Giza Travel Blog› entry 2 of 12 › view all entries
I would not be able to forgive myself to visit Cairo and not visit the Pyramids of Giza, the only of the original 7 wonders of the world still standing. As my first business meeting was to start just after midday, I had only the morning to visit the pyramids so just after 6 o’clock in the morning I took a cab to the suburb of Giza.
I had to get past a number of people (receptionists, doormen, luggage carriers, hotel limo drivers etcetra) all trying to convince me that the pyramids were closed this time of morning and I had better wait and take a hotel tour to the site. I managed to waive them off and found a cab with a driver so flabbergasted by me wanting to go to the pyramids this time of morning that he forgot to rip me off.
He got his wits back eventually though, because he turned out to do what every taxi driver in Cairo does, which was not bringing me to the pyramids but instead driving me to his brother/cousin/uncle/whatever who conveniently happened to have a travel agency and would be able to supply me with the best camels or horses in Cairo, offering me the cheapest and best way of visiting the pyramids imaginable, including a discounted entrance fee and a knowledgeable guide as long as I entered the desert on his camel/horse/donkey cart. I chose to walk…
After I had fought of the taxi driver and his brother/cousin/uncle/partner in crime I arrived at the Sphinx entrance of the pyramids complex, where I found that indeed it was still closed and would not open until 8 am.
With more than an hour to spare I sat down at the top floor of a little café which boasts one of the best views in the world.
There were three things that surprised me. The first is just how close the sprawl of Cairo has come to the pyramids. If it weren’t for the wall built around the site there would be houses right in between them!
The second thing was how this could be the only café with a view like this. I mean, there are tall buildings right up to the wall, howcome no one else thought of having a terrace on the top floor of their building?
And lastly, what kind of idiot decided to put a billboard right in front of the café, so that the best view in the world is spoiled by a billboard partially obscuring the Sphinx...
As great as the view was, I decided I wanted a closer look at the pyramids and set out to walk along the high wall hoping to find another vantage point from which I could look over the wall and see the pyramids.
The wall around the pyramids is actually so high and unwelcoming, it resembles a prison rather than a museum, with the difference that this wall is intended to keep people out. And this being Egypt, you can imagine that is a tough job. I bumped into a group of locals, who, like many others, make a living selling souvenirs to tourists. They were entering the pyramids complex through a hole in the wall, and summoned me to follow them. So I clambered up the ramshackle ladder they had positioned against the wall and wrenched myself through the gap in the fence they'd made at the top of the wall, dodging the security cameras as they instructed.
The four guys who had smuggled me inside advised me to wait for about 15-20 more minutes before venturing towards the pyramids, to prevent getting arrested for trespassing.
Oh, and yes, they sold me some useless souvenirs. I could not deny them that after what they'd done for me.
At 7:30 they deemed the coast clear and after wishing me good luck they disappeared each into a different direction, in order to find the best spot for touting.
And for those 30 minutes, before the main gates opened, I had the pyramids literally to myself - It was magical!
The place where I had entered the compound was close to the largest of the three pyramids, the Pyramid of Khufu (also known as Pyramid of Cheops). I was wary of the security guards positioned around the pyramid, but rather than arresting me for trespassing they simply wished me a good morning.
The view of the pyramids, I must say, is breathtaking. It is so strange that an image you have seen so many times before on photos and films can still take your breath away when you first see it in reality. There is just something about these geometrical shapes that cry out to be photographed from every angle, and my camera shutter was working overtime to comply.
I made my way towards the main entrance, for though I had entered the site illegally, I had every intention of buying a proper ticket. However, as I was walking down towards the entrance the clock turned 8 and the gates opened. Literally a million people, taxis, buses, minibuses and camels came speeding towards me, all aiming for the pyramid of Khufu.
I had no desire to go inside the pyramids anyway (saving it for the day when I properly visit this country) as I was short on time, but it was no use trying to be honest and buy a ticket either, so I turned around again and walked eastwards, towards the other two pyramids.
With all the tourists aiming for the sun side of the pyramids, I walked along the shadow side, and once again I seemed to be all alone in this world.
Pyramid number 2 is the slightly smaller, but frankly more impressive pyramid of Khafre.
The smallest of the three main pyramids, Menkaure, lies at the edge of what seems to be a huge expanding desert. Even though you are technically still in a suburb of Cairo, it seems as if you are at the edge of the Sahara, and it was difficult not to say yes to the many locals who offered me camel rides into the desert. But time was running out, so I had to decline the offer, and made my way back to place where I had been dropped of by the taxi in the morning, with only one more sight to take in on the way: the Sphinx!
The Sphinx is another one of those icons that look a lot smaller than you'd imagined it. This perception is not helped by the fact that it is actually built in a sunken pit. However, once you can look past that you can marvel at the detail of the sculpture, still visible after these thousands of years.
Once out I took a cab back to the hotel and had enough time to shower and get changed into something more formal before my first meeting. I had proved it is possible to see (and enjoy!) the pyramids in a few hours time, as long as you start early enough.
That said, I can't wait to go back and properly visit the place, going inside the pyramids and venturing into the surrounding desert on camelback.
Actually I have a date with a camel to take me out into the desert at sunset next time I am here. Let's hope he keeps his end of the bargain...