Like many, I waited a long time to finally have the chance to visit The Great Pyramids of Giza, a life long dream that was finally fulfilled last year. I was so excited to finally step in front of the pyramids that I totally forgot to do complete research for my trip. Cairo is no easy city to step in to.
Unlike Europe, Egypt doesn’t have the easiness presented to the regular traveler that you get in the northern continent. There isn’t much variety in the form of transportation and lodging, so you are left with the high prices presented by local taxi drivers and chain hotels. I’m sure there are ways to go around this, but as I said previously, I didn’t do my homework as I usually do. So how was it?
The airplane ride from Berlin was a joy. I hadn’ experienced this level of service on a plane since the early 90′s. Egypt Air is really in a class by it’s own when it comes to service and attention. I also was pleased to see people excited to get on a plane. I’m sure some of the kids on the plane were flying for the first time. It is always a joy to watch those naive expressions. The almost 4 hour flight was great and it was real cool to see people applaud the landing, it’s been a while since i’ve ever heard that. It brought memories from my early childhood flights with my parents to Vegas. Moving on, Egypt was waiting for me and I couldn’t wait.
I’ll try to be real objective here, I didn’t expect anything close to what I got to see in Cairo. Nothing I read or saw In books and online travel guides, prepared me for what I experienced in this city. I don’t think anything can. Maybe a trip to Jaipur first? Traffic is about as intense as it gets. And trust me, i’ve been in cities were traffic is so bad you can’t you don’t move for hours (Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Jaipur). The way people drive here isn’t for the faint of heart, I was really scared for moments. When I first arrived the first thing I noticed was how modern the Airport was. It was like nothing else, once I got outside on the ring that makes way to the city, it was really nice to see that it was clean and modern. Nothing was as I expected. It took about 30 to 40 minutes to finally get to downtown Cairo, where everything started to get nastier. It was late at night, people were wondering the streets as if it was mid day, and I can understand why, weather is really tough in the day, it is actually better to be doing your business at night. Our Taxi Driver was real gracious, he was asking us were we came from, and gave us some really good about Cairo. He was also telling about the places we were passing by, a real treat for the first time Egypt traveler.
As we got near Giza, I started getting real anxious. All I wanted was to get to my hotel room and just relax. I’ve waited a long time to finally be here so I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. When we booked our hotel, I made sure it had a pool that had a view of the Pyramids. I just wanted to grab a beer at the pool bar while having one of the 7 marvels of the world as a bakground. My hotel, Le Meridien, a fancy chain that was just in front of the Pyramid site had all the amenities that we needed, it was just a matter of time before we arrived and could just enjoy a late night drink and go to sleep. As expected, we could see the Pyramids from afar, it was just the silhouette, but that alone was enough to leave me really excited for the next day! Our driver told us that for 30 dlls he would take us anywhere the next day. We agreed on the price. The service was incredible, I felt I was in a time warp though, as everything looked so, 70′s or 80′s, I don’t know, but it didn’t look modern. It was very clean and nice. Egyptian people are very friendly and gracious, it reminded me of Mexico, I don’t know why. So we sat at the bar and were served by a very nice man who didn’t speak much English but he sure made us feel right at home. As we finished our drinks, we could only talk about what awaited us the next morning.
I woke up pretty early, I knew we had to get to our destination very early, they only let 400 people inside each pyramid for the day, and according to some websites, Japanese people tend to get there very early to grab all the spots. Don’t ask me why, I just read that. Our taxi driver was already there and took us to the Pyramids. He is a funny man too, he said, “when you are finished with the pyramids i’ll meet you at KFC… You know what KFC means here in Egypt? It means Kentucky Fried Camel… Really…. Well, Sometimes it means Kentucky Fried Cat.” I didn’t know if he was telling the truth or not, but he was pretty serious when he told us that, we just had a good laugh. He gave us some good tips on how to deal with all the merchants, and what to do inside the Pyramid Premises. As we got inside, it was immediatly obvious that this was the highlight of my traveling days up to that moment. Watching the great Pyramids in front of me, the only remaining construction from the original 7 wonders of the world, was a dream come true. Nothing compares to that moment, and I will forever remember it as a unique moment in my lifetime. If you know me, i’m a real history nerd. When i step in places as this one, I can only think of all the things that happen thousands of years ago on this very same place, and how now I was standing here. It was surreal.
The Pyramids don’t disappoint, we didn’t get to enter any of them, but we weren’t so anxious to pay an extra 10 bucks for each pyramid after shelling out 15 bucks for the whole pyramid complex. Our driver told us that once we got to the Step Pyramid, some 30 miles south of Giza, we would be able to enter those pyramids for free and it was right about the same experience. Merchants are tourist hunters and don’t let you go without buying something. They try to abuse the prices and some people fall for it. But if you are savvy enough, you’ll know it’s all bluff. You can buy the stuff they are selling for a mere 5 bucks. We didn’t want to, but they were stalking us so much that all we wanted is to leave us alone. The thing is, once we bought their merchandise (they were all selling these egyptian hats, with lame pictures of the pyramids) we started getting stalked by the same guys to put the hat correctly. We couldn’t get a break! I guess it’s part of the whole experience.
