All Access: Egypt

There are parts of Cairo, Egypt which are strictly 2007 -- gleaming buildings, flashy cars, everyone carrying a cell phone. But just a few miles out of town, you immediately turn back the calendar by 4500 years as you approach the Great Pyramids at Giza.

Dave Price brought San Franciscan Melanie Damm, 26, with him on an All-Access weekend fantasy getaway to Egypt and her first vision of the Sphinx left her breathless. "It's just so different seeing pictures, and being here and seeing how huge the Pyramids are -- it's just beautiful," she said.

She, Dave and his band of merry travel elves were accompanied by Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and the world's foremost expert on the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx that guards them.

He led them close enough to the Sphinx that they could touch it. As they examined the ancient structure, Hawass explained, "It's like it's recorded all the secrets of our past. Everything is hidden in his mind. He is looking at the future of the world, in my opinion . . . The sphinx to me is not a stone. It's a living stone."

He led them in a tunnel that goes 45 feet into the Sphinx. And later, they saw an active excavation site of the tombs of the Pyramid builders. "This is not our past as Egyptians, it's your history," he said. "It is the history of mankind. And this is why we have to guard this history. Because if you don't have history, you have no future."

He showed the group some hieroglyphics which explain the ancient Mummy's curse: for centuries, people have believed that anyone disrupting an ancient Egyptian tomb would be cursed by the mummy inside. "What he's saying here," Hawass said in a strangely prescient remark, "is if anyone touches my tomb, he will be eaten by an alligator, a crocodile, a hippo and a lion."

It's hard to compare anything to the sights of the Great Pyramids, but Melanie was almost as overwhelmed when, after dinner, she checked into her suite at the Four Seasons First Residence. She was carried into her 6000- square foot suite on a litter, with musicians, dancers and more waiting to entertain her. Though she's hardly a head of state -- Damm works for a non-profit agency and volunteers in her community in her spare time -- she was treated as an honored guest. "This is a big deal," she said emotionally. "No one has ever treated me like I was this special -- it's so nice."

The following morning, the group set off for Luxor, one of the world's greatest open-air museums and where many of the ancient Egyptian Pharoahs were buried in majestic tombs. The magnificent temple of Luxor, on the banks of the Nile, features the tombs of King Tut and Ramsses. In fact it was as they approached the tomb of Ramsses the Ninth that they were reminded of the curse of the mummy when their $75,000, state-of-the-art camera stopped dead, for no apparent reason.

Perplexed, Dave, Melanie and the crew drove around until they found a TV repair shop in the tiny village of Quorna. Massimo, the cameraman, used sign language to explain the problem. Patiently, the owner worked with him and they soldered two small parts back together. And as quickly as the high-tech machinery was broken, it was back running. No limbs were lost, no crocodiles approached -- but it felt very spooky.

After the unexpected stop, everyone was in the mood for some fun. Next on the agenda was a trip down the Nile on a fallukah, one of the traditional boats that have been used since the time of the pharoahs. It was a relaxing end to a rushed trip -- for Melanie Damm, the trip of a lifetime.