2nd Day, Pyramids, Camel rides, Khan el Khallili,

Cairo Travel Blog

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Through the hotel, we arranged for Muhammed Ali to drive us to the pyramids near Cairo in Giza. Before we left the hostel, we received a complimentary breakfast in the dining area a few feet away from our room. We each had a hard boiled egg, 4 sweet breads with jam and very rich cream cheese, and hot tea. I gulped down my breakfast in a hurry and we went outside.

The air was cool in the morning, as we had left around 7:15AM, and the streets were quiet. Cairo def. seemed to be a night owl's city. Ali drove us quickly but safely thru the streets, occasionally puncturing the silence with little stories about doctors building grand estates overlooking the river, or to a pretty site, and making jokes, esp.
directing his attention to Anny.

We drove through a modest outlying village near the Step pyramid. We purchased our own tickets, paying the stated prices of 30EGP each + 2EGP for the driver, and re-entered the car. As we approached the pyramid, we started snapping pics of the artificial pyramid ignorantly. Ali laughed and said it was a false pyramid. Then we exited the car, climbed the stairs to approx. the middle part of the pyramid. I looked at the narrow opening, which was low even for my petite size, and it was partially blocked by the worker (guide/officer/whomever ?) sitting in front. I had stupidly carried all my things, the litre of water, camera, tissues, sunscreen, misc. junk etc. instead of leaving it in the car. So I tried to suck it up, hitched up my bag, and climbed down the slanted walk way.
The ceiling was low for even my height, was hot, and the slats for us to climb down were about 3 inches thick. I tripped a bit on the way down, exhausted at my load, but eventually made the way down.

From the stairway, the ceiling jumped up around 15 feet approx. The air was dank, hot, and smelling of ammonia. The lighting dim. Then I stooped down to another narrow passageway, about 4 feet high and walked as quickly as I could muster. There were young tourists' kids there, round 12 or 13 running through quickly, unencumbered by bags, flush with the vitality of youth. I felt achy from carrying my bad and short of air. I took out my water, gulping down quickly, and followed Anny up some creaky wooden stairs. As I caught up with her, we took some more pics, and remarked on the emptiness of the pyramid, as everything had been stripped away and taken to museums.
All that was left was some piles of rocks.

Anny left, and I lagged behind, trying to carefully make my way down the stairs. My legs gave out from weakness and I tripped, my leg hanging out of the scaffolding, and I dropped my water bottle from the tall height. Luckily, it had not hit the Italian or Spanish tourists that were standing below. An Italian woman helped me up, calling out "Mi Dio" and asking if I was okay. Oyy so graceless!

Then we exited, the climb up as difficult as the climb down. I tried to rush it when I saw the same kids climbing up with amazing speed. When I got out of the pyramid, I inhaled the air and clumsily made my way out down the stairs. I was exhausted.

Then off we departed to the Saqqara pyramid and museum. We paid student prices of 30EGP each and entered the small museum.
There were icons and statues of famous ancient Egyptians and deities I had read about, Imhotep, blocks of Hekeki, Meti etc. Pleased I told Anny what I knew, and then we had a good laugh when an Egyptian guide pointed to the small figurines of Isis and Horus, claiming it was Hathor and Horus. She had not bothered to read the plaque RIGHT NEXT to the figurines. Nor had the group of tourists she was guiding. Instead they would go "ooooooohhh" and nod, impressed.

Next up, the pyramids of Dashur. There were lots of "guides" about, whom we declined their services, and they eventually left us alone. I skipped in the sand, enjoying the weather, and took a picture of one of the many stray dogs I would see throughout Egypt. A few touts would repeatedly ask us if we wanted to buy various souvenirs but I would say my oft-practiced "La Shukran.
We were not annoyed though, as they were just trying to make a living and they would leave us alone after we declined a couple times.

I climbed up some scaffolding around the pyramid that was being restored, Anny took my picture, and we continued walking around for a little bit. There were some impressive columns left over, and some carved cobras in the facade left over. Then we left, weaving our way through tourists, and departed for the pyramids of Giza around 11AM with one brief stop at the Dashur museum so Anny could use the toilet.

