Category Archives: Wonders of the World

My beduin horseback guide a Giza

What am I doing here? Visiting the Pyramids of Egypt on Horseback

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?
Sefrou, Morocco
28 NOV 2012

The truth is, I’m currently back in Sefrou where I just finished writing the first draft of a novel called The Keys of the Riad. I’ve been writing, playing with my 15 month old daughter, editing, and putting together a newsletter where I share my writing (please sign up here – It’s free). The truth is though, I’ve been wanting to share the details of my visit to the Pyramids a few months ago. Right now may not be the safest time to go, but you’ll probably have the same kind of crowd free experience I had – and I can tell you – well,actually… read on…

The Pyramids

My first view of the pyramidsI don’t know how mind blowing the pyramids must have been before there was tourist infrastructure and aggressive touts, but judging by how astounding they still are today they must have completely blown the fucking minds of every person who came upon them. I know they blew my mind.

 My driver picked me up at 8 am and we drove out towards Giza but continued on to Saqqara, home of the oldest of all the pyramids, the famous step pyramid which the Egyptian government (or someone) seems to be in the act of rebuilding. This pyramid is considered to be the one that started the whole trend. Nearly 7000 years old, it was built for King Djosar by the great Egyptian architect Imhotep. Surrounding the pyramid are many complexes of buildings which it seems no Egyptologists have firmly labeled yet. In other words, nobody knows – except for perhaps the touts who will be more than likely to tell you the definitive answer.Whether what they say is true or not…well that brings me to the old joke…How do you know when a tour guide is lying? His lips are moving.

saqqara pyramid at gizaDespite my driver’s warnings about the aggressive touts – I found them to be much less hassle than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or the medinas in Fez or Marrakech – of course, there were only about ten touts there and I was the only tourist that I saw – I was dressed in black like the foremen of the construction and I spoke enough Arabic I think they all thought I was an engineer working there. Which was cool because I just wandered wherever I wanted and told the guys who told me I couldn’t go there that it was no problem.

Now is the time to come to Egypt if you want to experience the Pyramids, Luxor, or other amazing ancient places without crowds. The touts though, are tricky – several asked for my ticket and then said come with me – which sounded official but was actually just a way to give me a tour and grab a tip or fee – but I already know that trick and took my ticket back and walked away ignoring them.

Memphis Temple ComplexIn fact, I’m pretty sure that I ignored some real security as I walked past the construction fence and into the areas marked closed. It was just me on the ground and all the slaves, eh, workers doing whatever they were doing to the pyramids above. Just me and a 7000 year old pyramid – leather bags full of pot shards, an open door that led down into where-ever it led – the tomb? The burial chamber? I don’t know. It was dark and I didn’t have a light. I didn’t really want to fall into a 500 foot shaft and have some future archaeologist find me and say “Hey, what’s this guy doing here?” as he picks apart my bones and examines my Turkish shoes. But, I touched the pyramid. In fact, I pissed on it. I marked it as my territory. I had to go and there was no one there…
inside the temple complex at saqqaraThe step pyramid is only one part of a vast burial complex that
served the city of Memphis (not Tennessee). There are several more pyramids in various states of disrepair in the area. Our next stop was a series of old kingdom tombs where the touts were slightly more aggressive and annoying. I attribute this to a busload of Mexican tourists who arrived at the same time as I did and that there was no construction going on to confuse things.

The touts began directing people where to go, closing doors to parts of the complex, and enforcing the no picture and no camera rules – until they would get a tourist alone and then they would say “You want me to take your picture in here? It’s okay. Just give me a dollar.” Frankly, this bothered me more than the touting – the rule is there to protect these treasures and preserve the feeling of specialness inside the monuments – I therefore declined, as did most of the Mexicans.

I saw one of the touts manage to get a couple of bucks from one old woman, but mostly, they were just annoying everyone. The police ignore it and I’ve heard, they sometimes even participate.In post Arab-Spring Egypt, tourism is way down and the economy isn’t doing so hot either. People have to make a buck and support their families, that’s not always so pleasant for those of us who are fortunate enough to be visiting.

