On the Places You'll Go: Part 2
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." -Mark Twain
One of the things glassy photos in travel guidebooks fail to convey is the smell of new experiences. One of our first stops in Cairo was the renowned Spice Market. I will never forget the smell of dusty raw meat mixed with turmeric and strawberry flavored hashish, surrounded by vibrant colors baking under the hot desert sun. The effect is stunning, visceral, and other worldly. We then visited the Great Pyramids of Giza. For any of you who have it on your bucket list, I absolutely recommend a trek into one of the pyramid burial chambers. Be warned of another delectable punch to your olfactory receptors: people have been peeing in the pyramids for about 2000 years and it is hot (~90 °F/35°C). The crawl spaces are about 1.5 m so it is a tight squeeze for my fellow claustrophobics, but a once in a life time experience. I would also recommend riding a camel. They are big and awkward and lopping, but so worth the experience. Advice: even if you are a starving student, rent your own camel. Don't ride double with another person, even if they are another small Asian woman.
Sadly, globalization has reached this iconic tourist destination. Most images of the Sphinx look westward, giving the impression Giza is located in the remote Egyptian desert, away from the urban development of Cairo. I was shocked, and more than a little heart broken to see a Pizza Hut located just in front of the Great Sphinx (http://i.imgur.com/TajV0.jpg).
From Cairo, our little band of budding wayward archaeologists hopped on the overnight train to Aswan Dam where we hired a felucca (a large flat-bed, one mast boat) to sail down the Nile to Alexandria. I turned 21 while smoking my first (and last) Cuban cigar on that boat, away from internet cafes and pay phones (in the days before smart phones). I don’t know if it was that particular day, or some of the following spent eating fresh fish caught out of the river, sleeping under the stars, surrounded by my adventure seeking comrades. Or while we were drinking Irish whiskey, discussing lost civilizations and the rise and fall of the great Egyptian rulers, but somewhere on that journey I realized I had found my "why": this was going to be my life. Although the shape and direction of my research has changed slightly since that momentous birthday, the heart and soul behind what I do has not. I want to see new things and visit new places. I want to smell and taste and experience, to learn and study the past and use insights to inform healthier, more sustainable ways of living. I want to educate and inspire people to observe, to be curious, to ask better questions and if I am lucky, help others to find their "why" too.