I was so tired that I felt dizzy, but I couldn’t sleep for excitement. The 747 was circling Cairo waiting for landing clearance. I could smell the ancient city. I could see the haze in the air which was aglow from the city street lights. That haze was the reason we weren’t landing immediately. It was a type of sand storm that had engulfed the whole of Northern Egypt, and threatened to shut down the airport.
Hurray! Ours was the last plane to land before the airport was shut down. My business partner and his wife, due to land in another hour and a half, was re-directed to Mecca, the closest airport with a strip big enough for a 747, that was also not affected by the storm. So, I was alone for 4 days, on my first trip outside of North America.
As we drove through the city, I thought everyone must be mad for the disregard of lanes, speed limits, and road courtesy, and the incessant honking of horns that would have been thought maniacal at home. The Taxi driver and his brother joked about the “City of the Dead” as we passed by the necropolis – a huge graveyard of tombs – alight with the lanterns of homeless people who spent their nights in there. They joked that the homeless were actually “the Dead” more than the bones that those people sat upon.
I stumbled into my room at the Holiday Inn Pyramids, in the suburb of Cairo called Giza. I barely had time to glance out the window into the night, and see looming over the horizon, the night-lit pyramids I had always dreamed of visiting. I fell into what seemed a long deep sleep, filled with fantastic dreams.
Hungry, and needing to pee, I slowly woke, groggily looking around me, and out the window at the same night scene. I thought I’d slept more than a few hours, but evidently not, as it was still night, and the pyramids were still right there lit up as when I fell asleep. Then I realized: I had slept a full 24 hours! Wasted one of my precious days on this fabulous trip!
I rushed down to the lobby, hastily throwing on my 1980’s black leather jacket, grabbed a candy bar for breakfast, and rushed out into the night, determined not to waste another minute. I could see the giant pyramids right there, seemingly only a few blocks away, and naively assuming that the city streets would be arranged in an orderly grid, set out in the general direction of them, thinking that sooner or later I’d find my way there. As you can imagine, I quickly got lost, and unfortunately, in a dangerous part of town at that. Eventually I found my way at a barbed wire fence that bordered the ancient necropolis that is beside the pyramids themselves. There was a small tent with a small fire, around which huddled two or three Egyptian soldiers who were part of the guarding of the site from plunder. They waved their guns at me menacingly, yelling at me in Arabic, gesturing for me to leave the area at once. Before I could leave, one of them, speaking clear enough English that I could understand, asked what I was doing there. I asked for directions to the pyramids. He kept saying that I should simply follow the “street that leads to the pyramids”, and I kept saying “which street is that?” After we repeated this to each other a few times, we gave up, and I said I’d go back to my hotel. Why would he tell me to go to the “pyramid street?” How was I supposed to know which street that is? Geeze.
Still suffering from jet-lag, I decided to have some food in the hotel. From years of accompanying my ex-wife to her belly-dance gigs, I was accustomed to good Arabic food. There was none of that to be found here. Terrible falafel, and something horrible that was supposed to pass for tabouli. Oh well, I thought, I’ll hunt for some good food tomorrow.
Again I slept through the entire following day, so that again it was night when I woke. I had yet to see Cairo in daylight! Again I set out into the night, determined to see the pyramids, this time taking my camera strapped around my neck, and hidden under my leather jacket. This time, I followed the main street in a tangent to where I could see the pyramids, and eventually came to: “Pyramid Street”!! So this is what the soldier was trying to tell me! The street itself is named “Pyramid Street”. I felt like a dummy, but excited, followed it up onto the famous plateau, and straight to the foot of the Greet Pyramid!
I was awestruck by the sheer size of it, looming up into the dark sky above me. The alien landscape with the other pyramids looming in the distance, and the strange noises that filled the night air felt really eerie, and yet extremely exciting. I started toward walking around the pyramid, when the night lights suddenly switched off. I guessed they don’t keep the lights burning all night. Looking at my watch, it was 10:20pm.