In fact, though, it’s less pleasant for the Egyptians than for us…something to keep in mind if you visit. As we drove to Saqqara, we passed dozens of “Carpet Schools”. I asked my driver and he said that in this region, people are very poor and can’t afford to send their children to school. The children have to work at an early age. Families send them to ‘Carpet School’ where they work 9-12 hour days weaving rugs. As the driver explained “You and I can’t do that work for that long because it will destroy our eyesight and give us arthritis.” My heart broke as I realized what he was telling me – these ‘Carpet Schools’ are child sweat shops to make Egyptian rugs.

From Saqqara, we drove to Giza. My driver wanted to stop at a perfume factory but I told him I wasn’t interested. He wanted to go to the Papyrus Museum (another factory) but again I wasn’t interested. Suddenly, he was less interested in me. He told me the price to get in the pyramids, explained how big the complex was, told me about horse and camel rentals but wouldn’t tell me the total price.

Nobody there but us sphnixesHe was a nice guy, my driver. An old guy with a funny habit of saying “Do you understand?” where most people say “You know?” I don’t know how much he makes for the tour without the commission, but it must be disappointing when a cheapskate like me comes along and doesn’t buy the expensive souvenirs like carpets, perfumes, and papyrus.

The horse renter gave me his spiel and offered me a special discounted price of 280 EGP for a 1-2 hour horse with a Beduin guide to make sure you return the horse and tell the touts to leave you alone. That’s about $45 – the private day tour was $30. My wife’s an Arab, she’s made me into an Arab in some ways.  I haggle and I haggle hard. We ended up at 160 EGP which is about $25 US and included $10 for the entry ticket.

My beduin horseback guide a GizaMy horseback guide, Alex, kept all the touts away from us as we took the long ride around the plateau so that I was able to truly experience the majesty of the pyramids at Giza and the feeling of what it is like to be alone in the desert with the Great Pyramids – on a horse. I’ve never specifically wondered what it would be like to ride an Arabian horse across the Giza Plateau and be alone with the Pyramids – but now I know.

Alone with a horse and a beduin and the pyramidsAs we rode up to the Sphinx, I saw the seats from the Sound and Light Show of the Pyramids – the seats don’t appear to have changed since the movie Moonraker where James Bond fights with ‘Jaws’ at the pyramids. Inside the temple of the Sphinx, there were no more than ten people. Jaws wasn’t there. The touts tried the ticket trick again, and failed again, and Alex waited outside with the horses. I asked the Sphinx a question and the answer was a riddle.

We rode back into Giza town like cowboy movie heroes on funny saddles with funny stirrups. My driver offered to take me to a few more locations to buy souvenirs, but I told him to just take me back to the hotel. We were supposed to see the famous Red Pyramid, but honestly, I’d already seen everything I needed to.

I’ll go back to see the Red Pyramid another time. Inchallah.

Underground City Cappadocia

World Wonder – The Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia

You might think that the world is all discovered, all explored, and all figured out. You might be right, but I doubt it – people have thought that for a long time, but as recently as 1963 one of the world’s most amazing discoveries came to light in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Was it found by a team of intrepid archeologists?Nope. Was it found by a group of explorers or spelunkers? Nope. It was found by a guy who wanted to knock down a wall of his house and build a better one. He knocked the wall down – and found a room behind it. And then another room, and another – in fact, he found one of the largest underground city complexes the world has ever known. He found the Derinkuyu Underground City.

Even today, the full extent of the underground city is unknown. Archaeologists have penetrated as far as 40 meters beneath the surface but they suspect that the city goes much further down – to a depth of 85 meters. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the height of the statue of liberty and the pedestal it stands on which is 91 meters combined. So far, there have been 20 levels discovered. Visitors, like us, are allowed into the first eight levels. Less than 10% of the total that has been explored is open to the public. I can tell you first hand – that 10% is vast.

At full capacity, the city, built by the Hittites sometime around 14 centuries before the common era (that’s before Christ without Christ or B.C.E) , could house between 3000 to 10,00 people, their livestock, and their possessions. As I said, the full extent of the city is still unknown and some scholars believe that it is actually connected to other underground cities in the region by tunnels that stretch for miles!

