It’s done. The Pyramids of Egypt, the only Wonder of the Ancient World that still stands, can be scratched off my To-Do list.
So how did they measure up?
They were magnificent. How the hell they managed to build those things so many thousands of years ago is way beyond my understanding.
The Sphinx on the other hand was a slight let-down: I thought it would be much bigger. Apparently it was, originally – centuries and centuries of sun, sand, and wind have worn it down to a fraction of its original size.
To avoid the tourist rush as much as possible, Mike and I grabbed a taxi to the Pyramids first thing in the morning – somewhere around 7am.
A random Egyptian from the street also hopped into the cab. A friend of the driver.
It only took twenty minutes or so before the first of the pyramids appeared on the horizon. I never expected them to be so close to the city! All the pictures I’ve seen make it look like they’re out in the middle of the barren desert – but the truth is that the desert is just barren behind the pyramids – Cairo literally goes right up to them. You can practically see into some nearby apartment buildings from the foot of the largest.
Quite a view those guys must have from their livingroom windows.
The cab pulled into a small alley that Mike and I assumed couldn’t possibly lead to the pyramid site’s main entrance. “Yes, this is the way!” our driver assured us.
We pulled into a parking space and he let us out. “The entrance is just down at the end of the road – taxis can’t go any farther, but it’s very close” he said.
As soon as we got out we realized we’d been scammed.
He’d dropped us off at his friend’s place – a shop for camels and donkeys. “You can ride a camel from here to the pyramids” a nearby man was quick to shout.
We rushed back to the cab just as it was about to drive away.
“Excuse me, we asked you to take us to the main entrance not to a donkey rental shop. We’re not renting a donkey.”
“It’s very close to the pyramids.”
“Then take us there, like we agreed.”
He gave us a slight groan of discontent and beckoned us back inside to drive us to the proper location.
This was the first little scam in a continuous stream that lasted the next four or five days. By the time we finished up in Luxor, Mike and I had gotten so fed up with peoples’ dishonest efforts to get money from us that we were pretty much ready to leave Egypt. At first I’d thought that Brazil had it bad with ripoffs, but after a few weeks in Egypt I’ve realized how incredibly much worse it is over here. Cops, taxi drivers, everyone – they just try to filter as much cash as they possibly can. 99% of the time it doesn’t matter how genuine or kind they seem – the ripoff almost invariably comes.
Some of the other Birthright travelers mentioned to me that while traveling in Petra, they’d met some American students who’d been studying in Cairo. They told me how jaded these students seemed – how irritated and frustrated they appeared when almost anyone talked to them. I couldn’t understand why. But now I get it. If I had to deal with this stuff every day for a year I think I’d snap.
Two examples just from the pyramids:
1) There are Bedouin on camels walking all over the pyramid grounds. Should one accidentally find his way into the frame of your photo, he’ll rush over and pester you for a tip until you give him one. Alright, fine…just make sure they’re not in your photos, right?
But how about the way they come up to you every ten seconds and try to grab your camera to take a picture of you, then insisting you give them a tip? Or when they just start wrapping their headdress on your head and tugging you onto their camel? How about when you give them a dollar or two just to get them to leave you alone and they refuse to accept it, insisting that you give them more money – for something you never even asked for? Or how about when they follow you for twenty minutes pestering you to ride their camel – “just five pounds for an hour, special price for you.” Then when you’ve finished your ride they tell you “Oh, I meant five BRITISH Pounds – that comes to 55 Egyptian Pounds.”
2) There are signs all over the three Great Pyramids that say “No Climbing.” You used to be able to climb to the top, but they put an end to that sometime in the 80’s, I think. The three small pyramids in the area, however, have no such signs. Mike and I decided to try our luck.
Sure enough, shortly after reaching the top we heard a whistle from a nearby guard. We climbed down and apologized – we really had seen another group of tourists up there just a few minutes earlier. The guard stood there like he wanted something, but he didn’t speak a word of English. He kept telling us “No climbing!” and indicating like he was going to arrest us. We pretended not to understand that he was looking for a bribe. Eventually he just gave up and wandered off.
It gets really, really old.
When we first entered the grounds of the pyramids, there were virtually no other tourists. It felt very weird – surreal almost. “Shouldn’t a sight of this caliber be swarming with tourists?
The buses arrived soon enough, but it was very nice to have the place to ourselves for that first hour or two. Major tourist destinations should always be visited right at opening time, before the big air-conditioned buses start pulling up.
Inside the pyramids it was suffocatingly hot. Long, thin tunnels angling up into a small room – a tomb in the very center, holding a single sarcophagus. Creepy.
No cameras were allowed inside, but we managed to get some photos anyway – by checking my larger SLR and sticking Mike’s compact camera in my pocket 🙂
“A little money for me?” asked the woman whose job it was to hold onto everyone’s cameras so they couldn’t bring them inside.
On the way out we stopped in “The Boat Museum” to see the oldest known boat in the world. I guess it was buried to provide the pharaoh transportation in the afterlife.
Then we took the metro back to the hotel. The ticket salesman broke my 20 with a massive pile of small bills. Before putting anything in my wallet, I stepped aside and began counting. I counted once. It came up short. I looked up at him. He looked at me. I counted it again. I looked up at him again. He held out the exact amount that was missing.
Alright, this is starting to get ridiculous.