Alberto, the English-speaking taxi driver who picked me up at my hotel in Cairo, assured me that he could arrange whatever I needed. He had the connections. If I wished to go into the secret room in the leg of the Sphinx, he could arrange it. If I wanted to stay all night inside a Pyramid, like Napoleon had done more than a century ago, no problem. I explained that although his offers were tempting, what I really needed was to find a relatively flat road near the Pyramids where I could walk back and forth while balancing a pool cue on my finger. To set the Guinness record, I would have to perform the feat continuously for at least 5 miles, so it was also crucial that there be little or no traffic to distract me. Alberto smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s too easy", and within minutes, I was on horseback following a guide across the sand dunes towards the Pyramids of Giza.
I could hardly believe that I was finally in Egypt after dreaming of breaking a record there for almost 2 years. So what if there was a fierce wind and wind plays havoc with the pool stick, making it extremely difficult to balance? I would deal with that later. For now, everything was going smoothly. We had discovered a perfect road, only a half-mile from the Pyramids, and for some reason there was not a car in sight. When I returned to the taxi, Alberto cleared up the mystery. “Oh, that’s a restricted area", he cheerfully confided, “but don’t worry, we will go there by camel tomorrow and nobody will ever know. " “But Alberto", I protested, “we will need 3 camels for the judges from the Egyptian Athletics Federation, 3 camels for the reporters from the Reuters Press Agency, and 3 camels for me and my friends. How are you going to hide 9 camels from the police?" Alberto just smiled and insisted, “Don’t worry, have trust, my friend. "
It’s not that I didn’t trust Alberto, it’s just that I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk upsetting the Pyramid police department, again. Several years back, I was the fellow who decided on the spur of the moment, in broad daylight, to climb the Great Pyramid of Khufu. It was a thrill to ascend the massive stones, and when chunks of rock pulled off in my hand and crashed a hundred feet below, I felt like I was Indiana Jones for a day. I had a blissful meditation at the top, and experienced a profound peace looking out over the vast desert and hearing the distant sounds of the common folk living their daily lives. Unfortunately, on the way down, I found out that those sounds were actually coming from a crowd of people who had gathered to gawk at me! As I got closer, I heard someone shout, “Hurry up or you will be arrested and fined 50 pounds. " I scrambled down as fast as I could but it was too late. I was met by 3 angry policemen who were intent on escorting me to the station house.
While walking and worrying what would happen to me since I didn’t have enough money to pay the fine, a small pack of camels came in between me and my captors, and I considered making a run for it. In a flash, an image popped up in my mind’s eye of the police opening machine gun fire at my fleeing figure. It might have merely been my active imagination, but I quickly banished all thoughts of escape! On my second visit to Egypt, when I related the story of my arrest to Alberto, he became quite animated and said, “No, no, of course you cannot climb the Pyramids during the day, the police will catch you. Didn’t you see the ‘No climbing’ signs? You must climb at night. I can arrange everything. In fact, my nephew has the record for climbing the Great Pyramid. He climbed up and down in 11 minutes, in sandals. " I declined Alberto’s offer and told him the same thing I told the police captain upon my arrival at the station, “I guess I was so eager to climb that I didn’t see the signs, honestly. " To my relief, the captain seemed amused and waived the fine on the condition that he would never have the pleasure of seeing me in his office, ever again. And here I was planning to sneak a veritable caravan past him!
Fortunately or unfortunately, the camel project never got off the ground. When Aladin, the Reuters photographer, showed up at my hotel with his crew, he immediately vetoed the scheme. He was certain that we would get caught and thrown in jail. Instead, he recommended that we apply for a permit covering an alternate location, and we decided to take his wise advice. We all hopped into vehicles, a motorized caravan organized by none other than Alberto, and headed to a private parking area at Giza, outside the office of the Director of Antiquities. As it turned out, Aladin was the one who had all the connections. Within an hour we had a permit from the Director, an Egyptologist assigned to accompany us, and a police escort into a restricted zone. I was apprehensive about whether the new location the Director chose would be good enough, but when we arrived at our destination I was thrilled to discover that it was the exact same spot we were originally going to take the now unemployed camels to!
Just before the start, I meditated and tried to get into the spirit of an aphorism written by Sri Chinmoy that I had read recently, “Daring enthusiasm and abiding happiness can accomplish everything on Earth. " There was nothing I could do about the wind, which by this time had worsened, except just take it as an added challenge. We all had flights back home that evening and besides, there was no telling how many days it would be before the wind abated. Somehow, the more intense the wind blew the more joy I got. There were moments when I was actually laughing as I planted my feet in the midst of a massive gust and battled to keep the pool stick from flying off my finger. Even though I was dying to gaze out at the beautiful Pyramids shining in the distance, I couldn’t risk taking my eyes off the pool cue for even a split second. That is, until I reached the 5-mile point, when I said a silent prayer of gratitude and snuck a peek at the ancient wonders of the world.
I intended to go on for a while longer, but I suddenly noticed the judges preparing to leave. Trying not to break my concentration, I shouted, “Hey, please don’t go, I’m not finished yet!" My friend, Bipin, ironed out the communication mixup, but I knew the judges were tired, so I started jogging and made it just past the 7-mile mark before the pool cue became airborne.
When we returned to the hotel, Sanjaya, my friend from England who had come to video the event, suggested we celebrate my success by taking the camels we never got to ride back out to the Pyramids. In theory it was a great idea. However, once we were atop the desert animals, Sanjaya’s camel tripped on something and spooked Bipin’s young camel which began bucking like a bronco. It would have been quite comical if Bipin hadn’t been on the camel, holding on for dear life. In the meantime, my camel got frightened and took off on a gallop, which was surprising to me since I didn’t know camels could actually run. The frantic guide wasn’t much help since he was screaming at us in Arabic, and by the time the camel rodeo was over, Bipin was on the ground but miraculously unscathed. The harried guide traded Bipin’s camel for a horse and we eventually made it across the sand dunes in one piece. When we dismounted at the Pyramids, an attendant invited us to climb up a couple levels of stones to get a better view.
Touching the solid limestone blocks sent me into another world. All I could think about was Alberto’s nephew’s record. Eleven minutes is an incredible time. Could someone really climb up and down that fast? My legs were a bit tired, but should I try it anyway? And what about the police? Suddenly, I felt a firm hand on my shoulder. Intuiting my inner struggle, Sanjaya looked at me with sincere concern and said, “Come on, old boy, let’s go. You’ve had enough adventure for one day. " And then the three of us got back on our horse and camels and rode off into the magnificent Egyptian sunset.
Ashrita Furman has the record for breaking the most Guiness World Records (119) Ashrita also currently has the most records still standing - 44. Ashrita lives in Queens, NY where he is the manager of a Health Food Store. He has been a student of Sri Chinmoy for over 30 years.