Abusir is not one of the classic, must-see sights of Egypt. As one of my characters observes, “No one says ‘I want to see Abusir before I die.” The pyramids there are 100 years younger than those in Giza, but in much worse condition. I can just hear some Ancient Egyptian bean-counter saying over 4600 years ago, “It doesn’t matter what it looks like underneath since we’ll be covering everything with high-grade limestone. Trust me!” Since I had set a key scene there and was quite attached to the setting, I had to go. But when we arrived, the parking lot was empty. The monument was clearly closed despite an announcement by the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) that Abusir was now open to the public.
After watching my sister Liz in action, Kurt and I were ready to bargain our way in. Three men, who were sitting in a spot of shade stood up as we arrived.
“Abusir is closed,” one man said.
“Can we see it anyway?” I asked.
“Okay. For three hundred. One hundred, one hundred, one hundred,” the same man said, pointing first to himself and then to the two other caretakers. That would have been about 60 or 70 dollars. I would have paid it for the sake of the book.
“Fifty for both of us,” my husband Kurt countered. “It costs seventy to get into Giza.”
“Fifty?” The man protested. “But Abusir is closed.”
We finally settled on 100 L.E. for both of us. That’s probably more than a week’s pay for them.
The leader sent us off with one of his subordinates who would give us a tour and keep an eye on us. At that point, Kurt announced that we were down to 15 pictures. “I told you I needed another memory card.” (He’d started the day with 143 pictures; I had thought it would be enough.)
As the tour went on, I’m afraid that Ahmed was left with the impression that Kurt was the most henpecked man in America married to a strange and headstrong woman as I selected the shoots I needed for the book. “No, not that,” I would say of a perfect tourist shot and then ask for shots of power lines and a hill of sand.
We started by climbing up the causeway to Sahure’s pyramid first and looked around the ruins of his funerary temple.
The Head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) had also announced that only Egyptologists would be allowed inside the pyramids of Abusir from that time on. I guess that Ahmed didn’t get the memo because he unlocked the gate and led us inside. Yes, it was the crumbling pyramid of Sahure, but it was a pyramid nonetheless.
From the entrance of the tomb, we could look north to th pyramids of Giza. They were over ten miles away, but it was an exceptionally clear day.
From my study of Abusir through the internet, I figured that my characters would come at the mastaba of Ptahshepses through the back.
My characters needed to go through the gap in the sand where the top of Ptahshepses’ mastaba is visible. Out of sight on either side are the pyramids of Sahure and Nyuserra.
Ahmed was about to lead us to Nyuserre’s pyramid, but I pointed to the mastaba of Ptahshepses. “I need to go there,” I said. It was my top priority. He shrugged.
We found a tomb guard sitting on a gap in the wall. “Money,” Achmed said.
“How much?” I asked him.
“Twenty,” he said.
I didn’t feel like arguing and Kurt seemed to think that this was fair, so we handed over the bill and climbed over the 4400-year-old wall. Very exciting. I was sure the Head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities would not approve.
I continued to point out shots for Kurt to take of a courtyard with twenty massive square pillars, but I knew we were getting low. Then Ahmed took us back to where we could see the sarcophagi of Ptahshepses and his wife. We leaned over another wall to look at them. Then Ahmed opened a door, grinned and waved. The opening was small enough to make a claustrophobic take a step back. We’d been in a few tight spots when visiting the mastabas at Giza and the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but the best way down this rather steep, stone slope was the crab walk. A few seconds later, we were standing next to the sarcophagi where I’m sure no tourists were supposed to go. Take that, Head of the SCA.
“Picture?” Achmed asked.
“No,” I said ruthlessly, knowing that if we had pictures to burn that Kurt would have already been clicking away.
Finally, Achmed led us out of the mastaba. We went over a different wall and walked along the top. We turned to look at the pillars casting long shadows across the courtyard. The mound-like pyramid of Nyuserra rose up behind it.
“Picture?” Achmed asked.
“Yes,” I said.
I had originally thought that my characters would come in through the front door of the mastaba’s temple. But now I knew that they’d have to go in over the wall much as my husband and I had. Details like this were why I had to go to Egypt to research the book. With my first book, DEFENDING IRENE, I’d essentially lived on location in Merano, Italy. My family had visited many places in Tuscany for SAVING THE GRIFFIN.