And On To Saqqara
16.01.1965 - 18.01.1965
We rose at 4.30 am this morning and got the train to Cairo, arriving about 5.00 pm. It was a rather uninteresting day, another long train trip, back along the way we had come. Only notable thing was that I read for 11 hours straight, and finished off Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage”.
Did not get much done in the morning, but about 12 we took a bus out to Giza. There, much against my better judgement, we hired Arab stallions for 2 E.L. each, and with a guide set off immediately for Saqqara. It was a six hour return journey across the desert, and quite an enjoyable experience, except that we kept getting slugged for more money from start to finish - 2 piastre here, 5 piastre there - it nearly drove me up the wall. I had a magnificent beast - an incredibly strong and muscular horse which galloped furiously and took me all my strength, and at least 100 yards, to pull up. The ride down and back was mostly across undulating, sandy desert, and galloping full speed across it, waving a whip and yelling “on to Saqqara”, I felt every little bit like Lawrence of Arabia.
The only trouble was that I was concentrating so much on riding the horse that I did not pay too much attention to the monuments, but what I saw was superb. Rising out of the sand dunes, the ‘Stepped Pyramid ’ was surrounded by a haze, and the starkness of the setting was truly beautiful.
At least on this trip I have learned to ride a horse fairly well, and I am quite proud of my achievement today. Galloping is wonderful, and quite the most comfortable speed at which to ride. We returned to the Pyramids after dark, about 6 pm, glad finally to dismount, and wandered down past the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx in the moonlight. The eerie atmosphere was very different from daylight hours, but just as impressive. We stayed for the Son et Lumiere, watching for free from a nearby sand dune. The show was visually spectacular and very ‘pretty’, but I found its theatricality somewhat vulgar. It was like watching a Cinerama film, and it was impossible to realize that these great monuments actually existed in front of me. It was a conjuring trick, and most irreverent to do such a thing to the real thing. I find the monuments much more realistic and affecting seeing them just as they are, without lights and sound effects. To realize that these great man-made mountains of stone have stood there as the sun has risen and set every day for 5000 years is a profoundly moving and satisfying experience in itself.
Oh my sore aching bones and tender backside - I am going to be stiff for a week. Spent the day at the Australian Embassy, American Express and the railway station, and stayed clear of the anti-Nasser street demonstrations that were taking place in various parts of the city. Nearly ran into one though.
Got a very welcome letter from Mum this morning. Went round to the British Library this evening, and started drafting the first article. I must do some work on these every opportunity I get, as London is getting dangerously close. I still am undecided about the line of action I will take there. I think I will just have to wait and see how things turn out. I am sick to death of the conversation going on in the hostel here. The same bull-shit over and over again, with us as much to blame as anybody. Early train again tomorrow to Mersa Matruh, the first leg of the long haul across North Africa.