Regular visitor to Egypt Jo Buchanan is used to well laid plans going awry. But the prophetic date of 11.11.11 posed a unique challenge.
"Experience Egypt in ways that normal tourists never do - join us in meditations and private ceremonies in some of the most amazing locations on the planet, including inside the Great Pyramid on 11:11:11."
That's what our website announced, describing an upcoming tour to Egypt. In the 16 years I have been escorting groups to Egypt, we have always included a meditation inside the Great Pyramid. The privilege has always been voted the highlight of our tours. But this trip would be different. We would be inside on 11:11:11.
Seventeen of us set off from Australia on October 31 and right from the start began receiving unexpected gifts from the Universe. Due to our tour guide Sarwat's friendship with archaeologists working on a newly excavated temple, we were granted permission to visit the restricted site. Walking through the outer compound, we marvelled at piles of ancient clay urns. We entered a crypt in which wall murals retained their original, exquisite colour due to protection from air and sunlight for thousands of years. And unbelievably, we were given permission to take photographs, as long as we didn't use a flash.
One evening we descended underground, into the tomb of Ramses V1 in the Valley of the Kings for a Planetary Healing meditation and past life regression. When we emerged two hours later, it was to discover that an enormous ring had been formed around the moon. The only other time I have witnessed such a phenomenon was on the first trip to Egypt 16 years ago after doing a planetary healing inside the Great Pyramid.
We visited the Temple of Isis in pre-dawn darkness to participate in a Dawn Ceremony and at Karnak Temple in Luxor, granted individual private time inside Sekhmet's Sanctuary for personal meditation.
As each extraordinary day surpassed the one before, everybody began gearing up for our Grand Finale inside the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid on 11:11:11.
By the 10th, the morale of the group was at its highest peak. But it was on this day, while driving in our mini bus, that the news broke. Sarwat received a message on his mobile phone that '2,000 Egyptians have attacked the great Pyramid. Giza Plateau has been closed.' We were instantly faced with the prospect of dashing everybody's dreams and principal reason for coming to Egypt.
Breaking the news to the rest of the group that we would not be entering the Great Pyramid as planned, I was overcome by the sea of shocked faces reflecting total disbelief.
As we continued to drive, more news flashes were released, the first being that a group of pagans from Poland had broken into the pyramid and tried to place a pentagram inside. This was followed by a report that one thousand Polish Jews had stormed the pyramid and hired a helicopter to attach the Star of David to its peak. Then it was revealed that the internet was rife with stories about groups converging from all corners of the earth to take part in evil rituals inside and around the pyramid on the 11th of the 11th. As a result, two thousand Egyptians had surged on to Giza Plateau to form a circle around their most famous national monument in an attempt to protect it. But they were doing so in a peaceful, prayerful manner, totally discrediting the initial false reports of an attack.
Notwithstanding, the final truth remained set in stone. The Great Pyramid and Giza Plateau were closed and would remain closed until the 12th.
We immediately set to work to organise something interesting to replace the original plan. For hours, we attempted to gain permission to enter the Egyptian Museum at night for a private meditation, but were unsuccessful. We tried to organise a trip to the Sakkara Pyramid, but this was impossible due to short notice. In desperation we inspected the roof of our hotel, which has a view of the three pyramids, but decided against it for a number of practical reasons. It looked as if the odds were well and truly stacked against us.
Then a new announcement was broadcast. The government had changed its mind about the plateau, declaring tourists could now visit the area on the 11th, but the pyramid would remain closed and the entire area would be patrolled by government secret service men, police and the military. A warning was issued that anyone showing any signs of attempting "evil rituals" would be arrested on the spot. Sarwat agreed to take us on the condition that we "act normal".
So we developed a plan. A quick phone call ensured the hire of 18 camels and arrangements were made to mount them at Giza Plateau in time to be well away from the crowds yet still in sight of the three pyramids for a discreet meditation on the edge of the desert.
Although we got a good laugh at Sarwat's repeated insistence to "act normal", his words made sense. The political and economic situation in Egypt was like a giant firework about to ignite anyway. Why do anything to create even the tiniest of sparks?
But as we entered the plateau on the morning of the 11th, we noticed among the milling tourists, a group of people wearing white from head to toe, becoming an instant magnet for attention. We guessed they'd be a spiritual group wanting to pray for world peace or to save the planet but the men in black wouldn't know that. They'd been warned of weird rituals being planned and had encircled the group, armed with guns and gesticulating into mobile phones. We continued on our way, fingers crossed, acting normal ......
Leaving the madding crowd behind, we followed one another astride our trusty dromedaries until we reached the edge of the Sahara and formed a circle. We couldn't be seen by anybody back at the plateau and at exactly 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th of the 11th 2011 we prayed for world peace and for the people of Egypt. Then after 45 minutes of quiet meditation, we gave thanks for the opportunity to convert what had initially been deemed a disaster into a magical experience we would never forget.
As our caravan of camels wended its way back to the plateau, the Islamic call to prayer wafted soulfully across the desert. Ruminating on how the highlight of our tour had blown up in our faces at the 11th hour, I was reminded of the saying, "If you want to make God laugh, start making plans." I was in awe of everyone's positive acceptance of our unexpected catastrophe and knew I was in the company of a group of spiritual people who, when tested, had truly walked their talk. Maybe God knew what he was doing after all.