“I think he thinks we want the non-tourist tour!”, I said to Earl about half of the way into what definitely appeared to be a tour, despite our emphasizing on entering the Saqqara pyramid complex, that we did NOT want a tour. Apparently his English was just bad enough, or just good enough, depending on how you look at it, to interpret our “No tour, no tour” exclamations, as “Non-tourist,” or “Please take us to all the places tourists don’t get to see”.
After our visit to Giza, we had, with the help of a guy who spoke English and Arabic, managed to make a deal with a taxi driver to take us the 15km to the Step Pyramid, in the Saqqara complex, and then back to our hotel in the center of Cairo. After a few wrong turns and stops to ask directions (we had this twice in Cairo, cab drivers who couldn’t find their way to major tourist sights — what the heck?!?) we finally arrived.
When we arrived, we discovered three things: first, Saqqara had the same entry fee as Giza, which shocked us as it wasn’t nearly as popular; second, we were basically the only tourists there, which is a bonus for taking good pyramid photos and helped us feel better about the exorbitant entry fee; and third, the entire Step Pyramid, supposedly the first of the major pyramids built in Egypt, was surrounded by scaffolding, which made us feel a bit cheated out of our entry fee… Nevertheless, we found ourselves inside the complex, and since refunds don’t exist in the African world, we thought we’d make the best of it.
So this guy approached us to check our entry ticket, and since we had just been tricked into a tour by a guy using this method just hours earlier at Giza, we were quite adamant that we did not want a tour. He assured us in very broken English that he just needed to accompany us with the keys to open a door, so we assented. As we continued on, he very kindly offered a few explanations and pointed out a few things that we might otherwise miss.
We sure walked for a long time before those keys became necessary. Our “non”-guide led us through many doors, and they were all unlocked. There were a few guards along the way that we were encouraged to tip for their services… This turned out to be a rather costly tour, if you count all the “baksheesh” we had to part with on this “non”-tour!
Finally, we walked away from all the ruins around the pyramid, and past what looked like a couple of active archeological digs…
…before we entered another area that looked quite recently developed for tourists, though we weren’t sure if it was actually open for tourists yet. It was then that we realized that this was the Non-Tourist Tour. The developed area was really cool, and we were really impressed by the detailed carving and artwork we saw.
Then we left that area, after having given another “baksheesh” tip, and walked through an area that was even less developed. Our guide ducked down a passage in the rocks, and, with a glance around to make sure no one was watching, finally “The Keys” came out.
Once we saw what lay behind the door he opened, we knew for sure we were in an area that tourists aren’t supposed to be in. This was an active restoration area — the chemicals that are used for these restorations were just laying out on a table in the room we entered! Definitely the non-tourist tour!
It was incredible! We saw some wonderful sights, which we knew were far more impressive than we would have seen if we had kept our pyramid exploration limited to the classic Great Pyramids of Giza. We found it was breathtaking to be so close to such ancient artifacts. It just made the past so much more real, and we were rather sad that we really have no basis of knowledge of the Egyptian times and people, beyond what we learned in elementary school (the classic unit on King Tut) so I’m sure we did not comprehend the significance of the many details we saw.
As we finished our tour, our guide literally swore us to secrecy (though I think it had more to do with his overseers finding out than you, so I think we’re okay to share now). So it wasn’t exactly what we expected when we decided to go to Saqqara, but in so many ways, it ended up being more than we had hoped for!