Egypt travel diary/travelogue

Day 14 - Saqqara pyramid, Mosque of Mohammed Ali

November 2009



The pyramid at Saqqara
The pyramid at Saqqara

Our last full day and a trip to another pyramid - the step pyramid and funerary complex of King Sozer at Saqqara. I wasn't feeling myself today for several reasons. One, I was really down about this being our last full day; two, I got a stomach ache and suffered a minor first dose of Cairo Quickstep earlier in the morning (thankfully it didn't reoccur!) and three, I didn't want to leave. OK, I've mentioned it twice but it wass playing on my mind knowing that the clock was ticking. England might be straightforward, logical, where all my friends and family are and what I know best but Egypt's hot, laid back yet chaotic, inexpensive and the people here are so friendly. It was my first holiday abroad though, so to me it was such a different experience that I wanted it to last a little longer.

Pile of rubble

Mohammed, the one from yesterday, was once again our guide for the day. We visited the mastaba tomb of Kagemmi which had some really intricate and well-preserved hieroglyphics. We took a look at the tomb underneath the crumbling pyramid of Teti which looks less like a pyramid and more of a pile of rubble. Hey, are we back in Hurghada? The tomb contained numerous hieroglyphic carvings and a starred ceiling, if ceiling is the right term to use in this context. Then to the step pyramid itself ...

Viewed from a distance it looks in reasonably good shape but up close it's a different story. It's clear that the majority of the first 'step' has fallen away and looking up the blocks seem to hang out like decaying teeth in rotten gums. The story has it that there are still treasures inside - some were removed but were later lost without trace when the boat they were being transported away from Egypt on sank. It was considered too unsafe to retrieve the remaining treasures inside the pyramid as the slightest vibrations inside could collapse the whole structure, so the entrance was sealed.

Islamic Cairo

In the afternoon we did a tour of Islamic Cairo, beginning with a visit to a Coptic church. I wasn't too interested in this - too much like any church I've seen in England, to be perfectly frank - and I really felt that we were intruding. Once we had been given the tour by Mohammed we were granted 10 minutes to take a look around. I went outside, sat on the steps and waited for the others to reappear.

Mosque of Mohammed Ali
Mosque of Mohammed Ali
Inside the Mosque
Inside the Mosque

The mosque of Mohammed Ali (another Mohammed?), also known as The Citadel, was a much more impressive sight. Alabaster covers the walls all round and the domes are covered in silver; inside was equally plush with the high vaulted ceilings and gold leaf coverings. However, my enduring memory of this magnificent building won't necessarily be the views but rather the smell - to enter the mosque you had to remove your shoes and the carpets were rich with the essence of years of stinky visitors' feet. Not pleasant.

Geoff strikes again

Just some of the gang: (l-r) Martin, Ian C, Ewa, Andy and Nicky.
Just some of the gang: (l-r) Martin,
Ian C, Ewa, Andy and Nicky.

On the way back on the coach another Geoff incident. Mohammed joked: "And on your left you'll see a truck loaded with drink - just reach out and take one as we go past." "No thanks, they'll be too warm," said Andy. Geoff replied: "And there aren't enough for you, are there Andy?" Cheeky git, I felt like turning round to him and saying: "Why did you bother coming on this holiday, Geoff? Why don't you just *!@# off home!"

Once back at the hotel I looked for an envelope in which to put my little gift for Kali, but it looked really tacky. Also, given the fact that it would need to travel around Egypt for the next six months and potentially face being dunked in the Nile, I decided to nip out and buy a frame for it. Up to the photo lab again where the staff there were really helpful, boxing and gift-wrapping it for me. Marvellous job.

Choccies

Andy had collected money from everyone and bought a box of chocolates for Kali. He couldn't find a card for us to sign so we made do with an envelope from the King Hotel and signed that instead. Andy also got a plastic bag for her - to keep her clothes, paperwork and alarm clock waterproof in the event of any future 'accident'.

As we waited in the reception before heading out for our final group meal together I mentioned to Kali how I never did get hold of this Arabic track on tape which I had heard several times during the holiday. She had tried to buy a copy of it for me as a surprise but admitted that she couldn't get one. However, she knows a man who can and all things being well, it should arrive at the hotel just before we leave in the morning. Well, that was the surprise gone - for me at least, but there was on surprise left for her.

For the meal we went to the Flying Fish just 10 minutes' walk from the hotel. The plan was for me and Andy to arrive last with Kali, if we could manage it, so that we all sat at the table together. I had hidden the pressies in my rucksack and we wanted to avoid passing the parcel behind people's backs along the length of the table if at all possible. It didn't work out like that though - I was sat at one end, Andy at the other and Kali somewhere in between.

Concealed goods

When the moment came I had to take the bag from my place up to Andy who, as the loudest in the group, was the obvious person to say a few words. Apart from the difficulty in doing this without Kali noticing, I was also unhappy with the seating arrangements for other reasons: Geoff, Eileen and Edna who were all too close for comfort. I mean, come on - I wasn't feeling great to start with! I knew that the 'young-uns' at the other end understood what I was narked about. It was written all over my face. I watched Geoff pick at his food like a surgeon uses a scalpel. At least there's one good thing about leaving tomorrow ... no more Geoff!

The big speech

The big moment: Andy stood up and asked for everyone's attention. After a few words to sum up how we all felt about the great job she'd done he gave her the choccies and the envelope containing the money. Then he mentioned that there was another present, one from me personally. The whole table went "Oooooh!". You know how I mean. I went red and wondered at that time whether I should have given it to Kali in person instead of in front of an audience. Then again, she did walk down the table, plant a kiss and give me a big hug, so perhaps it wasn't such a bad idea. Then she asked if she could open it. "Of course you can," I said. So she did and, if I'm not mistaken, the photo went down very well. Kali rose from her chair, walked down to me and did a repeat performance. I kicked myself for not having bought lots of small, individually wrapped presents. I could have been there a good couple of hours with a little planning!

Cleaned out

After that we went to the Pharaoh Hotel where there was a club downstairs. We were the only ones there and the music was as dreadful as any other club I'd been to in the last two weeks. It didn't take long for me to use up the last of my holiday money. I managed a couple of drinks then threw them straight back up - that's not exactly how I wanted to end the holiday but there you go, that's what happened.

Jane left at 11pm - she had a pre-arranged meeting with someone, but naturally she wasn't saying who it was. We know, Jane, we know! Why try to cover it up?! And to prove our point, Ahmed magically appeared in the club, completely unannounced. He'd made the mistake of arriving at the hotel in Cairo just as Andy, John, Rosemary and Reine were on the way out. Bad timing again. How could he explain how he ended up being in the same hotel as the Explore group when we'd last seen him in Luxor? Easy, he was coming to the hotel for our last night out. Yeah, right. And that would be why Jane was back at the hotel room waiting for him to return!

15-minute warning

Andy disappeared early with Reine, so I guessed what they were up to. When I got back to the hotel my suspicions were confirmed - the key wasn't at reception, Andy had already returned. "Are you okay to get into the room?" asked Kali. "Oh, it's alright. I'll give him 15 minutes," I said, somewhat generously. I went to the room and knocked on the door. There then followed the sound of snapping elastic as he quickly pulled on his pants and came to the door. "You've got 15 minutes!" I said with a wry smile to him through the crack in the door, turned around and went back down to reception for one last beer. I didn't want the day to end, so Andy ended up getting 45 minutes instead.