It’s been nearly 19 years since I’ve visited the Pyramids at Giza, and at first I was hesitant about writing about them. After all, a lot can change in 19 years. Unless of course, you’re the Pyramids, where 19 years would barely be a drop in the bucket if only they saw any rain.
Yes, in an ever-changing world there are few constants that you can count on these days. Death and taxes hog the top two spots on that list, but the Pyramids are a close third when it comes to things that will not change while this world exists. Of the three, I like the Pyramids the best.
The land of Egypt, where they’ve resided for some five thousand years is sadly a hotbed of political unrest at the time of my writing. It’s a shame, because seeing these icons firsthand–arguably among the most recognizable structures on the planet–still counts as one of my most thrilling travel moments.
It was a stupidly hot afternoon in October 1995, and despite the air conditioned bus, the heat and fatigue were getting to me. I remember being in a mental haze as we made our way through the urban sprawl of Cairo when abruptly, from behind a building I saw them, looking exactly as they appeared in photographs I had seen my entire life. A surge of adrenaline cleared my stupor, forcing me to sit up in my seat and just stare out the window until it was time to get off the bus for lunch.
I remember feeling impatient as our tour group took their time eating and then shopping in one of many prearranged souvenir stops such tours inevitably make. Next we had to sit through our guide’s spiel at a museum housing an ancient funeral barge where the floors were extra slippery. Sure it all was interesting, but what I really wanted to see was just outside.
Finally it was time for a camel ride out to the Pyramids, and I enjoyed it as much as anyone could with a camel jockey hounding me incessantly for an extra tip. I would have paid him twice as much earlier just to shut up had I known what I was in for. Up close, I was struck at how much larger they were than I had imagined, never quite perceiving the sense of scale until I was standing next to one feeling dwarfed by the massive blocks baking in the sun. I recall climbing up a few levels and marveling at the thought that at 20 years old I had already scratched off a huge item from my bucket list even before the term bucket list was in common usage.
When it was time to go inside, I really didn’t know what to expect. We descended a very short tunnel requiring non-little people to bend at the waist, then ascended a similar distance before emerging into a surprisingly small chamber, rather plain and empty aside from a sarcophagus notch at the far end. Considering the majesty of the edifice around it, it felt a bit anticlimactic that there were none of the intricate hieroglyphs adorning almost every flat surface elsewhere in the country. But still, I was in the Great Pyramid. I could see ancient wall treatments another time.
Back outside we were taken to a lookout point for some great photo ops and a chance to check out the nearby Sphinx, which as opposed to the pyramids, seemed distinctly smaller than I had envisioned. As the sun set behind these most famous landmarks, the way it had for innumerable times before that (and since), I’m glad I had the wherewithal back then to appreciate that this scene was something special. The fact that I’m writing about it 19 years later just serves to prove my point.
I image there must be some changes since I visited. I imagine the gritty neighborhoods that surrounded the area back then have expanded. I suppose the camel jockeys are hawking their clients for tips with an even greater sense of urgency. And I imagine the throngs that came to see them each day have waned in the current political instability. But I am quite certain that what has not changed, are the Pyramids themselves, standing at their posts like sentinels of the desert the same as they have for thousands of years. And I’m sure they will continue to do just that until the world ends. Death and taxes can go suck an egg.
Have you been to the Pyramids? Leave a comment about your first impression.