Anyone who has read Paulo Coehlo's "The Alchemist" will no doubt remember Santiago, the shepherd boy from Andalusia who literally followed his dreams of treasures inside the pyramids of Giza. These days, busloads of tourists go to visit the pyramids not to search for buried treasures but for a more allegorical search which might as well be the pyramids itself - truly one of the many treasures of ancient Egypt.
Our group of 9 had a female Egyptologist accompany us on our early morning visit to the Giza necropolis, some 25 kms. away from downtown Cairo. Nancy - a Coptic Christian in a predominantly Muslim country - is proud of Egypt's glorious past and its great contribution to civilization as we now know. As expected, she's very well versed in ancient Egyptian history, detailing to us the stories of the great three pyramids: the pyramid of Khufu (also known as Cheops, the largest and oldest), the pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure. And of course, a visit to Giza won't be complete without seeing the Sphinx up close.
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Built during the period of the Old Kingdom (2575-2150 B.C.) , the pyramids were purposely constructed to house the deceased pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The largest of them all has about 2.3 million blocks of stone each weighing between 2.5 to 15 tons each. Nancy stressed that ancient Egyptians who built these pyramids - about 20,000-30,000 people in a period of 80 years - were not slaves but workers paid for by the pharaoh. Some were tasked for temporary work, just like today's crop of contractual laborers. Archaeological excavations close to the pyramids gave proof there were actual builder's settlements and just recently, more tombs of the pyramid workers were discovered.
Those without claustrophobia can enter the narrow passages inside the pyramids of Khufu or Khafre but I gave it a pass after Nancy reassured there's nothing to see but an empty chamber. Besides, it's an extra fee with Khufu being the most expensive at 100 Egyptian pounds and tickets being limited to only 300 a day. The real bummer here is that no cameras are allowed inside. What I did was break a rule instead: even if it's not allowed anymore, I followed some locals who clambered up a lower portion of the Khufu pyramid, mindful that a tourist police may just come any moment and holler at us.
I rejoined my group and we were driven a short distance in front of the Sphinx, one of the world's largest and oldest statues. Carved from bedrock, the Sphinx depicts a reclining human-headed lion wearing a pharaonic headdress. Its nose is missing, often mistakenly blamed to one of Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers allegedly firing a cannonball which hit the statue's face. Further excavations and restorative work is currently undergoing here.
our cheesy momentsAs we all went back to the van that will bring us back to Cairo, I thought about how lucky early explorers have been when they had the pyramids all to themselves and they only have camels or horses to bring them there. And then I thought about Santiago, the shepherd boy and his quest for treasures - it took him quite a long time to finish his epic journey while for us modern day visitors, it only takes a plane ride to realize the dreams of Santiago living within ourselves.