They say that when you are about to die your whole life flashes before your eyes.
However, over the last 10 years of adventure, every time I knew for sure that I was finished, I had a different experience. One single important event from the past would pop into my head clear and bright, and stay there as time slowed down and I waited for the inevitable.
I was seeing re-runs when I took a taxi from Giza back to my Talaat Harb square at rush hour in downtown Cairo. It was a 30-minute ride of bumper cars, honking horns, and exhaust fumes, as we fought for position. My driver was an older family man, but I could tell by the madman’s 1000 yard stare in his eyes and the tongue sticking out in concentration that he was not doing this just for the money, he was enjoying it! I guess adrenaline addiction comes in all forms. He would yell random things in Arabic as we would speed around trucks in the wrong lane, and I would follow up with “Halleleauyah” or “al-hum-de-le-lah” when we would survive the maneuver. We made a good team and there was a revival in the car that day.
Prior to my taxi experience, I got up early and waked a couple of kilometers to the bus station. I passed up the opportunity to book a tour bus to the pyramids through my hostel. Sure, I could have rode in AC comfort with a bunch of other people that, like myself, had showered that morning, but there is something to be said about doing things yourself. The pyramids would be that much sweeter if I had to earn them by navigating this city and getting there myself. I was the only non-Arab guy for the extent of my journey, until the pyramids of course. I found someone that spoke enough English to write the bus numbers down for me in Arabic on a piece of paper, then seeing that there was no proper bus stop, I had to stand out on the very busy street until I found a bus with the squiggly lines that matched the ones on my paper. This was no easy feat, because there are a LOT of squiggly lines on a bus that is moving by at 40MPH. Ads, phone numbers, etc…eventually, I actually found the bus and confirmed with the driver “Giza”.
It was a 45 minute local bus ride, but only cost me 50 piasters (about .10 cents!!), quite a difference than the $30 through the tour company. Finally, I arrived at the base of the pyramids and stood in awe…
Not only in awe of the size, but in awe that I was still in the bloody city! I guess Hollywood has done the usual to my mind, but I had always expected to ride a camel across the desert for hours before reaching the pyramids. This is not the case, they actually stand right at the edge of Giza, a crowded Cairo suburb. The city stops and the pyramids begin, almost like a neighborhood park at the edge of town! As expected, the scams were plentiful….worse even than my Angkor Wat experience in Cambodia. I sang a song of “la Shu-kran” or “no thanks” the entire walk up to the ticket window. Entry to the plateau is only $10, but you have to pay an additional fee, sometimes as much as $15, to walk through each pyramid.
These things are impressive. I did my best to enjoy them despite the constant harassment by people offering animal rides, tours, and junk for sale. You can no longer climb the pyramids, but you can scramble around on some of the rocks and structures at the bottom of them. Tourists arrived bus after bus in the afternoon and swarmed the grounds like ants. There were many Americans, but I did not meet a single solo traveler, quite disappointing. The sun was merciful and the weather mild, I barely even broke a sweat walking between the giant monuments. I walked down to the Sphinx, which is actually much smaller than I expected! maybe after standing in the shadow of the pyramids for so long, it seemed more like a tamed stone pussycat than a ferocious, half-pharaoh, half-lion. I took dozens of pictures, and will post them when I can of course.
For anyone wishing to visit the pyramids themselves from Cairo, here is some information.
– Bus number 365 from Midan Abdel Riad which is the stop under the bridge behind the museum.
– 50 Piasters / 45 minutes one way
– You CAN take the Metro tube from the Sadat station to Giza, 1.5 pounds, but I did not.
– At the end of Harem road where the bus stops, walk up the hill and to the left. IGNORE everything and anything that moves, as I had people try to lead me to false ticket windows several times. They were from the stables and are trying to sell animal rides.
– Ignore the drivers and guides, you CAN walk the entire site, it is not as big as they say
– You cannot take cameras inside the pyramids, and there is no good check-in system so beware.
– ANY Arabic person or policeman that seems friendly and offers to take your picture will ask for Baksheesh (a tip) to get your camera back! Ask another tourist to do it instead.
– Anyone that comes up talking to you about the history of the area is not just being friendly, they will want money after they tell you what they know.
For anyone that wants to ride the animals:
Good luck. As bad as I wanted to ride a camel, the treatment that I saw appalled me. I saw a man beat his camel on the head with a stick for it to kneel, then he hit it one for good measure when the camel opened its mouth and bawled in protest. Later, I saw a horse take a fall on the sandy rocks and dump the small boy it was carrying. The boy jumped up, dusted himself off, and instead of checking the horses legs (it could have been a dead horse it hit so hard) he began whipping he hell out of it with his riding crop for being so clumsy. Despite how much I wanted to, I couldn’t support all of this.
My summary, be prepared to earn it, but experiencing the pyramids (the last surviving of the 7 original wonders of the world) is something that everyone has to do in their lifetime.