the Pyramids

2y ago


We oozed through the Cairo traffic as the morning gradually acquired its exotic warmth. The city cluttered in all around us, feeling busy and chaotic after the previous days’ deserts. As we crossed a bridge over the Nile, the scruffy buildings receded and we gained our first panoramic views. On the east bank, a rash of lofty tower blocks merged untidily into one another, looking functional and unloved. Ahead of us to the west, Giza sprawled. And yet beneath us, unflooded by the sea of urbanisation, there existed reminders of the fertile green lands which have made the banks of the Nile habitable since time immemorial. Lush fields, swamps and palm trees defiantly lined the great river, butting up against the dusty urban sprawl. The dwellings among the farmlands had a temporary, flimsy air to them, as if ready to be dismantled in retreat when the inevitable urbanisation reaches them. Occasional donkeys and livestock provided purpose to the scene.

Entering Giza, a sea of rough, unfinished blocks, served by a web of power and phone lines, coursed away into the distance, and soon, the reason for our visit made itself tantalisingly visible. Flickering into view behind the passing buildings, the dense bulk of the pyramids appeared, their gravity drawing us towards them seemingly involuntarily. As lesser buildings flashed past us at the roadside, cheapened by billboards and neglect, the pyramids remained stationary in our vision, by virtue of their distance from us. Even remote by many miles, flitting in and out of view, their presence was overwhelming.

As is often the way in Africa, the tarmac finished where presumably, the money had run out. A dirt track led us across a bowl of dust; the pyramids now in full view a mile or so distant and unobstructed by the sprawl of the city. They jutted timelessly out of the swathe of sand, dulled by a smoggy haze which blunted the blue sky. No-one else was around. We stopped for photos, riding high on the satisfaction of how far we’d come. It was important to indulge our inner selves like this. The trip was tough, hard work. Rewards like this moment had to be savoured, to build up our morale for the next challenge. We’d just driven to the pyramids. In a Porsche! Jovially, we rejoined our vehicle and headed over for a closer look.

You don’t simply decide to visit the pyramids. You are drawn to them by a strange compulsion. Their beckoning gravity is like that of a void, calling you from the edge of an abyss. As you get closer their gravity seems to increase, as if generated by their immense bulk.

They are an awesome sight. The unmistakable trigonometric outline is immediately familiar, seen in a thousand images already - In paintings, photos, films and replicas. But their simple beauty is cheapened by such hollow exposure. To see them for real is to cut away their devaluing familiarity and replace it with a dramatic reality. They were bigger than my mind’s eye had imagined, bulky and powerful. Beyond them to the east, the desert stretched away into the distance, timeless and fitting.

It was surprisingly quiet that morning. The throngs of other tourists I’d expected hadn’t materialised. We drove around the site, stopping regularly to bask in the sights. Like all who visit the pyramids, the construction methods which enabled such grand constructions defied belief. Rocks weighing many tonnes had been transported hundreds of miles, shaped to millimetric precision and elevated to their place in the structure.

The numbers are incredible. The Great Pyramid of Giza is made from over two million individual blocks of limestone. In raw terms, it is three million tonnes of rock, exactly aligned with an accuracy which would elicit respect in any century, let alone the twenty-sixth century BC. Its base covers 13.1 acres and before construction began had been levelled to within fifteen millimetres over its entire area. At its completion it stood almost one hundred and fifty metres high and was the tallest structure in the world for almost thirty-eight centuries.

But the figures are meaningless. Stood humbly next to its immense bulk, the sense of awe overwhelms all. And the Great Pyramid of Giza is not in isolation. Next to it is the Pyramid of Khafre, a double take of similar proportions, while a few hundred metres away stands the Pyramid of Menkaure, whose relative modesty is only due to the misfortune of its location, next to the grandest of behemoths. And then there’s the Sphinx, reclining sublimely in its weathered splendour below. An incredible place.

Unfortunately, the millennia of dignity encapsulated within the Giza Necropolis does not extend to its current guardians. The tourist police prowled among the visitors, generally mounted on a bored camel. Their presence appeared to be more ceremonial than practical and they passed their days trying to get what freebies they could from passing Westerners. Whenever we parked up to photograph the Porsche in front of these wonders of the ancient world, we were inevitably hassled by one of these ineffectual characters. After a while I grew weary of their pestering and the conversations became monotonous and frustrating.


‘Why? What have you done to warrant baksheesh?’

‘You took a photo.’

‘Yes and you weren’t in it. Goodbye.’

Generally such reticence swiftly ended their advances, though on one occasion the policeman reacted somewhat persistently. Shouting at us as we returned to our car, he spurred his aloof beast into action and gave chase. Fortunately, our thoroughbred German sports car was more than a match for the camel and we were able to escape effortlessly. It’s not every day you drive your Porsche past the pyramids, with a policeman on a camel in hot pursuit!

But even this couldn't put a dampener on what was one of the highlights of the entire trip; the unbridled satisfaction of having driven to the Pyramids. In a Porsche.

(This article is taken from 'Survival of the Quickest', the book describing the African Porsche Expedition)