It’s not as outlandish as it may sound as there has already been one such tunnel discovered which stretches 8 km (about 4 miles) to another underground city, Kaymakli near Nevsehir. When you consider that there are at least 200 underground cities that have been discovered thus far in the region… the possibilities become incredibly fascinating.

While it’s fun to think of thousands of people living underground like ants, most historians suggest that the cities were built for defensive purposes and were never meant for long term inhabitation of a large population. For short periods, Derinkuyu is large enough for 10,ooo people (though some say it is large enough for 50,000) . On the day we were there, it felt like it was pushing pretty close to that. Tour buses arrive constantly and since the entire city isn’t open to the public, they are all crammed into the same sections. Luckily the ventilation systems designed by the ancients are incredibly effective still, although there was actually a bit of panic when groups coming down to the 8th level wouldn’t make way for groups who wanted to get back up to the top. The galleries began filling with people and at one point a woman actually began to scream. Finally, the guides managed to make the way clear and there was an exodus for the exit eight levels above.

One thing we didn’t have explained to us was where all those people used the toilet – we had to go back up to ground level for that, which, when you think about it, was a relief. Pun fully intended.

To get to the Derinkuyu Underground City, you will need to go to the above ground city of Derinkuyu which is about 40 km from Goreme. While there are about 600 doors to get in the underground city, as a visitor you will need to wait in line and buy a ticket. Your best bet is to hire a tour from Goreme or Uchisar. If you plan on visiting, I can recommend the right people to contact. Shoot me an email or contact me on social media.

Western Turkey Guide

Vagobond Guide to Western Turkey

You may also want to check out:

The Vagobond Guide to Istanbul
Vagobond Guide to Cappadocia (plus Konya and Ankara)

Western Turkey GuideWestern Turkey is an entire world of wonders. From the ancient Greek cities of Smyrna, Ephesus, Troye, Olympos and more to the modern nightlife and beach cities of Fetiye, Antalya, and Izmir this is a land filled with tradition, legend and magic. This guide only begins to touch on the surface of things…to experience it, you must visit and once you do, I think that, like me, you will return again and again and again and again….

The Best Tour in Turkey

Turkey has more Greek and Roman Ruins than Italy and Greece Combined!

Buying Property in Turkey

Ramadan in Turkey

 

Bursa – the First Ottoman Capital

Bursa - Home of the Iskender Kabab
Yenikapi to Yalova
12 Days in Turkey
Hotels in Bursa

Manisa
History of Manisa
Hotels in Manisa
Sypil Mountain – Tantalus, Magnesia
Tarzan of Manisa
Niobe – Manisa’s Lady of Sorrows
Hiking Around Manisa #1
Hiking Around Manisa #2
Ancient Footprints – 25,000 years old!

Izmir
Izmir History – Ancient Smyrna
Alsancak and Kordon
Konak and the Kamaralti
The Agora, Museums, and Kultur Park
Hotels in Izmir

 

Gallipoli Peninsula
Cannakkale Part 1
Canakkale Part 2
Ecebat
Gallipoli Battlefields
Ancient Troy
7 Day Tour including Gallipoli
Cannakkale Archeologicial Museum
Gokceada Island

Selcuk and Ephesus
Camel Wrestling in Selcuk
Hotels in Selcuk
The Basilica of St. John
The Temple of Artemis and Isa Bey Camii
Classic Western Turkey 3-day Tour
Ephesus

Kusadasi
Kusadasi in Winter
Hotels in Kusadasi

Bodrum
Bodrum
Ferries to Greece
Hotels in Bodrum
Bodrum’s Ancient Wonders

Pammukale
Perfect Turkish Holiday including Pammukale Travertines

Fetiye
Introducing Fetiye
12 Islands Boat Tour
Kayakoy – Greek Village Ghost Town
Fetiye to Cappadocia
Hotels in Fetiye

Koycegiez
Koycegiz
Mud baths
Hotels in Koycegiez

Antalya
Introducing Antalya
Antalya Part 1
Antalya Part 2
Antalya Part 3
Hotels in Antalya
Tuvana Hotel
Seraser Restaurant

Olympos
Kadir’s Treehouses
Bayram’s Treehouses
The Ancient Chimera
Hotels in Olympos