I was going back through our archives and realized there was one adventure that we haven’t talked about much: my adventure to Egypt. When my little sister was even littler, she was fascinated with history and Egypt in particular. I — being her wonderful big brother — made her a promise, if she was still interested in Egypt when she graduated high school we would go. So, 10 years later, we were walking in the land of the pharaohs. We went with a small organized tour group of about 10 people from all over the world.
We saw dozens of amazing historical sites all over the Nile valley. Though it is almost cliche, one of the sites that still astounds me today is the Pyramids of Giza and our trip inside the largest of them all, the Great Pyramid (also known as Khufu’s pyramid). You can see the massive stone structure from miles away across the Nile as you hop on the crowded highways of Cairo. The Giza plateau sits 62 feet above sea level and the Great Pyramid rises 455 feet above that, letting it dominate the landscape. I’m not going to get into the theories of how and why these massive geometric tombs were built; I’ll simply focus on my own experience.
The best time to arrive at the complex is as early as you can manage it. The pyramids have been a major tourist attraction for about 5,000 years now. We arrived just as the park opened, exited the minibus on a large, dusty dirt parking lot and were hurried to the entrance of the tomb. We were told we could take pictures and look around outside later.
We entered the tomb through a 3 ½ foot wide, 4 foot tall shaft, which descended at a 30 degree angle. If you’re over 4 feet tall you need to duck and keep your balance by holding onto one of the rope hand rails running along the smooth stone walls. The uncomfortable walk seems like it goes on forever, and just when it begins to feel intensely claustrophobic the passage opens up into what is known as the King’s Chamber. The room is roughly 35 feet by 17 feet and has a flat stone ceiling rising 19 feet overhead. The walls were covered with graffiti (where names have been carved into the undecorated walls), much of it hundreds of years old, made by grave robbers and early European explorers. The room still felt large as our whole tour group examined the walls and posed for pictures in front of the massive stone sarcophagus. The broken and undecorated sarcophagus is actually larger than any of the entrances to the room and must have been placed inside as the pyramid was being built.
The wow moment for me was not as much for the amazing age of the structure, or the miracle of its construction, but the weight of the situation. The estimated weight of the building is 5.9 million tons. There was at least 2/3 of that over my head. The structure had been solid and unmoving for 5,000 years, placed together with such precision that the space between the stones, some weighing 80 tons, was only 1/50th of an inch. I know it’s a simple idea, but to me it was mind-blowing a feeling that even with all my words, I have trouble articulating.
We were in the chamber for around 15 minutes, just us, our little group, before heading back out the same way we came in. If we were not alone the 3 ½ foot wide shaft would have been open to two-way traffic. I shudder to think of the claustrophobic feeling of a crowd of people coming in as we came out. We were given plenty of time to take the pictures we were promised (when we bought our photo permit as we entered the park).
The experience is one that my sister, my brother and I go back to again and again as one of our most amazing adventures. It’s an experience we all recommend to everyone.