While Ali and I were waiting in the car, I lazily reclined in my backseat behind his driver's seat. Ali turned around, adjusted his seat to chat. He asked if I was enjoying the pyramids, and I said I was when he reached out and touched my thigh, rubbing it a bit.
I pushed away his hand, saying don't touch and I asked him how his daughters were, my sort of passive way of reminding him I am someone's daughter as well and to show a bit of respect. He moved back into his seat, and half-smiled that they were fine. We sat in silence, and waited for Anny to come back. I'm not sure what that was about, I know it's not appropriate for non-married/non-related people of different genders to touch in Egyptian culture, yet it wasn't quite feel sleazy either. Although,  I don't see how it is appropriate even if I was in NYC, that a driver should go touching my thigh. Anyway...

Then, on the way to the 9 pyramids and Sphinx of Giza, Ali offered for us to stop by a papyrus "museum." Although I heard this was a typical schemes, Anny was still curious, and so was I, as I had learned about it in school growing up.
We entered, and a woman showed us how the papyrus was made, and offered us a few more papyrus sheets for a package price after we showed disinterest in buying because we honestly, had little money left on us. She arranged for a cheaper price for "kisses." Very affectionate culture indeed!

I bought 3 papyrus: depicting the ancient Egyptian Last Judgment, ancient Egyptian Calendar, and a picture of a Pharaoh and his wife for 350EGP. Both of us were lent money by Ali for our purchases. We got a certificate of authenticity but meh who knows? Still very beautiful pictures though...

Ali drove us to one of his contacts at a camel stable. The man introduced himself and his children and invited us to sit down under the fan in the shade. He then drew out the tours he offered in the sand with a stick, drawing out rough maps.
We opted for the middle priced one that would not be too long, 2 hours, as it was beginning to get hot. We paid 180EGP each, to cover the camel ride, our tour guide, and Anny firmly stated "and that better include baksheesh." We got on our camels, named "Michael Jackson" and "Barack Obama." Orig. our guide said the camel named Obama was George Bush but Anny said we don't like George Bush, so he renamed him Obama. I didn't care for riding a camel named after my president either but the guide was being overeager to please and the little name game could go on and on, so we just let it drop.

Over the course of the ride, we took in a panoramic view of Cairo, a graveyard round the area, sand, pebbles, a dessicated carcass of a camel with bits of preserved skin, ribs and hooves lying in the sun, and rubbish left behind by tout and tourist.
It was a breezy day, warm and sunny. The pyramids were large, impressive with it's inner treasures hidden away I'm sure, and stored in museums etc.

I spied another traveler/tourist whatever, horseback. He made the horse trot and do pretty tricks, which the horse repaid him by trying to throw him off....They briefly fell into a dune, rose again and the man raced off towards the pyramids. We took our pictures, stopping a few times for cheesy pictures. My camera's shutter was really slow, so the pictures of me jumping up and down had to be deleted...

I was having a good time, though Anny was scared of her camel tossing her off, so we switched camels. The camels were farting the whole time, "Egyptian music," the guide claimed. The whole time the guide kept asking if we were happy, if we were married, how long we were staying.
So we asked him the same questions in return. Turns out he had a little baby girl. The young boy leading our camels was silent the whole time. He with the sun bleached wavy hair, crooked smile, dry feet, and dusty clothes. He was shy but very considerate and helpful.

Later, we made our way to the Sphinx, our guide dropping us by a stone wall. He instructed us to jump down the four feet, Anny gave him a withering glare, and walked around the wall, to the amusement and laughter of the touts selling their wares who witnessed the exchange. They called out "Ni hao ma?" and "Konichiwa" to me. I smiled back and said "Salaam" to them, and they continued laughing. Everything we did or said seemed amusing to them.

Then we walked through a crew setting up for the night time light show in the vicinity of the Sphinx. I took my pictures, frequently sitting down because of the soreness from climbing down the Step pyramid.

I was a bit put off by the wall surrounding the Sphinx, obstructing the view of it's paws, and the stage for the light show at night time, further distracting from the majesty of the Sphinx. But I took my mandatory pictures, and tried to to imagine what it looked like when it was in its full glory, whole, and complete, in a quiet desert, before it became target practice or a magnet for cheesy tourism (which I will acknowledge includes myself).

We walked back through the way we came to the low wall, the guide telling us to climb back over. We ignored him, and the suggestions from the nearby Egyptian men that they would "help us back over," and just walked around the wall.
We got back up on our camels, made the shortcut back to the stables, thru a long winding path, where we saw carts, donkeys, camels, and quad bikers. The guide asked for tips, Anny stated that the baksheesh was part of the package, and he did not push for tip more than twice. However, we did give for the young boy who led our camels. I realized my mistake later that I should have given him in private b/c in the guide books I read, they claim that the stable owners would take it from the boy. I hope that wasn't that case...

