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The Footsteps of Giants: Egypt (2022)

I am a firm believer in the bucket list. I've had a written bucket list since my first year of college, when my boyfriend and I sat in the little park up the road from my house late one night and conferred in hushed tones what all we earnestly wanted to do before we died. Last year, a more recent ex-boyfriend mentioned how he'd just decided to go on a big bucket list trip of his, and I realised that while I'd had checked off quite a few items on my bucket list, I had never accomplished the really big-ticket items, the ones which required some substantial planning and investment. One of those was to visit Egypt, and so I sat down and started to plan. 

The following is an assortment of photos from that time, three weeks in total, shot on my Pentax ME Super. 

Click on any photo to read more.

The Bent Pyramid

The Bent Pyramid at Dashur was an especially monumental experience for me, almost more exciting than seeing the Great Pyramid. Before the Egyptians began constructing pyramids, they buried their greats in mastabas, large rectangular structures with inward sloping sides. Eventually some genius (Imhotep) had the brilliant idea to place a few mastabas on top of each other, each smaller than its base, and the pyramid was born. The Bent Pyramid is the in-between from the original "step pyramids" (due to their step-like construction) to the sheer-sided Pyramids we know and love today, and it's a visual reminder of crucial human error and solution. About halfway through construction, it became clear to the builders that this pyramid was going to be too heavy, and so they had to adjust the steepness of the angle at which it was being built--hence its "bent" shape. Whoopsie! At least this one remained standing though--not far away is the "Black Pyramid," which wasn't built on bedrock and collapsed entirely. Inside the Bent Pyramid, you can see massive timber beams which were hastily installed to reinforce the structure. I guess they worked, because it's still standing today! 

Cairo and its highway

Driving in and out of Cairo, you take a massive, 6+-laned highway (both ways), often raising so that you could peak inside the windows of towering residential blocks which sit on the outskirts of the city. As we were returning from Dashur, we noticed colourful patches on the sides of these buildings, and eventually my friend asked if they were wallpaper. Our driver said yes--these used to be people's homes, which the government had demonlished to make room for the highway. 

Somtimes, the demolished areas of the buildings had had no clean-up since the razing, with rebar still sticking out of the walls, and whole floors fallen down onto each other like a warzone. A gaggle of goats watch cars go past while standing in trash alongside the road, their humans no doubt sitting inside one of the remaining buildings. All of life exists simultaneously in Egypt.

Siwa

Siwa was a spot I was really eager to visit--as well as being known for its incredibly rich local culture and dazzling salt pools, it was also the site in antiquity where Alexander the Great visited the Oracle at Delphi to get the news he longed to hear: he was invincible. As we were planning our trip, however, we decided that the 10-hour bus ride each way to Siwa was going to be too much to fit in, and left it for another trip. I was gutted. 

In Cairo, on our first full day there, two girls from the hostel told us that they were going to a music festival in the desert in a few days, and did we want to come? We agreed that that would be cool, and with some rearranging it could fit into our plans. "I'd like to see that area anyway," I said, "because I had really wanted to go to Siwa." "It's in Siwa," they told me, and just like that, we found a way to fit it in after all. 

Visiting the Oracle's Temple (the Temple of Amun), was about as close to a religious experience as I'll ever get. Not often--having grown up in the US, and being otherwise constrained by the sometimes spotty historical record--do I have the opportunity to stand somewhere and say, "Alexander the Great stood here." In the quiet ruins it ws difficult to imagine how these rooms would once have been filled with shuffling footsteps, burning herbs, incantations, and other signs of mystic life. A group of schoolchildren were visiting when we arrived--what an incredible location for a school trip. 

The cloth merchant

While visiting the grand market in Cairo, I told our Egyptian friends that I wanted some sort of rug or blanket, and they all advised me that Siwa was going to be the place to get such an item. We found the quintessential market just at the base of the Old Siwan ruins, and I began asking around for prices. It's not hard to figure out who is offering a fair price, and who is trying to pry every pound they can from you, and when I began chatting with one of the shopkeepers about textiles and the sweater I was knitting at the moment, I knew I'd found my man. 

An Egyptian girl in the shop took an interest in us, and showed us what she was doing there--she explained how you can request so many metres of any given textile in a shop like this, and the shopkeeper will cut it to size for you. A massive blanket was spread on the ground, enough to cover two or three beds, and the shopkeeper demonstrated how he would cut the fabric, and then re-fray the edges so the cut looked intentional. "Can I take a photo?" I asked. "Yes! Yes!"  said the shopkeeper, "And send them to me!" I ended up buying a blanket and a rug from him, which now add some Siwan beauty to my room at home.