Samurai Dave: The Roving Ronin Report

Rambling Narrative of Travels, Thoughts, and Embellishments

The Millennium New Years at the Great Pyramids

Ringing in the Year 2000 at a New Age Concert at the Great Pyramids
Remembering the Millennium New Years
 

It was the Eve of the Millennium. As part of the world geared up to party like there was no tomorrow – and certain religious and new age prophecies blatantly hinted as much – another segment of the world awaited Apocalypse that they felt was sure to come either by the Hand of God or the crashing of a million computers. Devout Christians prepared for their departure in what they felt would be the Second Coming of Jesus and the glorious Rapture which would whisk all the righteous away to Heaven. Survivalists stocked up on supplies and ammo expecting the modern world to come to a screeching halt when the dreaded Y2K took effect at midnight when the clock turned 2000.

New Agers felt the Millennium would herald a completely new change for mankind coming either from the supernatural world or extra-terrestrials. Doomsday cults geared up for the coming cataclysm that they were sure was going to rock the Earth and wipe out most of mankind. Meanwhile, money-grubbing clubs and venues charged exorbitant prices for their millennium soirees. All in all, it was an exciting paranoid time filled with hope, fear, and horniness.

Technically the new millennium would not dawn until 2001 but most people and venues did not care what crusty chronological academics had to say on the matter. 2000 was the magical date – either it would be the end of the world whether religiously, cosmically, or computerly or it would be the dawn of a whole new era of peace, love, and UFOs. So the party that night for many thrill-seekers might be the last one forever – cue the Prince music.

The approaching Millennium found me in Egypt a country which has seen its fair share of millenniums. In Cairo, I had been teaching English for very low wages even by Egyptian standards to bank employees for nearly two months. I had spent Christmas in the backpacker resort area of Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula along the Red Sea. My original plans were to also spend the New Years there as well in a drunken stupor amongst the Bedouin, camels, and equally drunk backpackers. I felt if it was to be the end I didn’t want to be aware of it. However, there was an itching in my brain to do something special to mark this New Year of New Years.

For weeks I had seen the advertisements for a huge concert at the Great Pyramids. In the weeks leading up to the event, a vicious rumor had spread amongst the wandering backpackers of Egypt that Pink Floyd would be playing. The official concert was to be one Jean-Michel Jarre, a new age French musician many of us had never heard of. Still the Pink Floyd rumors persisted despite evidence to the contrary. Some said they were going to appear as a surprise guest band sometime after midnight.


Jean-Michel Jarre looking quite fetching in his Doctor Who scarf

Regardless of who was playing I had reasons for not wanting to go at first. For my meager savings, $50 for a ticket seemed a bit too steep even for a Millennium Concert at such a prestigious place as the Great Pyramids. In addition, even in these happy pre-911 days, there was the lingering presence of terrorism. It was felt that the Pyramid Concert would be primarily a foreigner affair and therefore a perfect target for terrorists. It had only been a few years earlier when a group of tourists had been gunned down in Luxor. However, on the New Age Front, I heard through word of mouth of a rumor that UFOs would gather at the Pyramids to announce their presence (perhaps they would bring Pink Floyd with them). Whether it would be to benefit mankind or harvest it wasn’t exactly clear.

Despite all my reservations, I decided at the last minute to head back to Cairo by overnight bus two days before New Year’s Eve. The bus was really a mini-van with no heater to combat the wintry desert night air and a dozen of us were crammed into it. I ended up in the front seat in the middle right above the hot gears which while leaving my rear warm also left it with blisters. It was a horrible freezing blistering ride in which our sleep – what little we could get – was shattered occasionally with bone-jarring rattles from the myriad of bumps and potholes along the way. Then there were those fear-soaked near head-on collisions with other vehicles that kept many of us wide awake. We might have had fewer of those close-calls had our vehicle and the oncoming ones kept their headlights on longer than a fewer minutes at a time.

