Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Egypt 1: The Pyramids

My second time in Egypt and my second time at the Giza Plateau proved that they are no less awesome today. You can see them from a distance as our little mini-bus takes us close but you cannot grasp how big they are from that view. Even parking within was seems like a little walk away proves to be a LONG walk as they grow larger and larger in your camera view screen. You have to stop taking pictures of the whole because the whole no longer fits and you are still hundreds of yards away. So you take pictures of parts of it and finally all you can get is a few of the monolithic blocks in your camera as you stand close and look up at this immense stairway to heaven.

The largest pyramid is open for sneaking in if you get there early enough. We did and it truly felt like we were sneaking into the greatest man-made structure in history, the only one left of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. Khufu (or Greek Cheops) lifts up her skirts and lets mere mortals take a look underneath.

We start by climbing a hundred modern wooden steps to get up the few ancient blocks to the side opening of Khufu and our cameras are taken from us by a head-dressed Egyptian. There is only one way in and one way out, so they will be there for our return. You can smell the age but it isn’t the musty, humid smell of basements in my memory, it is a dry, dusty, OLD smell. We find a smooth but declining floor lit by fluorescent tubes on the bottom and in the corners so they cast an eerie upward shadow in the tunnel. After about a hundred feet of descending we find a smaller square tunnel in which we have to bend over to ascend, there are boards on the floor to help you climb. Khufu had decided to build his burial chamber UP instead of down and under, so we go UP. “Where’s the escalator?” cried my Las Vegas mindset. Hundreds of steps, bent over and climbing with many stops waiting on people ahead and sucking the dry, old, but now sweaty oxygen. We reached a small landing and made our way through a ladder fed hole in the ceiling only to find another stairway leading farther up and farther in. But this chamber had plenty of head room, in fact it had an amazingly HUGE gap from us to the ceiling. We could see the human traffic jam now as we slowly made our way up. The final landing was only about 5x8 feet as we waited to get into a hole in the wall that was only about 3 foot tall and about 15 foot long. This final tunnel gave us entrance to Khufu’s burial chamber. Only a few could fit through the tunnel at a time and only one direction, we had to take turns. My turn into the tunnel and I met an Asian woman who HAD to get out and didn’t want to wait. She simply got on her hands and knees and crawled between my legs as we met in the middle of the small tunnel. Her daughter apologized profusely as I got into the chamber and found her waiting for me.

The chamber was nothing special. A comparatively large room about 15x20 with no carvings and no paintings on the wall. A simple stone sarcophagus in the one side, no mummy, no gold, just time packed into stone. I was left wondering what these walls have seen over the last 5000 years. From the pounding construction sounds to the pomp of the pharaoh’s funeral procession to the people who robbed and desecrated to the passion of explorers and archeologists to the passage of thousands of years to finally me, here, now.

I seem small and insignificant as I feel the sweat pouring off my face when I pass through that same small tunnel and make my way back to the entrance. I am reminded of the Tower of Babel story in scripture and one of my lessons from that story is that “Man united can do absolutely AMAZING things.” And that is why God doesn’t let us do it too often. I suck in the fresh air and welcome the sun on my face as I emerge again into the real light.

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