AfricaEgyptCairo

The sphinx, step pyramid and carpet school

Cairo Travel Blog

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Camel patrol near the great pyramids of Giza (Cairo in the background)

Quite near the great pyramids is the infamous sphinx. I've read other people describe it as disappointing, but I'd have to disagree... I though it was pretty amazing myself. So iconic! And we got to shuffle up quite close to it too, which was a bit of a treat. While the pyramids on their own were great sights, adding the sphinx to the mix made it easier to imagine what it must have really looked like there so many thousands of years ago, with giant statues and such impressive structures. It also made for some excellent photos, even without its nose!

After the sphinx we took a trip to the site of the first pyramid known to have existed. This was a fairly forlorn area; barren and very, very dusty, but super interesting. It was also the first time we felt like we were in the proper desert.

Great pyramid of Giza
The pyramid itself was in excellent condition and it seemed as though the surrounding areas were one mammoth ongoing excavation project. It was also while travelling to the step pyramid that we got our first real glimpse of Cairo's dirtier side. I mean, everything is pretty grimy in general, but this was something else...

... Over time, the Nile has shifted position in Cairo, but various canals have taken its place, and boy did these seem like disease ridden life takers. There was so much rubbish piled up on either bank of the canals we passed that there didn't seem to be any actual ground underneath them. We passed more than one dead animal in the water, including a HORSE, followed by people in there up to their chests fishing or washing clothes.

Pyramid
Really squalid. Everything was also really dusty and unfinished. It's the first time I've been to a third world country and this was a bit of a wake up call indeed.

After the step pyramid, we were taken to lunch (not overly thrilled) and then Carpet School. We had seen a lot of these carpet schools as we drove to the pyramid site, but didn't know what they were. Turns out that this is where very young children are sent to learn how to make the expensive rugs we put on our hallway floors. Each of the carpets is hand knotted, and it seems as though only children have hands small enough to make them properly. So instead of going to a real school to get an education, kids as young as 5 or 6 years old are sent to these places to learn how to make rugs.

The real kicker, though, is that when the children reach the age of around 16 or so, they are physically too large to continue making carpets so their 'education' in this trade is all but defunct.

Camel patrol near the great pyramids of Giza
On top of which they never got proper schooling because they were at carpet school the whole time. The owner assured us that the children are paid and have good working conditions as it is an educational facility, but it was very thinly veiled child slave labour really. Needless to say we did not purchase anything from these people and Milton proceeded to ask some very probing questions about the morality of it all.

Carpet school aside, the day had been equal parts amazing and shocking and we were ready for some drinks and dinner at the hotel before our last day of sightseeing around Cairo...

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Milt and the great pyramid

And so we were finally due to head to Cairo after 4 days cruising down the Nile checking out temples and ruins aplenty. Once again our tour operator kicked into overdrive as we had reps come and collect us from the boat, drive us to the airport, check in our bags and get our boarding passes. They even arranged for us to have emergency exit seats so Milton, who is very tall, could have a little leg room. The Egypt Air (gulp) flight was only for a couple of hours through the night and we were unbelievably thankful to have another rep waiting for us when we arrived in Cairo.

On our way through Cairo to the hotel we got our first glimpse of the density of life in Egypt's capital. Whereas further south everything seemed to be very rural yet largely uncluttered, with villagers living in little more than mud brick huts at times, Cairo was a sprawling metropolis of what seemed like a lot of unfinished buildings, old cars, rubbish, pollution, people and even donkeys.

Me and the pyramids!
It was so strange to be driving along in our mini van (no need for suspension on these vehicles it seemed... we were rattled and bumped in the back of our death trap until our teeth just about clattered out), alongside three or four other cars and then a donkey in the far lane.

The hotel itself was fine enough. Clean rooms, spacious and comfortable with courteous staff. We had elected for a two day Cairo tour, wherein we joined another couple to check out the main city sites with a guide and driver, so after freshening up we made our way to the reception area to head out into Cairo. First stop were the great pyramids of Giza, which loom over the outskirts of the city in the most amazing way.

Milt and the pyramids
It was just a shame that the exceptionally heavy pollution all but obscured a really good view of them as we approached. And I'd have to say that, although there isn't a lot to 'do' when you get to the pyramids themselves, they are truly everything you imagine them to be. Totally amazing and something everyone must try to see. Of course the area is rampant with locals trying to scam money for this and that, and people offering rides on camels, etc, but since I don't agree with the exploitation of animals for money we stayed firmly away. You could also climb down into the one of the pyramids, but the passage ways had low ceilings, which wasn't really going to work out for Milton, so instead we wandered around the base and tried not to attract the attention of the locals hanging around.

As an aside, when you're in Egypt you have to watch out for anyone trying to eek out a living on the visiting tourists.

Pyramids
They might do any number of things to try and get money from you, including posing for photos, offering to show you where you'll get a great shot, offering to tell you something about the site you're looking at... you name it. Even the tourist police (who are there to protect tourists and the sites they come to look at) are not above asking for money if you get them to take a picture. Everyone is on the game and, although you can't really blame them when you see what living conditions are like, it does wear you down after a while.

Anyway, after getting our up close view of the pyramids, we were taken to a viewing platform a short drive away to get the landscape shot of all the structures together... pretty magnificent but also somewhat marred by the heavy pollution making the vistas hazy. Still, well worth the trip to Cairo for just this view!

hambone47 says:
I'm going to Cairo shortly and was curious about where you stayed while in the city. You mention that the accommodation was comfortable. Can you remember the name of it?
Thanx, JOhn.
Posted on: Sep 28, 2007
Camel patrol near the great pyrami…
Camel patrol near the great pyram…
Great pyramid of Giza
Great pyramid of Giza
Pyramid
Pyramid
Camel patrol near the great pyrami…
Camel patrol near the great pyram…
Milt and the great pyramid
Milt and the great pyramid
Me and the pyramids!
Me and the pyramids!
Milt and the pyramids
Milt and the pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Pyramids
Tourist camel and horse rides
Tourist camel and horse rides
Sphinx and pyramids
Sphinx and pyramids
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx
Camel patrol
Camel patrol
Pyramids
Pyramids
Sphinx and pyramids
Sphinx and pyramids
Sphinx
Sphinx
Sphinx and pyramids
Sphinx and pyramids
Oldest standing Step Pyramid
Oldest standing Step Pyramid
Cairo
photo by: vulindlela