What is it about pyramids? Why do some people love them, seek them? They travel the world, enduring jet lag, harrowing taxi rides, camel drivers, multilingual t-shirt peddlers, and assorted other annoyances just to stand in their shadows. Why do I shudder when I see them? Why do I hate them? And yet, on clear (a relative term) days, I can't help myself. I scan the skyline, looking for a peek of the monstrous tombs. This town is big. But the pyramids are bigger.
I remember my first trip to the Alamo as a kid. I had seen the John Wayne movie and had expectations of a large church and fortress in the middle of the desert, tumble weeds rolling past tour buses. Of course the Alamo is a relatively small church in the middle of a pretty big city. I love it, but not for its grandeur. If anything, it is that it is such a little thing that has become a huge Texas icon that makes the Alamo all the cooler.
The great pyramids of Giza are the opposite. They are enormous. If it were not for the nearly constant haze of air pollution that hangs over Cairo, you could see them over and around almost any other structure. They are impressive from every angle, even at a distance. When you get up close and can see the gigantic individual blocks that form them, it is breath taking. If you like big monuments, you will not be disappointed.
|What's in that smiling guy's hand?|
I think most tourists are able to compartmentalize the hassles. It is all just a part of the bigger experience, a minor annoyance that will some day make a terrific travel story, like getting malaria in Nicaragua or being beheaded in Saudi Arabia. They plug through, smiling and trying not to let it ruin their experience. 'Honey, do you have any idea how much these tickets cost? Smile and have some fun, for goodness sake!'
For me it is different. I am not a tourist. Well, that is a half truth. I live here, but I am not exactly buying property or even making huge efforts to learn the language. I am really something of a resident tourist on a long and exhausting working vacation. I want the perks of being foreign, but I get annoyed when I am charged gringo prices. In some ways I am worse than a tourist. Real tourists, at least, have the courtesy to leave after they have seen the sights and spent their money. I am still here, complaining, illiterate, and demanding.
So why take all that out on the last of the great wonders of the ancient world? I suppose the pyramids don't have much purpose other than being symbols. For some they symbolize the impossible, the ancient, the mysterious. For some they are feats of engineering, marvels of human achievement. For others they are proof of God or aliens or something extra and unseen in the universe. For many locals they speak to a history of greatness and an opportunity to make a couple bucks off of tourists.
I don't know what they are to me... huge, overwhelming, and ever present even when shrouded in smog - especially when shrouded in smog. If I had a car, I could drive away from them. Eventually I would find a sea or a forest or something green or wet. But I don't have a car and there is nothing but desert outside this giant city. I could run all day, away from the pyramids - as fast and as far as my weak legs could carry me. Eventually I would fall over, coughing and exhausted on the sand. I would look back and if the sky was clear, they would still be there, poking above the rubble of half finished buildings, the wind blown garbage, and sand dunes. They would be smiling down, maybe laughing. And I would still be in Egypt.