Travel Series: My First Camel Ride

This travel series will be made up of stories from the places I have been lucky enough to visit over the years. I am starting with this tale of my first camel ride, which happened in Cairo back in 2004. This was the first trip I had taken outside of North America, and we had stopped off in Egypt for a week on our way to our archaeological field school in Jordan.

The camel ride we took was organised by our hostel and turned out to be less then legal, but provided me with that pivotal experience that gave me my perpetually itchy feet. I wrote this account a couple of years ago, but have never published it anywhere; its a bit cheesy, but I hope you will enjoy it.

My First Camel Ride: Cairo, June 2004

It was my first day in Egypt, my first time outside of North America and my first time riding a camel. I was ecstatically excited about the first two and I was decidedly terrified of the third.

I was perched atop this massive beast, trying to grip the basketball sized horn on the otherwise restraint-free saddle, when it started to run across the wide open desert of the Giza plateau. ‘This is it,’ I thought, ‘this is how I am going to die; falling head first off a camel in the shadow of the pyramids.’

Though I will never know how, I managed to stay upright as we pulled up to the back of the largest of the pyramids. It is an almost indescribable feeling watching your own hand reach out and touch the ancient stone; as an archaeologist I was in heaven, forgetting all about the near death experience which took me there; it was worth it.

As we turned to leave, I took one look at my earlier transportation and froze. I was hesitant to climb back up to what would undoubtedly be certain death.  As a twist of fate, my travel companion, who had made the earlier trip by horse, offered to switch mounts; it seems she wanted to ride the camel. Well, I wanted to ride the horse; the tiny, minuscule horse with stirrups and reins. The deal was made.

We made our way back toward the Cairo skyline, with me following up at the back of the group on my unhurried steed. I watched as those ahead of me crested a hill in the sand and disappeared down the other side.  I looked back at the pyramids behind me; it was at this moment I realized I was alone, surrounded by desert sand and dwarfed by the immense ancient structures at my back. It was quiet, none of the sounds from the city penetrated out through the sand.  I could have been at any point in time;  at any point in the vast history of these Wonders. As if continuing my trek over the hill wouldn’t find my friends, but would instead find some intrepid team of 1920s archaeologists or Napoleon’s army
camped out under the head of the Sphinx.

It was at this point I discovered my love for travel. All dangers and discomforts are paled by the feeling I felt sitting alone in that Egyptian desert. It is a feeling I will chase for the rest of my life.

Our camels at Giza

New Series: My favourite Artefacts

Archaeologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

I love early archaeologists – Or I suppose I should say antiquarians. The greats of the early age – Heinrich Schliemann,  Howard Carter, and Sir Arthur Evans for example. They used no proper scientific methods by any stretch of the imagination; And they probably did more damage to the sites they excavated than good. But their passion and their excitement over the past is what affects all us crazy archaeologists – and we are crazy – In a good way 🙂

These are a few artefacts in particular, which illustrate the lack of scientific method, or logical deduction used by these early archaeologists.

The Mask of Agamemnon, which was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae in 1876. This hammered gold mask was labeled as the burial mask of the legendary king of Mycenae, largely because Schliemann WANTED it to be Agamemnon’s. He had virtually no evidence whatsoever (and it’s authenticity to the site is even questioned).

Who was this man really?

The Queen’s Throne, which was found on the Island of Crete at the site of ancient Knossos.  Was restored in 1930 by Sir Arthur Evans. That this is a Queen’s throne is skeptical; is it even a throne?  Evans’ evidence for the reconstruction was tenuous at best.

"Queen's Throne Room," Knossos

Howard Carter literally ripped the wrapping from King Tutankhamun’s face in his excitement to remove his gold burial mask after discovering his tomb in 1922.

Tutankhamun's burial mask

Though we find many cringe worthy elements about these men today. I find it hard to blame them for their faults. Looking back with hindsight – we know what they were doing wrong. However, like with any profession, there were some growing pains and lessons learned. Their methods may be outdated – and sometimes questionable, but their enthusiasm created those of us who follow in their footsteps.

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