I arrived in Cairo early on the 30th exhausted with a blistering headache and a blistered rear-end. Amazingly, I was still able to buy tickets to the concert that day and for less than I originally expected – $15. The next day I bought some cheap Egyptian wine and some snacks in which to enjoy the all night concert. I went there with a Korean girl I met on that horrible overnight ride from Dahab and some of her friends.

The entrance to the Pyramids was not the ordinary one used by daytime visitors. We were ushered into shuttle buses and taken around on the far side of the Pyramids to the left of Menkaure’s Pyramid, the third and smallest of the three Great Pyramids. In this area, there was a type of large dell that formed a natural amphitheater. At the top of the dell at the rear was a wooden building with a wide balcony. Drinks, food, and uninterrupted views could be had by those who paid premium prices from $150 to $4000. The rest of us were down in the sandy dell.

But before we could go down into the dell we had to go through a security checkpoint. They were checking for weapons, explosives, inflammables, and – to our shock and dismay – alcohol. The rules of the land forbid the consumption of alcohol even at a site that predates Islam by three millennium. Alcohol-toting foreigners and a few Coptic Egyptians found themselves herded to the side where we had to either dump our sacrilegious elixirs or consume as much of them as we could before entering. Never had I seen such generosity amongst drinkers before! Nor had I seen so many rejections for free booze either. Everyone was trying to consume their own supplies as best as they could or share them with whomever was willing rather than let it go to waste. Many offers were turned down because people had more than enough alcohol to take care of without taking on any more. It was amazing that any of us could stagger back through the checkpoint. Fortunately for me the sickening sweet cheap Egyptian wine prevented me from imbuing too much beyond my measure and one gulp of Egyptian whiskey was enough to make me graciously decline any further offers.

I had originally thought the concert would be primarily foreigners but to my surprise the majority was Egyptians. Many of them were young and they really got into the concert dancing away to the mix of new age and traditional Arabic music.

The concert I much later found out was called the Twelve Dreams of the Sun. The name was based on the Ancient Egyptian belief that when the sun sets in the West, it travels on a boat through the underworld and passes 12 gates in 12 hours before rising again in the East.

Over 1000 performers were involved in the concert from dancers, singers, musicians, to an orchestra section. The cost to put on the concert came in at about $9.5 Million. The price would have been even higher had plans to cap the Great Pyramid with a 9-meter golden pyramidion not been scrapped (and good thing too else my adventure climbing said pyramid months later would have been more difficult had they left it up there). More than 120,000 people attended the concert including Egyptian President Mubarak.

There had been criticism leading up to the event as tickets did not sell so rapidly at first to justify the expense – hence my ability to purchase a ticket so easily the day before the concert. Ramadan fell over the Millennium that year so some Islamic groups complained bitterly about the cost and it’s timing with Ramadan. However, the concert began after sundown and ended with the sunrise so it did not interfere with the traditional sunrise to sunset fasting period of Ramadan. Another major bone of contention was the proposed pyramid capstone. Certain critics claimed Zionist Freemasonry was being imposed upon Egypt since the capstone looked eerily similar to the Freemason pyramid symbol on the American dollar bill.

Jean Michel Jarre was keen to incorporate Egyptian elements into his concert from singers, dancers, and instruments. For this reason despite my yearning for Pink Floyd I believe Jarre to have been the right choice. He made the event very much for the attending Egyptians. His music was more Millennium-minded as he blended old and new musical styles together. Jarre scored major points with the Egyptian audience when the ghostly voice of Um Kalthoum, Egypt’s diva goddess, floated out on the misty night air. The concert crowd went ecstatic. Catch any cab in Egypt particularly in Cairo and you will hear the lingering hold Um Kalthoum continues to have on Egypt.

The beginning of the concert was marked with fireworks and light displays. The Pyramids in the background were used as movie screens to project a variety of light images on from symbols to Ancient Egyptian gods. From time to time, performers in Ancient Egyptian outfits or Arabic desert robes rushed about in the background waving torches. One group was dressed as giant penguins – wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Multi-colored floodlights illuminated the Pyramids which changed in hue from time to time.


