Horsing about in the desert - from Giza to Sakkara

Pink, Princess and Apple (To’faa): it sounds like picnic of Barbie dolls rather than three horses heading out for the 35km round trek between Giza and Sakkara pyramids – from one of the world’s most touristy sites to its lesser known cousin. In fact, dating from 2650BC, Sakkara is the world’s oldest stone monument.

Unlike bygone days when most Egyptians can tell you how they scrambled all over the pyramids as school children, both sites are heavily policed now (Sakkara far less – the lack of infrastructure has preserved its peace somewhat) so you can’t physically start at one and finish at the other as the boundaries prevent you from doing so. But you can come close...

The horses were snippety and cross while being saddled, fidgeting when we mounted, To’faa tried to bite Princess, who in turn had her hoof ready to give someone, anyone, a kick. Pink just twitched a lot blinking her long lashes, which were black on one eye and white on the other, lending her a curiously random look – like you don’t know what she’ll do next. All very Clockwork Orange.

We headed off at 6.30am, when the massive ball of red sun was still rising at Cairo was still warming up to its frantic pace.

Unfortunately, the route's not all scenic. We had to cross a rock quarry with its busy trucks, cross and recross beneath massive electricity towers and pick our way through a mountain of rubbish in between stretches of empty desert. I left Pink her head to find the best route, and she took advantage of my lack of direction, interpreting it as I didn’t care if she walked the whole route.

The city of Giza, which sits alongside the city of Cairo, ends abruptly at the desert where the Pyramids begin. When you fly over it, it's like someone's drawn a line and said: sand here, palmtrees there. So our route skirted the edge of the greenery at times, or climbed into the barren desert, marked only by ancient ruins and electricity poles.

We stopped for tea in the Sakkara Country Club, watching enviously as a British woman on a mobile phone passed, iPod strapped to her bicep and clad in tight brown jodhpurs. She was astride a spectacular strutting bay gelding. Every inch of the pair gleamed and they really had a connection. “Pink, you could look like that,” I told her, to bolster her spirits. Pink looked at me like I was crazy.

There are said to be around 90 pyramids around Egypt, including the 20-odd pyramids here in Giza, Sakkara, which has 11 major pyramids alone.

There is one collection of step pyramids that isn’t hemmed in by fences, the pyramids of Abu Sir, according to a man in a gellibaya who it seems was sleeping on a wooden platform in the desert, morphing out of nowhere to chat and hold our horses.

I pushed Pink up the hill onto the first of the sites and, while I admired the architecture, I'm embarassed to admit that she crapped on its ancient stones.

The four crumbling pyramids of Abu Sir are between Giza and Sakkara, and date from 2494-2345BC, in the fifth dynasty, when Memphis was the capital of Egypt. My guidebook tells me the city was chosen as the symbolical point where the Nile Delta met the valley, unifying Upper and Lower Egypt.

From our vantage point up on the desert plateau above, you could never tell Memphis was such a grand city – donkeys towing massive loads compete for road space with enormous lorries, minibuses packed to the gills and the canal that runs down here is clogged with mountains of garbage, which doesn’t seem to deter keen fishermen and intrepid boys seeking respite from the summer heat.

We had a little photo shoot on our pyramid – it would take a return visit with guidebook in hand to work out where we were – and admired the three peaks of the Sakkara pyramids on the next hill, and turned our horses home.

We met a couple of old men watering four camels by a small stream, then saw later they had set up camp in the desert and were brewing tea. True Bedouins.

Pink was eager to get home so we galloped in our last breath of freedom. Our horses were taken by little boys who really should have been in school and I watched them hose Pink down: they put a finger over the nozzle to make the spray hard, and she stuck her face in the hose, letting it blast down the long white blaze on her nose.

The ride out to the Country Club took about two hours each way, and the ache kicked in even as we were driving home. Would I do it again? Tomorrow.

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