Then we drove back to our hostel, and since we did not have enough money to pay back Ali, so we went to exchange money. We walked around the neighborhood, back to the same exchange place we had gone to the previous day. Closed. Then, to MISR bank. Closed. So we returned to the hostel, figured out the exchange rate, and paid 180EGP (in USD) for our half a day of being driven around.
Anny went to shower and sleep, while I went back out looking for another exchange place. I ran into some other backpackers from England. We made polite conversation in the lift about our plans. They seemed reserved and unfriendly. We then separated and continued on in different directions. I went to other local banks and exchange places. Closed.

I walked around, which turned out to be a 3 hour long walk around the neighborhood. I got to know the area a bit more but I had no luck with anything being open, so I went back to the hostel, after making a quick call to mom for 12EGP at the local phone place. The assistant manager offered to exchange my USD for EGP and his rate was all right, though not as good as at an exchange place, it was fair though. The hostel staff was very helpful.
We briefly discussed the hostel arranging the Luxor tour for $150 each person. It included: the Abela sleeper train to Luxor with dinner and breakfast ($60), taxi to hotel, a night in a "3 star" hotel, 2 day trips with tour guide with transportation, and a final drop off to either bus or plane to get to the Sinai Peninsula where we would visit Dahab. I declined in making final arrangements til I got to talk it over with Anny and check on prices.

I fell asleep after the long day. When I woke up later around 9PM, I charged my battery on my MP3 player, and woke up Anny so we could finally get to Khan el Khallili. We asked the front desk about appropriate taxi prices, then we left to walk around for a place to eat in the neighborhood.
After being disappointed with many of the choices, like McDonald's and Hardees, we decided to go straight to the Khan. We hailed a taxi, and after being offered an overinflated price which we rejected, we simply hailed another one with a more agreeable price of 10EGP (our hostel was nearby Egyptian Museum to Khan el Khalili).

As we drove through, I was again charmed by Cairo at night. There were just so much more people, families on the street, as we raced by, they became a blur of swirling colors and images.

Then we stopped at a nearby busy eatery, catered to actual Egyptians with the view of the stove a few feet from the plain tables, plain white tiled floors and fluorescent lighting. We ordered the famous koshary. I piled mine with chili and cumin sauce; I loved the texture of the macaroni, rice, lentils, beans, and the taste of the fried onions.
Our heaping bowls were barely dented though, the portions were so large. Across from us was an Egyptian couple, the wife completely covered face, head, and body in a burqa (?). She carefully lifted her veil to drink her water. Not liking the taste, she simply poured the water directly on the floor. Anny was appalled. I was surprised and very curious at such a different practice.

We each paid 9EGP including sodas, a very economical dinner! and set off to the market, after going through a metal detector. Slowly walking through, I spotted an adorable little Egyptian boy dancing the "Harlem." We slowly walked thru, and were approached quite often to "Come inside, and take a look." Anny danced around prices, and haggled, and ignored sellers to bring down prices. She hated that they would drop prices from 80EGP all the way down to 15EGP.
She would exclaim, "Well now I can't trust your word or the quality of your product" and they would apologize. I was amused at her scolding them, and amused at the sellers who would come up with cheeky questions like "How best can I take your money?"

We browsed to get a feel for prices, frequently running into a boy named Muhammed who was trying to see us bracelets. Ann stated she had no one to buy bracelets for, and he kept saying "You're breakin' my heart."

Then an Egyptian man stopped me in the walkway and said "Look, you've dropped something. My heart." Haha, too funny! I actually looked down, and we both burst out laughing. Later, throughout the trip, it became a running joke that I would play on Ann to see how often she would fall for it, and she would do the same to me.

Eventually after running into Muhammed like 3 times, and him trying him to sell us bracelets, we chatted with him about his age, if his parents knew where he was, if he was in school etc. Such a clever boy for sure! I ended up buying 4 bracelets for 30EGP. We did not know how much things were worth or how to check for quality so it was very much groping around blind about what to haggle for. But I was happy with my purchases and am not going to quibble about a little bit of money.

We vowed to return soon, especially not that we had a feel for general prices. Then took a taxi for 10 EGP back to the hostel.
Transitory says:
well...if that's to be my burden, shopping, I think I can pick it up.
Posted on: Sep 12, 2009
vances says:
You truly had some full days...and really pumped up the local economy, lol!
Posted on: Sep 10, 2009
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