- Things that happened 100 years ago: World War One
- Things that happened 500 years ago: a lost sailor “discovered” the Americas
- Things that happened 1,000 years ago: a kinda Anglo-Saxon and an Anglo-Saxon fought it out at the Battle of Hastings
- Things that happened 2,000 years ago: a very naughty boy was born
- Things that happened 5,000 years ago: the pyramids were built in Gyza
Without going too over-the-top about the passage of time since the pyramids were built, it really is hard to truly compute how different the world, and life, must have been when they were built. And therefore quite how staggering a feat it was to have been able to build them (even though, once you put our casual colonial racism aside, Egypt did have a fully cultured and intelligent society at the time). 4,000 years later, we were still in mud huts in parts of Europe. Our childhood lives (no internet!! Or Gameboys, Mum…) already seem so quaint and alien. This was another 4,975 years prior. Nuts.
Anyway, before I talk about the pyramids, a word on running in Cairo: don’t.
For all of the amazement which the pyramids can offer, Cairo. Is. A. Dump. When I left Jakarta, I never thought I’d come across somewhere worse to run. I was wrong. Cairo is horrible: polluted, dusty, noisy, dirty, crowded, treeless…
From the second you get into the city, every highway, road or backstreet is clogged by cars, motorbikes and lorries, with all of them honking, beeping, tooting and honking again: it just never stops. Ever. A report I saw said the noise pollution daily average is 85 decibels. 85! A jackhammer is only 100!
With 20 million citizens, a huge crumbling industrial sector and the desert dust, Cairo is ranked as one of the most polluted in the world and is at the top of most lists for PM10 and PM2.5 particulates pollution (which is the really bad stuff). A few days were enough, god knows what a lifetime of living there would do to your body.
So, with all this said, any sensible person would spend the day indoors and NOT go running around town.
I guess I’m not sensible.
Actually, this was downright stupid. I managed a 4km loop around Zamalek in the town centre. In those 20 acrid minutes which caked my nostrils in dark snot, I unsurprisingly got a chest infection which took another 10 days to shake off (and messed up my marathon a bit). Running in Cairo? Just don’t.
So, the pyramids: they are only 20km out, but have a lot better (well, less bad!) air. I’ll skip writing detailed comments about the pyramids and the sphinx but, to echo what most people will say:
- the pyramids are huge and very impressive;
- they are surprisingly close to town; the camels and horses are in terrible shape:
- don’t use them; despite the “don’t climb” signs, guides will happily help you up onto the pyramids or into tombs for a few euros;
- the Sphinx is pretty small; and,
- look out for scams.
There were plenty of tourists there but not many runners. One might even suspect that it’s a bit of a weird thing to go running around the pyramids, especially in peak sunshine at noon. It certainly was but … runners be runners right.
By this point, we’d been walking around the pyramids for a few hours and were at the lowest point of the site, near the Sphinx. I left my bag with an increasingly dehydrated Pippa and my colleague Emmeline and ran up the causeway towards the pyramid of Khafre (the one with the little hat on top). A full 80m of climb over the first kilometre on sand and rock under the pounding 30C sun almost gave me a heart attack but I kept going up towards the viewpoints a kilometre or so further away from the pyramids, though I did have to stop at one point to shield myself from a sand cloud caused by a … landing helicopter!
Every now again, a few tourists gave me some side glances and a few guides chuckled and tried to convince me to use their mistreated camels instead, which I politely declined. Overall, I was generally speaking not bothered by anyone.
Not too surprisingly, the roads were pretty quiet (finally!!) so it was nice to be able to move a bit without pouring fumes down my gullet. Naturally, there were other ways to get to the viewpoint (a car, for a start) but, for all the gimmickness of going for a run here, this run actually served a purpose and I saw stuff I otherwise wouldn’t have seen!
After a brief stop to take in the scenes (this wasn’t a race), I turned around and headed back. As I went downhill along the main road which cuts in between the two largest pyramids, it’s impossible not to have one of those moments when you picture almost 5 millennia (!) of civilizations and cultures doing a similar route, with similar yet different views. In those days, there may have only been sand, camels and horses (wait, hang on…). Anyway, without getting too gooey, it’s most certainly one of the most striking settings I’ve ever run through. Lots of pharaohmones flowing through my veins at that point (sorry, I had to).
In the end, by the time I reached Pippa and Emmeline hiding in the shadow of a pyramid, my loop turned out to be bang on 5km. In other unrelated news, there are no parkruns in Egypt. I’m just saying … #gizaparkrun2020
So that was pretty much that for running in Egypt. Partly amazingly fun, and partly downright dangerous. Sadly, as per the 4,500 year-old hieroglyph below, Ramses and Tutankhamen had clearly already sussed it all out when it comes to running outdoors in Cairo: don’t. Stick to the treadmill.
Time: 22.30 (5km)