What I Learned by Visiting the Egyptian Pyramids
I recently quit my day job, sold my house, put all my belongings in storage and set out to wander the world. Part of the whole purpose of this insane plan was to see as much of the world as possible. I also wanted to do it in a way that was more leisurely and more authentic than as a mere tourist. To that end, my plan was (and is) to go to a place and stay there for several weeks to several months. To basically “live” there short term and really get to see it more like a local.
That doesn’t mean I will completely avoid the well-known tourist spots that each place is known for.
My first stop on this grand adventure is a month in Cairo. No visit to Egypt would be complete without going to see the pyramids. Luckily, I found a group of expats who had basically self-arranged their own guided group tour. I was able to jump in and join them for the princely sum of EGP£100 (about US$5.60). Plus the admission fee to get into the area at Giza which cost me another EGP£120 (US$6.72).
The pyramids surprised me a little for the fact that the city of Cairo essentially butts right up against them. They are not out in the middle of the desert, as one might assume. In fact, right outside one of the gates is a Pizza Hut and a KFC. (I find that incredibly depressing.)
The Great Pyramid lives up to its name. I estimate that it’s at least as tall as an eight story building. It is huge! By comparison, the Sphinx is merely large. It is perhaps as tall as a three story building.
Because it’s made from soft limestone and could be relatively easily damaged, tourists aren’t allowed to right up next to the Sphinx. It is completely fenced off, but there is a walkway that provides an excellent vantage point.
In the eyes of Egyptians, all foreigners are rich. The whole place is mobbed with “vendors” hawking every kind of souvenir and bauble you can imagine. Like all Egyptian merchants I have met so far, they will never make you feel threatened or in any danger but they will be incredibly, annoyingly persistent in trying to sell you whatever it is they have to sell. Many will even use some pretty unseemly tactics.
While entering the area, we were waved over three times by men in official-looking uniforms. They looked like police. In fact, they were tour guides simply trying to get us to stop so they could sell us on a guided tour. Luckily, our Uber driver was a local and spoke fluent Arabic. So he helped us dodge that scam. I also had people push “gifts” into my hands, onto my head and even open my camera bag and stuff them inside. After I “accepted” their gift, they then began with the sob story about how they have 7 children to feed and could I just make a small donation so their children wouldn’t have to go yet another day with nothing to eat.
Thankfully, even though this was a self-organized tour, the group was being led by a local. Again, being local and having the ability to speak fluent Arabic meant that he was fairly effective at chasing away these hucksters. (Several members of our group did buy souvenirs but did it because they chose to do so and not because they were coerced into it.)
There are also a lot of camels, donkeys and horses around. These are mainly for tourists to ride on or pose for photos with. The donkeys and horses are also commonly used to pull carts; sometimes with tourists, other times loaded with cargo. (I did not ride or exploit these poor animals.)
It is possible to go inside the Great Pyramid, but not to take cameras in with you. Going inside costs an additional EGP£280 (US$15.69) though, by all accounts, there is nothing inside but empty corridors. The appeal is simply to be able to say that you’ve been inside one of the pyramids.
I did learn some interesting tidbits about the pyramids. For instance, the deepest recesses of the Great Pyramid are made from red granite that was quarried in upper Egypt and floated down the Nile on barges. Also, all the pyramids at Giza are laid out so that they align with the stars in the consolation Orion.