Giant Millennium Penguins Cross the Desert in some baffling display of New Age symbolism

During one of the set breaks, people ventured over to the Pyramids and began climbing them. Archeologists had also complained about proximity of the concert to the Pyramids and they would have howled had they been there. However, the climbers did little or no damage to those nigh-impregnable massive structures. Certainly far less damage was done than one intolerant Egyptian Caliph did to Menkaure’s Pyramid early in the last Millennium of the Common Era when in a desire to destroy the profane symbols had a huge gouge made in the structure.


I climbed up one of the small satellite pyramids of Menkaure and chatted with others for a while. I could see in the gloom dozens at the midsection of Menkaure’s Pyramid. I heard from one concert-goer that he climbed Khafre’s Pyramid up to its limestone cap. The Egyptian police on their pristine white camels eventually came over to herd us wayward concert-goers back to the venue site. They were surprisingly professional, friendly, and nonchalant about the whole thing.

Around midnight, Jarre did a 100-second countdown. When it reached zero the sky lit up with fireworks that spelled out 2000. The Millennium had finally arrived! No righteous people disappeared suddenly, no great earthquakes struck, no UFOs hovered into view. I breathed a sigh of relief as I noticed Jarre’s heavily computer-depended music and light show did not suddenly crash from the dreaded Y2K bug. Everything was going to be ok much to the dismay of doomsday cultists, Apocalyptic-awaiting Christians, UFO New Agers, and Y2K survivalists who were no doubt quickly cancelling their subscriptions to Y2K Survival magazines.

The lightshow and fireworks continued throughout the night but unbelievably a thick mist began to develop early on which was rather unusual for this time of year. Perhaps it was from the exhaust of the approaching UFOs bringing Pink Floyd. The mist grew thicker and thicker swallowing up the Pyramids from view one by one. Menkaure’s Pyramid remained visible the longest still serving as a canvas for Jarre’s images but eventually even that – as close as it was to us -disappeared into the mist.

It wasn’t until many years later on YouTube that I was able to see what was going on at the concert while I was there. After 1, the mist so enclosed us that we couldn’t see the fireworks that were exploding just above our heads. We could only see patches of mist light up in a slightly different hue. Even the whole stage was obscure from view if we stood too far towards the back. At first, I regretted not bringing my camera but as it was I would not have been able to take a picture of anything anyways.

President Mubarak was probably glad that the original plans to cap the Great Pyramid of Khufu with a golden pryamidion by use of a helicopter had been abandoned. No one there would have been able to see such a monumental and expensive gesture.

The concert took a long set break sometime around 2 though recorded music continued to play softly throughout the night. Many people left but a good number stayed on. Like quite a few others, I took the time to get some shut-eye. It was rather chilly so I pulled my arms and head into my sweatshirt and slept like a malformed turtle for a few hours.


Jarre of Arabia

I was awoken before dawn by the sound of bagpipes being played by Egyptian musicians in white desert robes. The last part of the concert was to take place now – the greeting of the New Millennium Sun. Jarre wore an Arabic headdress and played a handheld Middle Eastern drum with similarly attired Egyptian drummers.


Millennium Morning Wake-up Call at the Pyramids

The mist was lighter now but still thick. The sun unfortunately never appeared and the concert finally ended with Jarre and many of the performers parading towards the Great Pyramid which was dimly visible to the rest of us. All in all, despite the mist, it was a memorable experience and one hell of a show. I was glad I went in the end.

In hindsight, one could, I suppose, take the misty Pyramid Millennium Dawn as a portent for the confusion and uncertainly that was to follow in the years to come with the US presidential election fiasco later that same year, global terrorism, horrendous large scale natural disasters, the ongoing turmoil in Iraq, the plague of reality TV shows, etc… At that time, however, those of us at the Pyramids that Millennium morning were just happy to have witnessed a kickass concert not to mention having seen Armageddon safely pass us by. Still the UFOs would have been cool – if we could have seen them through the mist.


