The Pyramids are absolutely, 100% amazing. We’ve all seen them on pictures and TV and know a reasonable amount about them, but rather like Uluru, you don’t really get it until you get up close enough to touch them.
The ancient Egyptians started building these things about 4,500 years ago. That’s nearly 2,000 years before the Romans began to get their act together. The empire lasted, off and on, for about 3,500 years- that’s 1500 years more than our history since we started our calendar. The Great Pyramid was the tallest buildings on earth until Lincoln Cathedral was built some 3,900 years later (thanks for that one Mike). To put it in context, these were build during the Neolithic period of human history, when our European ancestors were using basic tools to build basic shelters. At the same time, ancient Egyptians were carving anatomically correct statues - 4,000 years before Leonardo Da Vinci lead the modern European understanding of how to draw and recreate the human form in art. They were writing things, painting things, building sophisticated boats, forming armies when the rest of us were at the infancy of organised communities. Stonehenge, our small circle of rocks on Salisbury Plain, was completed around 3100 BC.
Even after 3 days there, and a visit to the huge and terribly curated Cairo Museum, there is still something surreal about them, something I just can’t quite get my mind around. Really incredible. Aliens……….. it has to be aliens………
We stayed in Giza for 4 nights, at a small hotel called The Best Pyramid View Hotel. 4 nights is 3 too long. The area around the Pyramids is truly horrible. Dirty, smelly and everyone is trying to rip you off. Overcharging I get, but we are talking 5 x normal prices. The restaurants cater for tourists, so are bland, dirty, expensive and may give you food poisoning and around our hotel, the streets were full of horse and camel poo and pee. The hotel had an amazing view over the pyramids, had aircon and a really helpful member of staff called Nana. That’s pretty much it. We found too late that the reviews had been somewhat manipulated. Top Tip. If lots of the reviewers have only done 1 review, something is up!
I get that we are in a poor country, and I get we earn many more times that of the local people, but the people hanging around the historical sites lying to you, trying to get you into dodgy shops and ripping you off at every opportunity are not the ones in real need. Even the security people are at it. The one in the tomb of the Great Pyramid, whose job it is to ensure people obey the ‘no photos’ rule, will take your photo in the tomb for a few dollars. The sentry guarding the perimeter of the Saqqara site will leave his weapon and guard post to take a picture of you with a camel for a few dollars.
Our guide briefed us before we went to the Pyramids. ‘You are polite people. Don’t be. If you engage in anyway, they think you are starting to negotiate, so ignore them. If you give your camera/phone to someone who offers to take your photo, they will charge you ridiculous amounts to get you camera back. Don’t buy anything as it’s all made in China, is shit and is worth less than $1.’ All great advice.
Giza and the bits of Cairo we have seen are really rather ugly too. Street upon street of unfinished red brick and concrete towers, connected by rubbish strewn dirt roads. On one trip out of town in an Uber, we came a nearly deserted stretch of raised highway, with rubble on the road, and seemingly derelict buildings either side and I was reminded of Basra in March/April 2003 and experienced the ‘heebie-jeebies’ like never before. A physical reaction (and I was in Iraq for the easy bit). I also remember thinking, back in Basra in 2003, as I saw the state the city was in, ‘did we do this, or was it always like this?’. I got a bit of my answer here.
Our escapes included a trip to Giza station to secure train tickets to Luxor, a trip to Cairo to see the museum, dinner at the Marriott, overlooking the pyramids, and a morning at the stepped pyramids at Saqqara. During most of these trips, when we dealt with normal locals, we have been well looked after, from the staff at small cafes who talk you through how things work, to the Uber drivers who try to keep you alive and don’t want a tip, to the security at the station who make sure you get to the right place. All lovely.
On the trip to Saqqara, we decided to try a different approach to the hiring expensive guide option we had used until then, and to take an Uber to the site entrance, then go for a wander. Our first mistake happened when Jodie selected ‘Saqqara’ as our destination. Saqqara is a place and an area……Uber selected the area and dropped the destination pin in the middle of it……..which essentially meant a random bit of desert. We worked this out when we found ourselves being starred at as we passed down narrow dirt streets on the very edge of town, a place where neither tourists or phone signal could be found……. Our nice Uber driver agreed to retrace our route until we got coverage, could work out where to go, and then amend our destination.
Our second mistake was to underestimate the scale and the heat of the site. Fortunately we worked this out before the Uber driver left and for a fee that represented the fact he knew he was in a monopoly position, we secured his services for three hours. Hurrah.
The final mistake was not having a guide. Guides provide 2 services. Firstly they show you around and explain stuff in places with no signs or info. There is a real chance that everything just becomes piles of stones. Secondly they provide a bit of a shield from the unscrupulous ‘guides’ and hawkers at the sites. And these guys can be a huge pain in the butt! It is well worth getting a guide.
At then end of these adventures, we were both very happy to get on the train and head through the green fields, south to Luxor.
Whilst J and I normally advocate getting amongst the local community, taking your time and getting off the beaten track, in Giza we wouldn’t. Get yourself in a tourist bubble (private car and guide type), see the pyramids and the bits around them, perhaps spend a night to see them at night, have a second day in Saqqara with a guide and go to the museum with a guide…… then get the fuck out of there!! It really is a proper shithole.