An Egyptian wearing a caftan approached. In broken English he said I wasn’t to be there and asked me to leave. I looked at him, dressed like a beggar, and figured he was one of the homeless people the taxi driver was joking about. I ignored the man and pushed past him, determined to be alone. He followed quite insistently, and when he saw that I wasn’t going to listen to him no matter what he said, he held out his hand and said “Baksheesh!” Well, the word I didn’t understand, but the outstretched hand was obvious. I gave him $20 U.S. hoping he’d be satisfied and leave me alone. Instead, he immediately started offering me a tour, offering to show me the “quick way” to the top, pointing to take me around to a dark place behind the smaller pyramids, where none of the other figures shuffling around the area could see. Yeah, right. The “quick way”! Figuring I was about to get mugged for whatever other $20 bills I might have in my wallet, I started trying to get away from the man again.
I decided to circumambulate the pyramid three times saying prayers before ascending, and began to do so quickly enough that I would stay ahead of this nagging individual. Eventually, I came upon a construction wall, with a watchman’s cabin. This watchman wouldn’t let me pass, but mysteriously, the beggar who was still following me, said something to the watchman, and I was allowed to continue.
Now I was between the Great Pyramid, and the seemingly larger (though actually slightly smaller) pyramid of Kephren. The strange noises in the dark night air echoed really strangely between these pyramids. I asked the beggar what that noise was. He explained that college kids from the University of Cairo come there each night to sing and dance in small groups as teen-agers have done for thousands of years. Then I realized that was what I was hearing: the chanting and very Egyptian clapping, from at least three groups somewhere out in the dark. I started walking and praying again. I came across the construction site, that the guard had let me near. The beggar explained that this was the newly excavated site of the Boat of Ra, and while the boat had been discovered a long time ago, a building to house it was being created, and new discoveries were being made while digging in the area. I was grateful for the company of the beggar after all, as he had defended me against the construction site watchman, and he was explaining very interesting stuff to me. When the beggar saw my attitude change, he again began to offer to show me the top of the pyramid, but this time, he said, he wanted to show me the right way to climb the pyramid. Not wanting this, I ignored him again, and told him I was going to climb by myself. He said ok, but just stay with the corners, and not to try to get near the middle of a side. Soon after this, I guess he gave up, because he disappeared into the night, and I finished my subsequent two turns around the pyramid.
Now I was standing at the North-East corner, and began to climb. At first, I didn’t know how I was going to manage it, the blocks being too large to scale very easily. Then, squinting in the dark, I saw that the blocks were actually of irregular size and placement, and if I was careful, I could pick out a route that wasn’t so bad. Soon, I fell into a rhythm, scaling block after block after block, always looking at my next foot-hold, and deliberately not looking up or down. I didn’t want to know how hopelessly far from the top I was, and I didn’t want to get dizzy from the height.
After a while, I realized that the rhythm had become so engrossing, it took me a while to notice that I had been quite out of breath for some time, and was about to faint, possibly falling all the way down! Alarmed, I immediately stopped and sat down, struggling to regain my breath, as I surveyed the view. The night sky
wasn’t completely dark, as the sand-storm was still around the city, and the orange glow of the street lights lent a faint glow to the haze all around. The storm just have been subsiding, because I could see stars above. I looked across the Northern slope at the edge to the West. That edge, while ragged, looked so stark against the night sky, stars and space immediately upon it. It looked like the very edge of the Earth. In fact, I became alarmed that I was slowly leaning, leaning toward falling, because of an illusion created by the immense size of the rocky side of the pyramid, which seemed more and more like the ground, and “up” seemed more and more like a vertical from that plane… a false illusion of “up” that would have caused me to tumble to my death. Quickly I became aware of how vulnerable I was on the steep side of this alien plane, and that the wind was so strong, I had to hold on to keep my balance, my leather jacket flapping in the wind.
