Cairo, and the whole of Egypt, is most famous for its pyramids. Random fact: in the days of the pyramids, Cairo was known as Memphis. Nothing to do with Tennesse. And it's situated at the entrance of the Nile Delta. 1st random fact is closed. Next random fact: travelling up to Cairo from El Gouna, you spend about 2 hours on the road right next to the Red Sea. Just before you get to Zaafarana you pass directly by the oldest port in the world. Pharoah Khufu also known as Cheops, responsible for the biggest pyramid, built this port for easy access to the South Sinai peninsula. It's only viewable at low tide and for those who don't care about stuff like this, it is really just a bunch of square stones . But geeks like me find it amazing that somebody put that there 4,500 years ago. See Wadi el-Jarf for more info.
Early morning on the 1st morning in Cairo, we set out for the pyramids. They are about an hour from where we were staying and this means, when you're driving with kids, keep them calm and as quiet as possible. Kyle was on my lap and in order to keep him hydrated, he had a chocolate milk and then an apple juice. And in order to keep him quiet, a phone with a silly game on it. Bad parenting, but let's make it to the pyramids moan free and stress-free. Ironic since that's the last thing that happened. I heard him "spitting" and wondered why the heck he was doing that? When I saw the chocolate coloured bile, I realised it was a small vomit. I made a dam with my hand to stop it sliding off. You know how these things are more oily than watery, so they tend to slide about rather than soak in. For the most part that is. Then came the second one. This time, I was using arms and legs to form a barrier to stop it going on the seats. Bron tried to give me a bag, but I had no spare hands and was hoping we could just pull over and get him out before more came. But before the car could stop....it came out. Projectile. And he was turning his head. Starting with the radio, gears and then half dashboard, everything was covered. And my legs as well. And wouldn't you know it - carrots. Always carrots.
We managed to stop right in front of some service shop (I don't know what is was exactly), but the tender kindly offered to let me use his bathroom. We undressed Kyle on the pavement is a cloud of flies. Everybody was cleaning seats and I was washing my shorts. No spares, I spent the rest of the day in wet shorts, catching a wiff of half-digested food every once in a while. We stopped by a clothing shop and got Kyle a tracksuit but I forgot shoes. So he spent his pyramid excursion without shoes, much to viewers amazement.
Getting my geek hat on again, it was a good moment when, after driving through the slums, to turn just another corner and see the pyramid silhouetted only a few hundred meters away. But then it starts....EVERBODY is trying to make a buck off anybody. And so, when they see white faces in the car, they see tourists and, ultimately, money. One guy, wearing a lanyard, stepped right in front of us and veered us over like an official. Admittedly, he was very convincing. And us not knowing what was what, we were nearly lured in a couple of times. But as soon as they start talking about a horse and cart, you know they're selling stuff.But they slip their "ID cards" onto your dashboard as some form of ownership. I slipped it right back into his hand and we sped off...One word we've learned in Arabic is, Gallas. Gallas means finished, done, it's over - you get the idea. We ended up just saying Gallas. A lot.
My brother once told me how the slums come right up to the pyramids. It's true. Well, right up to the pyramids compound. You don't step off the pyramids into slums. The area is walled off and there is a hundred meters or so before you get up to the plateau. Anyway. Those romanticised pictures you see of the pyramids? Camels in the foreground, endless desert in the background? Hmmm... turn 180 degrees and the truth is there.
I must be very clear though, we loved our experience. If you 'feel' that sort of thing, it's definitely there. And the pyramids are impressive and huge. There was about 60% cloud cover - thin cloud casting an eerie light over the desert, and the silhouetted camels on the far dunes looked more like ghosts than beasts.
If you ever go to the pyramids, remember this. Don't talk to anybody.Well, to be more clear I counted 4 officials. Ticket seller, ticket checker at the gate, security check (these all at the entrance) and then a ticket checker to go inside the tomb of the pyramid itself. Don't be fooled by the lanyards. Again, they were excellent in their convincing, but you soon see through it. Then it came time to bargain...
"How much for the horse and cart?" (A great way to see everything. It's open air and more natural than a car.)
Not to be taken for a ride, figuratively speaking, we bargained down to 300LE.
Then "oh you can't fit everybody in one" .