Trekking off into the Misty Millennium Morning

December 29, 2007 Posted by | 2000, Apocalypse, cairo, cheops, egypt, entertainment, event, festival, fireworks, giza, great pyramid, history, humor, Jean-Michel Jarre, khufu, life, Millennium, music, music concert, New Age, New Age music, New Year's Eve, New Years, party, pyramids, travel, Umm Khulthum, Umm Kulthum, Y2K | 2 Comments

Climbing the Great Pyramid with Japanese Know-How

Climbing the Great Pyramid With Japanese Know-How
The Great Pyamids of Giza

For nearly 5,000 years, the Great Pyramids of Egypt have instilled wonder and awe in mankind. In the last half a dozen centuries, they have also become a tempting lure for many to climb them – especially the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Pyramid climbing has been a temptation ever since the limestone casing of the Great Pyramid collapsed from an earthquake during the Middle Ages. Among some of the more famous climbers of the past was Mark Twain. He climbed up to the top in the mid-Nineteenth Century or rather he was dragged and carried up to the top by enterprising locals for a small bit of baksheesh (tip money). Financially and physically, Twain came off better than modern British author Graham Hancock.

Hancock, the author of Fingerprints of the Gods, believes that a very ancient civilization pre-dating the Egyptians built the pyramids on the Giza Plain long before Cheops, or Khufu, as the Ancient Egyptians called him, was even born. Unlike Twain, Hancock had to climb the Pyramid under his own steam while paying out close to $300 in bribes.


A view from the Sphinx’s Temple

Pyramid climbing had been permissible up to the 1980s until Egyptian authorities forbade it following the deaths of several climbers. Despite the ban, the Great Pyramid is still climbed periodically as author Hancock had done, generally in the dead of night. Sometimes guards are bribed and guides hired to show intrepid climbers the way up. Other climbers prefer to forgo paying unnecessary bribes and find ways of avoiding opportunistic guards.

Interestingly enough, the leading nationality of these thrifty nocturnal climbers are the Japanese. Young Japanese travelers in Egypt have made Pyramid Climbing virtually a profession. They even have a handwritten book about how to do it in one of the hotels in Cairo.

Never Give Up! is the Japanese climber’s motto for surmounting the Pyramid, or as it is written in their book: Never Up Give!


Me at the Pyramids months earlier never dreaming sometime later I’d be clinging to the side of one of them in the dark

The temptation to climb the Great Pyramid proved too great even for me to ignore despite my academic background in historical preservation and, more importantly, my fear of heights. I had climbed pyramids in Mexico and a minor pyramid or two in Egypt but Cheops just laughed at me. After all, what were these pitiful things compared to the Great Pyramid?

At 450 feet (135 meters), the Great Pyramid is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you’re clinging to the side of it for dear life in the dark, 200 feet up and a sneeze would send you tumbling to the ground in a broken bloody heap.

Before going, I diligently consulted the Japanese book for the necessary information. The book was a compilation of various personal accounts and advice from successful climbers written in both Japanese and English. In addition there were detailed maps on how to sneak into the area and which side to climb.


Sakkara Dave: Pyramid Climber – no, I didn’t climb this one

Around three in the morning, I and another American, Greg, sneaked onto the pyramid grounds. We had both taught English in Egypt for nearly a year and decided we had to climb the pyramid before we left.

We went crouching and darting about like ninjas amongst the shadows trying to avoid the guards. We climbed up one of the small pyramids supposedly made for Cheops’ Queens to see where the guards were posted. From there, we watched the guards walk back and forth taking note of their positions before climbing back down. We were prepared to make our ascent but unfortunately, the guards had other plans.

Our ninja skills must have been a wee bit rusty because the guards caught us. They harassed us at first with threats of jail and fines but they soon softened up and asked for a friendly bribe. In the end, they let us go once they realized we didn’t have any money to bribe them with and that arresting us would require them to actually work. The guards weren’t paid enough to do actual work so they escorted us out.