Quickly, I looked away from that unearthly horizon, and down at the true ground from which had I started my climb. And as I looked, creeping out of the dark and gloomy necropolis in the near distance, two packs of wild dogs emerged, slowly advancing on the pyramid, at my feet. The leaders of each pack advanced upon each other, growling and barking menacingly at each other. When they met, they were right at the very stone I had first set my foot upon, and as they began a ferocious tearing fight right there, all of the other dogs in the packs began a senseless melee all around. The terrible sound of this war of dog-fights rose and engulfed me, echoing off the pyramids in the distance, and mixing eerily with the sound of the college kids still partying in the distance. I wondered, what are the chances that these two packs of dogs should meet to war, exactly at the very spot I had set foot on the pyramid. Surely, this was some kind of very bad omen for my journey.
I watched the dogs fight below my gaze for a few minutes, and then resolved to turn and resume my climb. I noticed I had already gone two thirds of the way, and if I got back into that rhythm, I would be at the top before I again lost my breath. I went only about 10 blocks up, and noticed that the dogs had disappeared, dispersed into the darkness from which they crept.
Block after block, level after level, they all passed in the rhythm of my climb. Again, I neither looked up, nor down, always focusing only on the next block , and the next… and then, to my surprise, there was no next block. In surprise, I stood, gazing at the plateau at the very top of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. All I have to do, I thought, was to climb one more block, and I’d be on top… but then, what would I hold on to, to keep my balance against the wind?
And then, what the hell is that?!!! I suddenly noticed the sound of something else flapping wildly in the wind, besides my jacket. It was coming from the center of the plateau… a plastic bag of some sort. Who would litter on the top of the… wait, it’s not a plastic bag. It’s something wrapped in plastic, something heavy enough to keep the plastic from completely blowing away… judging by the length and width of it, as the plastic flapped around it, the thing looked to be about the same shape and size of a person, lying on the top of the pyramid, wrapped in plastic that flapped wildly in the wind! What the… ?!! And is that chanting I hear coming from it, or is that the sound of the wind whistling around the rocks?
My mind raced with possibilities, trying to grasp the situation, and determine what my reaction should be. On one hand, it could be someone dead. But who could labor to carry a dead person up here, without being noticed? Maybe they were noticed, and were somehow allowed! What would that mean?! Maybe it isn’t a dead person, but someone who climbed up here just like me. But then, how could they breath from inside that plastic, and why on earth would they be doing that? Maybe it’s someone who’s meditating, maybe meditating on death and imagining what it would be like to be dead. I’ve seen stranger things, and I’ve gone to graveyards myself with that same intention. But the top of the Great Pyramid?! I thought of the beggar down below, who might have mugged me earlier. Maybe this is someone who is lying in waiting for me, to mug me and throw me down to my death! Oh come on! How likely is that? Ok, but how likely is what I see right before my eyes! How can I explain that?! Whatever it is, I reasoned, there’s something very wrong here. That thing is actually lined up exactly North-South, with the “head” to the North, and in the exact center of the plateau! Something’s not right, whatever it is. The sense of danger won over me, and I turned, scurrying down the side as quickly as I could, assuming a “crab-walk” to keep all my limbs in contact with the pyramid, while moving as quickly down as I could.
I glanced up at the edge of the plateau above me every few seconds, in case someone were to suddenly appear, and come after me. My heart was pounding so hard, my croutched body jerked each time with its force. Then, seeing nothing move at all, I stopped, and realized, “wait a minute.” Just wait a minute. Think. Certainly there’s no need to actually endanger myself against the wind by standing up there with nothing to hold on to, and certainly there’s something weird up there… but who on earth would believe this story? I’m right here, and I’m already starting to doubt what I thought I saw, and what I thought I heard. I thought, I’ll never forgive myself, if I don’t get my camera ready, and go back up there (gulp), and take a picture of whatever it is. Then I’ll know that I really did see something up there, and I can show it to others, who might not believe the whole weird story.
