There was a great hill for photo-ops, so our guide pointed us towards it and let us loose. My horse took off like a bullet, galloping up the hill into the afternoon sun, far ahead of the rest of the pack. It was the most picturesque moment of my life. I wish someone had taken a picture, because it felt so amazing. I tried to recreate it, but it just wasn't the same.

At the top we got pictures, mounted and in front of the Pyramids, then headed back. On the way in, we saw some guys breaking in a new horse, which was really cool to see.

And that was our voyage from Giza to Saqqara. Tomorrow I'll talk about all the OTHER stuff I've done in the past 24 hours, like the Galabeyya Party, Club Latex and the Cairo Opera House Ballet.

1 comment:

David said...


Haven't had a chance to read the entire entry yet but that first image is truly glorious! Glad to see you're having a blast. Hopefully I'll make my way over there sometime too.