Greg, a friend, and myself before our fateful journey

We waved goodbye to them, walked out of sight, then sneaked back in. This time we skirted wide around the Great Pyramid running along the open area between the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre/Khephren. We were horribly exposed but somehow the gods that protect fools were with us and no one saw us.

The Japanese book had listed the southwest corner of the pyramid as the safest place to climb. Here the pyramid resembled a high-stepped staircase of steady, firm blocks. It makes for easy climbing but we made the mistake of scaling straight up the middle of the west side rather than the corner. We didn’t take the corner because we were afraid of being spotted again. Instead we nearly ended up as bloody spots at the bottom of the pyramid.


Though amusing, Greg’s Dying Legionnaire impression didn’t impress the guards

The west side was steep and crumbly. There was nowhere for us to stop and rest. It was tricky business climbing as our feet kept slipping out from underneath us and our hands kept losing their grip from time to time. Our only comfort was that we had promised each other if one of us should fall to our horrible gory demise, we would not scream out during our death plunge so as to give away the other.

We eventually achieved the summit in about half an hour. At the top of the pyramid was a small flat area the size of a Japanese apartment where several people could sit. It was also large enough for several thousand mosquitoes to gather and dine on weary climbers. I took my shoes and socks off and soon found my feet covered with mosquitoes.

From our vantage point, we could see the lights of Cairo twinkling in the near distance. The city practically squats at the pyramid’s doorstop like an obstinate Jehovah Witness who refuses to take no for an answer. One day I fear Cairo may completely surround the pyramids and swallow them up whole.

We were not there long when three Japanese climbers suddenly popped up. They had taken the proper route so they were more relaxed both physically and mentally. They had been able to rest along the way and they didn’t have to get reacquainted with their religious faith as we did when we implored what powers that be not to let us fall.

We took each other’s pictures then waited for the sunrise together. Unfortunately my pictures were later stolen along with the camera they were in along with the bag the camera was in by some junky thief in London. But that’s another story.


For years the silent Sphinx has watched bemusedly as mortals have tried sneaking past it to climb the Great Pyramid at night.

The pollution of Cairo looked beautiful in the morning light; unfortunately it blocked out any sunrise. The sky just got lighter and lighter but the sun didn’t show till 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and by then we were long gone.

Kheprhen’s Pyramid loomed massively near us while the Sphinx looked like no more than a week-old kitten with a genetic defect resembling an Egyptian Pharoah’s head. Behind us the desert stretched into the nothingness of sand. In front of us the Giza Plain stretched into the Pizza Hut that was directly across the street.

When we decided we had fed the mosquitoes enough, we descended. We got caught again but this is the normal procedure at this stage of the venture. Fortunately it wasn’t the same group as before. That might have damaged the friendly relations which Greg and I had worked so hard in establishing with the first group.


A view of the Desert Wasteland with the Step-Pyramid of Sakkara in the background

They took us to a guard station and made us sit there for an hour. Eventually the captain came out to question us. He asked me where I heard that I could climb the pyramid. I told him in a book. He asked which book. “Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad,” I told him. I neglected to inform him the book was over 130 years out of date.

When he asked the Japanese their nationality, I was surprised when they said “Thai.” I later learned that every climber from the “Land of the Rising Sun” goes up the pyramid Japanese but comes down Thai or some other Asian nationality whose country doesn’t have the economical means to sustain its citizenry in paying off large bribes. Typically, Japanese are favorite targets of Egyptian hustlers, guards, and touts who like to relieve them of large amounts of money.

Disappointed with the “Thai-ness” of his three Asian detainees, the captain left. After sitting around for another half hour, we finally just got up and left as well. The guards made minimal protests to our departure. They go through this little routine just about every morning so they were not too concerned. We were confidant they wouldn’t shoot us but, just in case, I bravely made sure Greg and the Japanese were blocking me from the guards’ line of fire as we walked away.


Sunset at the Pyramids

July 27, 2007 Posted by | ancient egypt, Blogroll, cairo, cheops, egypt, giza, Graham Hancock, great pyramid, japan, khufu, Mark Twain, pyramids, sphinx, travel | 3 Comments

   

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