So I steeled myself, climbed back up, heart still pounding in my chest, watching my way through the camera view-finder in case something should peer down at me from the edge of the plateau, in which case, I’d quickly go “click!” and run like hell. But nothing did peer down at me. So when I got to the top, I carefully aimed, and was about to click, when I realized that the flash in the night was certainly going to draw attention to me where I might have gone luckily unnoticed before! I decided I had to take my chances… the idea of getting a picture was just too great, so I looked down at my escape route, focused, and snapped the picture. I scurried down the side of that pyramid like nobody’s business, and upon reaching the bottom, ran all the way down into Pyramid Street, and all the way back to the hotel.
The next day, I woke in early morning this time. I befriended a taxi driver who showed me the sights around Cairo, took me to the perfume shop my Teacher told me to visit, and took me into his home where his wife sheepishly made us a delicious lunch of tomatoes, cheese, and couscous with tea.
I asked the taxi driver, various guards, guides, and officials about my adventure throughout my journey through Egypt in the following weeks. With one exception, I invariably got one of two responses: a) you’re lying, you didn’t and couldn’t climb the pyramid, especially at night, b) you might have climbed, but you certainly didn’t see that! (In asking, I discovered that there are signs near the pyramid, warning of the illegality of climbing, and of the certainty of prosecution and probably jail term. I further found out that the “beggar” was actually a paid guard, whose job it was to keep people like me from going there at night. I had unwittingly bribed this guard when I gave him the $20 “baksheesh”.)
The exception was on my last day in Egypt. The Cairo-based travel agent who was in charge of my stay throughout Egypt. When I told him, his eyes went wide, and he was obviously trying to calm himself for some reason, and he said in a shaky voice at first, “That’s not supposed to be happening anymore.” When I said “What?” he acted like he never said anything, and simply told me that the “Tourist Police” must be told of my experience, and that they must have a copy of my photograph, as soon as I get it developed. He wouldn’t say why, and he couldn’t explain what I’d heard him say. He simply repeated over and over again that I should tell the Tourist Police immediately, and that I should promise to send them a copy of the photograph.
It’s weird that, while I’d been there for more than 56 hours, more than two full days and nights, I never saw daylight in Egypt until after I saw, whatever-that-was, on top of the Great Pyramid. No matter that I wasn’t believed, those first two days (or rather, nights), in Egypt set a tone or a mood for my entire visit, that lent magic and mystery to everything I did and saw.
When I returned to Toronto, I had the photo developed, and sure enough, there it is: something roughly man-sized and shaped, inside plastic, that is distorted by its flapping in the wind, lying on the ancient stone blocks that show graffiti from centuries of visits including ancient Romans, Napoleon’s soldiers, etc. I showed it to a Vietnam veteran, who said it looked exactly like the hundreds of body bags he’d seen.
I showed it to my Teacher. He said nothing at first. Then he simply said that it was a warning from the spirit of the Pyramid, and would speak no more about it.
I never did even try to send the photo to the Tourist Police. I just didn’t want any part of whatever trouble I might be stirring up by doing so.
That’s all I know. Here’s the picture. See for yourself. See what you think. Maybe it’s nothing and I conjured for myself an adventure out of the sheer excitement of being there, alone, at night, at the top of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Still, what on earth is that in the photograph…?
As you examine the picture, remember, there’s a strong wind blowing up against it from the direction of view, up against the side in view. Notice the creases in the plastic… it’s a kind of rigid thicker plastic than garbage bags are. It made a “crackling” sound as it was flapping in the wind. It’s about 6 feet long, from the “head” (at the right) to the “feet” (at the left). If you click to look at the larger image, and look closely at the right end, you can’t help wondering what’s inside that the plastic is being blown so strongly against. Is that really a head inside there? The “hump” in the middle was only there as the plastic was flapping in the wind, against the weight of whatever is inside. That “hump” is part of the “flapping”, and between flapps actually lays down flat, even with the top of the left end. Maybe it’s just a chello, or harp in a plastic bag from the music store. At almost midnight. In Giza. On top of the Great Pyramid.
(If you’d like to see more pictures from that trip to Egypt, click here .)