The leaders of Dubai have their heads screwed on straight when it comes to money management. They know that while all those petro dollars are rolling in now, they won’t last forever. We docked in a city called Sokhna, built in an empty spot in the desert with UAE funds. Today it is a huge container port handling 15% of Egypt’s trade, employing 20,000 Egyptians. Two million containers are processed annually. This high tech port scans each container rather than manually opening and inspecting them. A large, efficient tollway connects Sokhna with Cairo and the new capital the Chinese are building. Cairo, with its 26 million people, has become unlivable. The current government thought it might help if they moved all the government workers out of town. The Chinese will rent out all the buildings they are constructing for 25 years and then they will belong to the Egyptians who have paid nothing so far. Affordable housing as well as luxury skyscrapers will be in the mix.
It was over a two hour drive to Giza; the pyramids that everyone thinks about when they think about Egypt were our destination for the day. The Great Pyramid of Khufu, built in 2750BC is the oldest and largest of the three. After 46 windy centuries its height has been reduced about ten feet. Few of us crawled into the dark, dank narrow passageway to the middle of the pyramid. Unlike the tombs we saw in the Valley of the Kings yesterday, there are no decorations or inscriptions on the walls. Originally, all three pyramids were incased in smooth limestone, but only a little remains on the Pyramid of Khafre. By the time the Pyramid of Menkaure was built, the treasury was tapped out from all the work on the first two and it is much smaller. Seeing the Sphinx nearby was also a thrill, although it is much smaller than tour book photos would lead you to believe.
Our Jordanian guide raved about the solar boat and encouraged us to see it. In 1954 archeologists found a ditch full of cedar pieces. The oars which were still intact gave a strong indication of what this had been. It was one of five boats found around the pyramids. This one was supposed to take the pharaoh on his journey from life to the afterlife, following the path of the sun. That’s how it got its name, solar boat. It is housed in a special museum where we could see it from below and above. Other purpose-built boats were also found: one was for cruising on the Mediterranean, one for sailing the Red Sea, one for hauling around all his stuff. Too bad those boats never sailed.
During the long drive, our guide Amr filled us in on all the tricky details about politics these days. After years of corruption and mismanagement, the current president El Sisi is functioning as a benevolent dictator. He’s making big moves in infrastructure like the new capital that are sorely needed, but their benefits will not immediately be apparent. He is building seven tunnels under the Suez Canal, so it will be possible to get to the Sinai Peninsula more daily. Until now there has only been one bridge. This area is currently the hiding place for many terrorist groups since the Egyptian army can’t get enough men and materials there. To secure loans from the IMF he has let the local currency float and our guide Amr lost about 70% of the savings he had in the bank. It will be interesting to see how long El Sisi can last when people are losing money. Egypt is also worried about a big dam Ethiopia is building upstream on the Nile, despite longstanding treaties that forbid this. It will take three years to fill up the reservoir behind the dam and Egypt could get no water at all. Since 96% of the country is desert, war is in the air. We are traveling in a dangerous neighborhood. This thought was reinforced when the police convoy that escorted us out of the city, turned on their sirens and zoomed away.