We found “my Indiana Jones” in Egypt and so can you…
Who didn’t have dreams of exploring old ruins and finding ancient artifacts with Harrison Ford – aka Indiana Jones! Dreaming about all the discoveries with mystical powers and of historical proportion…..all uncovered while risking our lives and eluding those from the dark side. WELL……no risk, no dark side, but definitely exploring ancient ruins with an Egyptologist by our side….a tall, dark and handsome one!!
His name is Osama Nasef but we know him as Sam. The first day we met – he had us decending deep inside 4,000+ year old pyramids and tombs while he showed us how to interpret ancient hieroglyphs. And we weren’t part of the usual crowds standing in line at the Giza pyramids in Cairo, but instead were exploring – by ourselves – inside the oldest pyramids known to man and walking through tombs recently excavated and just opened to the public. This was the “stuff” of my childhood dreams….
But I am getting ahead of myself…. how did this happen?
Finding a Local Guide or Tour Company you can TRUST!
Going to Egypt may be intimidating – especially if you’ve been influenced by the negative news over the past few years. Even on my first trip about 10 years back and prior to the latest coup /uprising, our group had armed escorts. And you will still see them, but please don’t be alarmed – instead realize that they are there for your protection. Egypt counts on the tourist trade and they want you to visit!
Even so it’s not recommended you wander off on your own and I wouldn’t suggest you just rent a car – especially if you don’t know the language or customs. Above all else you want to feel safe – and you will – if you do your research.
So how do you find a reliable local guide? Or do you sign up for various day trips that the hotel might offer? Or should you sign up for a full group package? All options work and you can research them online or contact the hotel you’ll be staying with and talk to their concierge for day trips. If you want a full trip package, then research tour groups but make sure you’re with the same group for the entire trip and its not just a series of day tours or you will have to handle your own logistics at a cost. One that I highly recommend and have been to Egypt with twice is Adventures for Solo Travelers at http://www.afstravelers.com.
But since I was already signed up with AFS and just wanted to add a few more items on this trip, I decided to first explore options of “things to do in Cairo” via the TripAdvisor site – and while I never trust all the reviews, I do get a feel for the offerings this way. This is how I found Sam and his company “Nobles of Egypt.” You will find Sam on TripAdvisor Nobles of Egypt or on Facebook Nobles of Egypt Homepage at these links.
Sam and I communicated via text, email and What’s App for about 3 months prior to our trip. He asked what we already had planned and what we might want to add on. He made suggestions and I asked to see the newest tomb just opened. He then sent me a detailed itinerary for a reasonable price!
Saqqara and Dahshur – where the oldest pyramids are found
Sam and his driver Ayman met us at our hotel early in an air-conditioned tourism limo. Saqqara is only about 20 miles from Cairo and is the home of the first pyramid ever built – as part of King Djoser’s memorial complex. Stepping back over 4,000 years into the time of Dynasty VI, we walked through the colonnade and festival halls surrounding the step pyramid and inside the southern tomb. The step pyramid opened to the public a few months after our visit – so we must go back!
Then we visited King Unas’ pyramid where we were amazed by the decorative carvings inside. Sam is a trained Egyptologist with years of experience so his descriptions reading the wall carvings and hieroglyphs were quite detailed. Since there were only four of us (friends Mike and Laura joined us), Sam taught us much more than you learn in a large group.
Next, we visited the Tomb of Mehu (opened to the public just two months prior to our visit) where the detailed history carved into the limestone walls was amazing. The carvings outlined the daily lives of the Egyptians at that time as well as the wealth of resources that were planned for the Noble’s afterlife. Note the detailed hands of the boy milking the cow and how you can count the fingers and even see fingernails. Humor is also apparent since the cow doesn’t seem to like being tied up by rope since she is portrayed sticking her tongue out at the boy. This tomb is a called a mastaba which means “house for eternity” where nobles like Mehu, a “Chief Justice and Vizier,” were buried along with family members.
An area that caught my eye was the “false door to the afterlife.” Mehu’s family and servants would have brought offerings here for their father and the “spirits” that joined him via the door. In the carvings of the door stela, you will see Mehu (high center) seated at a table awaiting the offerings. The door is carved in limestone but painted red to simulate granite and the detail of the carvings reinforces its significance in their religious beliefs at the time.
Next, we visited the Red Pyramid after being told that it was one of the most difficult pyramids to explore due to the steep decline inside and the long-distance walking with your body bent double. Since I had previously been in the Giza pyramid, I can now personally confirm that I found the Red Pyramid more challenging. Notice in the photo how you must first climb up more than 90 feet outside in the hot sun (see opening on the left side) to reach the entrance. As we caught our breaths, we greeted the two men serving as gatekeepers and they were nice enough to offer us a single small flashlight as we began our descent inside for over 200 feet (bent double) to the first corridor leading eventually to the first chamber. As luck would have it, the flashlight burnt out as soon as we reached the chamber. Thank goodness for iPhones and that “torch” feature!!
This chamber is a very large open area and for size comparison – both the men in the photo are over six feet tall. Overhead there is a stunning corbelled ceiling that reaches up about 40 feet with beams of granite supporting the structure of the pyramid. It makes you wonder how they knew to construct it this way. Would Imhotep, the pyramid architect, be amazed to know that it still existed? Would any architect today think they could design and build anything lasting more than 4,000 years?
To get to the second chamber which resembled the first, we had to climb up steep wooden steps that switch backed across the far wall to a walkway that overlooked the next room. Stones were still scattered over the floor in this room and through research, I learned that the first chamber was believed to be the burial room where the sarcophagus would have been found. Prior to rebuilding the floor, excavations were performed to search for additional passageways, but none were found.
Climbing out of the pyramid was the hardest – as I felt my calves begin to cramp. I turned at the top and caught a photo of John part way up, which gives you an idea of the challenge. While it may look like steps, it’s not. It’s a slanted floor with pipes regularly placed across it, so that you won’t slip. But you also can’t give your muscles a rest since they must constantly grip each pipe, or you’ll lose footing – all time bent over so it’s difficult to tell how much farther. I only stopped once holding onto the railings just to catch my breath. So glad I took on the challenge and highly recommend it to others.
Once outside, you still need to make it down the side of the pyramid and back across the desert to where our air-conditioned vehicle awaited. While exploring the ancient times, I often try to imagine how difficult their lives must have been.
After climbing into three pyramids and four tombs, we called it a day and headed back to Cairo for a surprise. With less than 24 hours’ notice, Sam had arranged for a late lunch and birthday surprise for John. We ate a traditional Middle Eastern meal overlooking the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx at the Abou Shakra Pyramids. Sam, Ayman and the restaurant manager and staff sang Happy Birthday to John in both English and Arabic. We all enjoyed a huge birthday cake; large enough to serve at least twenty. It’s those little touches that make Sam so special!!
Before we left Egypt and as a way of saying “goodbye for now,” Sam showed up at our hotel and presented me a red rose. My heart melted!! My boyfriend John loved it too and graciously requested a photo of the moment!! We’ll both be back!!
Tell him Roxie sent you…and give him a hug for me!!