After our moment with the Pyramids, we went to see the Sphinx, another awesome moment where I got to take some real priceless pictures. Our driver took us with one of his friends and bargained for a better price on the camel ride, which was another highlight in our trip. Those moments will forever be in my heart as some of the best ever in any trip i’ve ever had the pleasure of having. Finally after spending about 3 hours in the pyramid complex, we got to the driver and he took us to some very strange and uncomfortable places. He said we had to stop to see perfume crafting and a place where we would get the best prices for souvenirs. In the end, all he wanted was to take us with his partners and sell us cheap stuff for a larger price. It was really sad to see that our driver, whom we thought was helping us out, was trying to take advantage of our tourist condition. When we saw what was happening we quickly told him that we didn’t want to stop at any of those places, and just take us to our destination. The Step Pyramid was another highlight. It’s an awesome sight that needs to be seen to be believed. Not many people I know have been here, and up to this day I didn’t know it existed. It was great to enter the pyramid for free. It gave me the chills to think how the original explorers got to enter these mysterious places without knowing what to expect. Brave guys!
Our driver had already arranged a tour of the Nile river for the night on a boat. It included dinner and a show. We were excited about this, but were very disappointed to find out it was another tourist scam. By then, we were tired of the act this guy was pulling for us. We got to tour the river, but the show was so bad and boring that we only wanted to get of the boat as soon as possible. Food was also horrible. When we finally got out, we told him it was terrible, and somehow he had a disappointing look on his face. I couldn’t believe it. I actually started feeling bad for the guy. So we gave him another chance.
The next day he took us to the Egyptian Museum, which has the largest collection of Egyptian Antiques in the world. It has at least 100,000 items in display, and it is said to be that there are another 100,000 stored in warehouses in Cairo. They have discovered so many things that they don’t have places left in the museum to show them. The main highlight of the museum is Tutankhamun Chamber. Wow! It’s one of the very best rooms in a museum I have ever witnessed, and worth the price of admission alone. King Tut wasn’t on display because he was on his usual tour, but all the items and stuff found in his sarcophagus was here, including the famed mask that everybody remembers whenever a Pharaoh is mentioned.
Later that day we got to the Islamic corner of the city which was very crowded. We got to spend some time in the market and finally took the time to give a tour ride of the city. A place that really grabbed my attention was a graveyard that was full of houses. People just started living in the grave yard because they didn’t want to leave their loved ones who passed away. It quickly became a neighborhood that some call it the City of the Dead. It’s near a mosque that looks almost exactly the same as the famed Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but we decided not to stop. We were spent because of the heat, and all we wanted was to jump in to the pool. The next day was our last, and our driver was supposed to come pick us up and take us to the airport.
When we finally were ready to leave, we quickly found out that our driver finally had his revenge for not letting him take us to all those crappy places he wanted us to go. He left us there and we didn’t have no choice but to take the expensive hotel taxi to the airport. We had little time. It was a lot of money though, so we crossed the street and grabbed one that didn’t seem that safe to me. We didn’t have a choice. We also were facing another problem, that day was the beginning of the Ramadan and everybody was pissed off because they hadn’t eaten and weren’t going to be able to until after 9 pm. Also, the time changed, so instead of 1 pm it was 12:00 giving us an extra hour to get to the airport. We got really uncomfortable when our Taxi driver took us on a road we didn’t recognize. I couldn’t see the nice modern part of the city I saw when we first arrived, every thing seemed pretty suspicious. I was sure he was taking us to another place. He was very friendly, but everything seemed fishy to us. We were getting anxious, I though we weren’t going to make it. But in the end, it was all ideas. Our friend here was a good guy who just wanted to grab a shortcut so we wouldn’t miss our flight. He was very gracious as most Egyptians we met along the way.
We finally got to the check in counter when we found out that our plane was leaving briefly, we got there a little late. An hour late to be exact. The thing is, that since the hour changed in Egypt, our flights departure time changed also! So instead of leaving at 2:30, it was leaving at 1:30 pm! There was no information about this in our tickets. The Tickets said 2:30, but the actual departure time changed to 1:30, give me a break! We really couldn’t understand how this could happen, but it did. In the end we did get to the plane on time, and it was just one more thing in our crazy trip to Cairo to tell our friends, family and grand kids. It’s been more than a year from my Cairo trip. I don’t plan on going anytime soon, but if I ever go back again, i’ll be sure to plan well ahead of time, and make it there on a tour.