This is the classic Egypt experience, right here!
We got up early on the morning we planned to go to the pyramids, and took a local bus to Giza, which has become a part of Cairo, since the city has expanded so much since ancient times. Taking the city bus was a great decision, since it was much cheaper and much faster than we’d anticipated. Warning, before you try to do this yourself, it’s very helpful to learn the written Arabic numbers from 1-10, as Latin numbers are not common on city buses, which could make it more challenging to find the bus you need. Anyway, we had those numbers down in no time, so we were good to go!
We arrived a short walk from the entrance gates at about 7:30 am, about 30 minutes before they opened. As we walked to the gates, we got our first glimpse of pyramids, over the wall of the Giza golf course.
From the moment we entered the park, which was well before most of the tourist crowds arrived, we were bombarded with opportunities to make our time in Giza more memorable: camel rides (or photos with camels), horse rides, horse-drawn cart rides, authentic Arab-style head coverings, and lots of opportunities for souvenir purchases (key chains, bookmarks, postcards, paperweights in the shapes of the pyramids and the Sphinx, and, rather unexpectedly, even memory cards). We discovered a new level of persistence in the vendors/touts we encountered too — we quickly learned to anticipate some of their tricky techniques. In the time that it took to snap this photo (on a camel, with a head-covering), we learned a lot about some of the tricky ways of the sales people here. We won’t go into detail, but just warn you to be on your guard when you go…
In the end we declined all offers for camel/horseback/cart tours, decided to do a walk around the area ourselves. Several times we laughingly rethought our decision, thinking it might have been good to go around on a camel or horse after all, since once you become a customer of one of the vendors, the rest stop bothering you. Certainly it’s possible to get the prices to a reasonable level, and if you’ve never been on a camel before, it’s a fun thing to do, though not necessarily the most comfortable ride you could ever have… Anyway, since we’d already ridden camels in India,we decided to just walk ourselves this time.
Our mouths were probably agape more of the time we wandered around — the pyramids are absolutely amazing. To think about how long they have been around, and how well preserved they still are, is absolutely mind-boggling! We were so happy to have arrived early, because it meant we had some time basically alone with the pyramids before the tour groups arrived.
A lot of people decide to enter one of the pyramids, since you can pay a fee to go in. We ended up not going in for a variety of reasons, mostly, because the ticket office doesn’t tell you anywhere in English, that you have to pay for the pyramid entry at the gate, and not at the pyramid itself. We didn’t know that, so we just paid our park entry, and walked in to the pyramid complex. Then, when we got to one of the pyramids we thought we might like to enter, they told us we had to walk all the way back to the gate to buy a ticket. Well, considering how hot it had become, we decided maybe going into one of the pyramids wasn’t such a big priority for us. In the end, we are happy we didn’t go in, as we heard it was even hotter, and quite cramped inside, with not much to see, because tomb raiders had stolen most of the treasures, and the rest was in the museum of Egyptian Antiquities, in Cairo. And anyway, we got to see some better stuff inside another pyramid complex, Saqqara later in the day, that wasn’t even officially ready for public viewing. More about that in the next blog post…
Anyway, we ended up spending most of our time in Giza wandering around, snapping photos, and imagining what it would have been like in the past. What was it like when these wonders were constructed, and, more recently, what was it like living your life in Cairo, having such huge monuments tower just a few miles from your city and your everyday life?
When we made it to the Sphinx, we queued up to enter again, and were once again tricked by one of the sneaky guys there… He told us he needed to check our ticket, and before we knew it, we found ourselves on a tour with him. As a result, we have some of those cheesy Sphinx photos…
Of course, we have dozens more photos we could put in here, but we’ll leave it with these. The pyramids are completely spectacular, and definitely a must-see. However, the Egyptian government could do a lot more to maximize their opportunity here, for example, offer entrance to the pyramids at the actual entrances of the different pyramids… It does seem like some changes are being made. We read a sign while we were there that said that some of the old roads that took tour buses right between the pyramids (and spoiled the desert views) were being removed, and new, nicer and more out-of-the-way roads were being constructed. That’s a decent start.
Anyway, we enjoyed our stroll around so close to such behemoths, both physically, and through history. We’re so thankful to have had such a neat opportunity!