Though I had always dreamed of visiting Egypt, I ended up there on sort of a whim. My semester abroad was nearing its end and I was excited to have an enthusiastic travel buddy to plan one final trip with. Adrian and I had met during a tour of the Scottish highlands earlier in the spring and we both wanted to close out our semester with a really fantastic adventure, but the days were flying and we were under a time crunch to choose a destination.
“We should go somewhere kind of out of the box. Maybe not even in Europe.”
As soon as he said this, the pyramids popped into my head.
“How about Egypt?”
And that was that. Within three days a tour was booked.
My interest in the pyramids actually began in a somewhat corny way. My fourth grade teacher had a ton of fantastic posters on the wall of her classroom, but one was my favorite. It was a panoramic shot of the Great Pyramids of Giza, glistening against a bright blue sky. In the bottom corner of the photo, a man on a camel is looking up at them in awe. His features aren’t visible, but his silhouette is striking. Across the top, a nondescript font says simply, “Extraordinary.”
I don’t know why nine year old me was so taken with that poster, or why it stayed with me long beyond elementary school. Maybe it was the stunning majesty of the pyramids themselves, so immense and awe inspiring. Maybe it was the message, that there are extraordinary places out there just waiting for me to discover them. Maybe, at nine years old, I was already feeling the early signs and symptoms of the travel bug, yearning for an antidote that I didn’t fully understand.
At any rate, I made up my mind that someday, I would get there. And that day was a sweltering one in June of 2010. It was my first full day of the twelve I would spend in the country of Egypt, and my tour group had had a pleasant morning touring the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and learning the history of paper at the Bes Papyrus Institute. But everyone had the pyramids on their mind. When we arrived at our lunch destination, we could hardly believe it. There they were, the majestic and legendary pyramids of Giza, right outside of the restaurant window, peeking out over the buildings. Lunch was delicious but the view was even more so.
We made four total stops to explore the last remaining wonder of the ancient world, the first (and one of the most impressive) being the Pyramid of Khufu (sometimes called the Pyramid of Cheops). Until my tour guide encouraged us, I had no idea I would be able to actually climb up the side! This was eye-opening because we actually got to see how huge the individual blocks are- only two of them put together was taller than me! This is one of the facets that makes the pyramids so magnificent. How were they put together so meticulously in a time before modern or even semi-modern construction equipment? Our guide, as many others do, had his theories. Some believe the massive stones were lifted into place, others think they were dragged or rolled. As for why the pyramids were built in the first place, that is more easily agreed upon. Considering what historians know about the chambers inside and the ancient Egyptians beliefs about the afterlife, it is widely acknowledged that the pyramids were meant to be used as elaborate tombs.
They were even more elaborate in their heyday, apparently. Plundering and pillaging over thousands of years led not only to the insides being stripped but the outsides as well. We mostly picture the pyramids as layers of blocks stacked on top of one another because that is what we see; only on the very top of the middle pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre (sometimes called the Pyramid of Chephren) can we see the smooth white limestone that once covered every inch.
The third pyramid, the smallest by far, is the Pyramid of Menkaure (sometimes called the Pyramid of Mykerinus). It is set apart from its larger neighbors in that its bottom was encased in granite and it was once attempted to be destroyed. As you can see from what remains in the photo below, its devastation didn’t get very far.
During my visit I enjoyed scrambling around on the massive structures, walking in awe around their bases, and even taking a camel ride while enjoying the amazing view. It was certainly a bucket list visit, something I won’t soon forget.
Thinking back to when I was a nine year old in a blue plaid skirt, my eyes wandering away from fourth grade math over to that big poster… I was so confident that I would make it to that place, and I did. It took twelve years and a lot of growing up, but I did. And it was indeed extraordinary.