OK, OK OK....300 per cart.
300 for both (and on it goes)
So we got 300 for both carts in the end. And with a scowl on the dealers face. But the rule here is: Never, ever, think you've got a good deal. They always win. But as long as it's value for money, and both sides agree happy days.
But the best was still yet to come. The driver of this horse and cart takes you up to a place with a nice overview of the pyramids for pics. We get off the cart and next thing, Bron has a desert scarf around her head. Amused I took a pic. I turned around to find Kyle sitting on a camel. Then it dawned on me. Tourist trap. Without taking a pic, forfeiting a nice opportunity, I took him off. At that moment, this "dealer" tried to wrap them damn scarf around my head as well. Forcefully. After ducking and swerving, and about 7 "no's" he realised I didn't want the scarf on my head. But that was just the beginning.
He says:"Give me money. American money, European money, british money!"
Him: Give me american money.
Me: I don't have American money.
Him: Give me egyptian money.... Any money!
Him...Aaaah this is my business. You take pictures. This is my business. You give me money.
Me: You picked up my son and put him on your camel and now I have to pay you for it?
Him: yes. it's my business.
Me. La (no)
And I walked away. We got on the cart and our unkept horse skedaddled outta there. However, Bron told me 5 minutes later that 2 of his friends had to come keep him away from me as his rage was starting to mount.
I hate it, because these people are poor. But if it's full of aggression and forcefulness, people have to have some boundary.
Of course, we got off the cart, handed a tip to the driver. He looks at it in disgust. Too little......
Surprisingly enough, we were some of very few tourists....make no mistake, the area was very busy, but probably 95% of them were Egyptians or Middle Eastern. I think that's why we were spotted so easily by would be "business makers".When we got off the cart, we went to the pyramid of Khufu where Kyle and I decided to climb up some of the steps. I was amazed to see that this is allowed. Most people taking pictures etc on the 1st few steps. And you have a climb a few to get to the tomb entrance anyway. But,
Jody, with his shock of blond hair and super cuteness is somewhat of celebrity in Egypt. He attracts many smiles, stares and selfies. (I know, I know...kiddie pictures and porn rings etc). I don't really see the harm in somebody snapping pics of us. This is a whole nother debate, which I'll just let lie here. Anyway, Kyle is a close second in celebrity status and when we came off the pyramid, we were surrounded by these kids with phones, all of them desperate to talk to us and take pics of us. I'm thinking "you have a 4,500 thousand-year-old wonder of the world right behind you, but you're crowding around us like we're celbrities...? Ok, then, let's roll with it." So I played along, joining in with the fun. Kyle was on my shoulders and he was loving it too.
In crowded, tourist areas, I use the alias "Paul" when people ask my name. I guess using your name is a good way to for salespeople to get more personal with you so I use Paul which has no effect on me. Not that these kids were trying to sell anything to me, but when they asked my name, I said Paul. And when they asked Kyles name....I hadn't thought of an alias for him, wasn't quick enough on my feet and knowing there was little English, I dubbed him "Paul 2".
Me: Yep, that's the one!
They took pictures of us, I returned the favour and took pictures of them. Then all the other kids who didn't want to miss out on the fun joined the crowd making a sea of mobile phones pointed at us. Soon after that, a guard (so that's 5 officials actually) came to break it up as it was getting a bit loud and raucous. So I left them chasing after me with a chorus of "Pawtoo!! Photo please! Pawtoo!" Judging by the pics of the kids holding up 2 fingers - maybe they saw right through my little misdemeanour.
The pyramids are brilliant. We loved it. Sadly, money is such an issue in Egypt, the people are desperate and go to all measures to get a buck off you. And the animals they use for tourism? Wow, horses are bedraggled, camels with skew legs. Considering this is one of Egypt's hottest tourists attractions, I would expect a bit more control. But hey, that's just my opinion.
I have since learned though that this area is considered the property of the locals. It's theirs to do with as they please. And if people are bringing money in, they have to try and make some for themselves. Especially since the revolution sent prices sky high and basic living is much less affordable. A friend told me that if the government ban these hawkers and put strong control measure in, the people will revolt. And therefore, the current status is the best balance we're going to see for a while. At least the pyramids are still there.