I finally visited the pyramids! It was strange, but amazing. Everybody should do it once. A few friends and I have been meaning to go for weeks, but things keep popping up- it’s too hot, the bus isn’t running, we’re lazy, etc. etc. etc. This weekend I was determined to go no matter what, so go we did!
I wanted to go at around 4 or 5 PM to see the pyramids in sunlight and during sunset, only to hear that they stop admitting visitors around 4. So, we scrambled. I called a taxi at around 12:45 pm, got ready, and two friends and I were on our way by 1:30. The taxi driver asked if we wanted to ride camels or horses at the pyramids, and I made the mistake of saying yes- this resulted in him driving to an area about ten minutes away from the main entrance, right into the setup of one of his buddies who tried to convince us that we had to ride horses to the main site. “This is desert,” he insisted, “It’s soft sand! Taxis do not work there. You must pay to go there on horseback.” This was one of the dumbest lies I’ve heard yet. After a couple of minutes of arguing, the taxi driver turned around and drove right up to the main entrance to the pyramids- I guess it was magically able to drive on the “soft desert sand” after all.
We paid half-price with our AUC student ID’s (30 Egyptian Pounds, which is only about 6 dollars), went through minimal security, and walked right up to the Great Pyramid! It was kind of a mind-blowing experience. It took awhile to get it through my head that I was standing at the foot of one of the 7 wonders of the world, and that these structures had been here for centuries. I still don’t think I fully grasp the idea! (Guess I’ll just have to go back…I’m not complaining.) I have heard horror stories about trips to the pyramids, but I think we got pretty lucky. We got ripped off when it came to paying for camel rides, pictures, etc., but that’s to be expected. There wasn’t nearly as much trash at the site as I imagined, our camels looked semi-healthy, and we got some awesome pictures!
Upon arrival, we walked past the Great Pyramid, where you are allowed to touch and climb on the rocks. It was covered in tourists, so we skipped that and continued onto the Pyramid of Khafre (a.k.a. the “medium” one), taking plenty of photos along the way. During the walk over, we had multiple men in gallabayas (the long dress-like outfits for men) and head wraps on camels offer to pose for pictures. “Take one of me! I go like this!” they’d proclaim before striking a pose. It was entertaining- these guys really know how to work the scene, but we chose to take the typical tourist photos of ourselves instead. My friend Kjrstin and I walked like Egyptians, pinched the top of pyramids, kissed the Sphinx, and were just embarrassing (I mean, awesome!) in general. I did give into taking a picture of one man on a camel, just because he was so enthusiastic about his poses, but instantly regretted the 20 LE we ended up having to pay him. Oh well, lesson learned.
The second pyramid was much less crowded. I think that it was a good idea to arrive later in the day, when it wasn’t as hot and the crowds were dying down. We ended up making friends with a middle-aged couple from New York and traded off taking group pictures of each other so that we wouldn’t have to pay the guards or camel riders to do it. My camera quickly died since I hadn’t charged it in a week or two, but I had a lot of fun during our photoshoot with Kjrstin’s camera. Our surroundings were really cool too- the pyramids are right next to the normal city of Giza to the left (you can see them when you’re driving around), but there’s a huge span of white desert to the right. We saw a caravan of people on horseback off in the distance, which immediately led to Kjrstin serenading us with “Arabian niiiiiiiiiights”!
After about an hour at the actual pyramids, we all decided to splurge on camel rides to the Sphinx, which is right down a sandy hill. One man introduced us to his camel which he had named “Mickey Mouse” (I didn’t ask.) before gathering two more camels for our small group. I had heard that camel rides should cost no more than 20 LE each, but that’s usually just to sit on a camel as the man leads it in a circle. We ended up making a deal that we would pay 100 LE total for three camel rides all the way to the Sphinx, and they would take as many pictures with and of us as we wanted. It was a little much, but Mickey Mouse was hard to resist. It was a ton of fun- the guys took millions of pictures for us, and the camels were terrifying to ride. Alex’s camel wouldn’t stop gurgling the entire time, to which the guides told us it was “singing” for us. As I said before, they really know how to work the tourists.
When it came time to leave the guides, they suddenly tried to tell us that we had agreed on 100 LE per person, which is a pretty typical move for these guys to pull. We ended up just tipping them and heading on our way to the Sphinx. There were kids and adults alike trying to sell us miniature sculptures of the pyramids, water, and postcards all over the place- this was the worst area to pass through because it was close to a main entrance. We took a few more pictures, marveling at how small the Sphinx is compared to what we had expected. Its head also seems a little disproportionately small compared to the rest of its body. Weird!
On the way back to the exit, we stopped at a small tomb area and got a mini-tour of some hieroglyphics. We crawled down a tiny hole in the wall, expecting a room full of carvings, only to end up in an empty space- I’ve heard of this happening to other visitors too. We left the tomb area soon afterward, eager to get out of the hot, cramped room. Our last stop was the Great Pyramid that we had passed by upon entering the area. Kjrstin and I climbed up onto the base rocks, making sure that the pyramid is real and not inflatable (anyone seen Despicable Me?). It wasn’t until this point that I realized how HUGE these things are. When you get up close, each block is almost up to your shoulders. There are little grooves in most of the ground-level stones from so many tourists climbing up there. I’ve heard that you can climb almost to the top of the Great Pyramid if you pay off a couple of guards, but I think I’ll save that adventure for my next visit. I had enough trouble climbing up on the first level of blocks!
All in all, I had a great time. There was the usual tourist harassment, but nothing harmful or too rude- if you go into it expecting that, it’s really not too bad. It would have been a little easier if we would have had an Arabic-speaker with us, but it was cool to be able to manage ourselves. The worst thing that we heard all day was Alex getting complimented on his “two wives,” since he was the only man around us, but that was more entertaining than anything. The pyramids themselves are an amazing sight. I’m really glad that I waited a few weeks to go with just a couple of friends. We would never have been able to ride the camels for that long or take as many pictures otherwise, and the weather was even a little cooler than usual! Next time, I’d like to check out the nighttime light show. I’ve heard it’s pretty cheesy (apparently the Sphinx talks), but it sounds like fun. When else am I going to have the chance to hang out with an ancient talking cat-human?