Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cairo's other pyramids emerge

The National (Rebecca Bundhun)

If you follow the Nile south of the smog of Cairo, and drive on for about 40km past the occasional donkey and herd of goats before heading west out into the desert, two large pyramids eventually come into view.

These are a long way from the famous Pyramids of Giza, which are right on the edge of Cairo, have a KFC and Pizza Hut on their doorstep, and attract millions of tourists each year.

Still, some 100,000 visitors make the journey annually to the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid, more than an hour from the city. Most only spend a couple of hours at the site before returning to Cairo.

But now all that could change with a multimillion-dollar eco-lodge and sustainable tourism project to try to get tourists to spend more time and money in the rural villages in Dahshur. This will help to reduce poverty in the communities through training the locals to work in the tourism sector. The plan is supported by the United Nations and Egypt's government.

Huffington Post (Andrew Burmon)

With photos and slideshow

The only English words heard in Said Gomaa's coffee shop are expletives shouted by the action stars blasting their way through a satellite network's afternoon feature. The TV hangs on a braided hemp wall that lets in the fertile smell of the farm next door.

"I would like tourists to come in greater numbers, but they have not come since the revolution," says Gomaa, 26, in Arabic.

He seems anxious. Unlike his nearby clothing stores or his share in a local sand and gravel mine, Gomaa's cafe in downtown Dahshur, a Cairo exurb, represents something of a gamble. He is betting that tourists will be willing to venture off the well-beaten path between Cairo and Giza, that they want more from their visits to the pyramids than snapshots and souvenirs.

If he's right, Gomaa will become a notable person, a young leader who helped Egypt usher in a new age of sustainable tourism, but his vision remains radical.

To appreciate just how radical, drive a little farther. Only a mile or so after passing the cafe and the concrete heart of town, the ribbon of pavement weaves past an empty parking lot, an oil refinery, the short dunes marking the edge of the Sahara and the two oldest pyramids in Egypt. The road is as empty as the desert.

Dahshur has a 4,600-year-old miscalculation to thank for its ancient endowment.

No comments: