Picture of me at Chichen Itza! Visited in March 2008
Disclaimer: I am, in no means, through this post discrediting the Pyramids of Giza, a masterpiece of the ancient world, as its architecture & history are beyond amazing. This article is simply portraying my opinion & POV of my (3) visits, taking into consideration the high expectations that I had before hand. You should still go, even if for the bucket list’s sake, but please be aware of what you will likely encounter…
I went once. Nothing. Went twice, worse. Went one last time…and had more fun taking silly shots by the Sphinx. Unfortunately, each visit tot the Pyramids of Giza was more of a sandstorm of disappointments than the tear-jerking Kodak moment I dreamed about since I was 8. Perhaps that’s why I went 3 times. Those extra visits were my desperate pleads; hopes to change my mind.
What the heck? Indeed, this thought crossed my mind several times prior, during, and after each visit. What happened? You may ask. Well, keep reading & get ready for some spoilers.
[You may click on any picture to enlarge]
The First Visit
At the time, I was Couchsurfing at the Mena House Oberoi (talk about class! Haha), having my own bed overlooking the pyramids–probably the most (&/or only) magical moment with the site. I remember I couldn’t wait to visit. So after settling in, off were my host & I to the infamous Pyramids…
As I approached the entrance gate of the Pyramids of Giza site, I was confused. The city is right there. No magical, eerie feeling of the pyramids in the middle of the desert. As I kept walking toward the Pyramid of Cheops and looked at the city skyline…wait, I couldn’t because I was immediately hassled to buy postcards by a dozen kids, to ride a camel and/or horse for about 10 minutes for way too much money (by Egyptian standards). I couldn’t even have my alone time to reflect on how disappointed I was with the fact that the pyramids are in the middle of the city. Sure, when you look at the other pyramids you can see the vast desert in the background, but while on the site you simply feel as if the pyramids of Giza were obstructing the city life instead of the other way around. It was weird…
Then I looked up – the vast Great Pyramid covering the scorching sun above me. “Cool” I thought to myself. And that was it. I kept looking around, walking, studying my surroundings…I was baffled. I even felt wrong for being so…disappointed (that still hurts to say).
After having no choice but to take pictures, my host and I began snapping away. Then, things went from bad to worse: I “accidentally snapped” a man that happened to be riding his camel right in front of my camera. The man stopped and demanded money. “You took my picture,” he said. I was like, umm, sir, you rode your camel in front of my camera, I didn’t mean to disturb you. He insisted, “you took my picture. 50 pounds” (or something along those lines). I couldn’t believe it. My host, trying to avoid any kind of confrontation, at least tried to haggle with the guy and ended up paying something around 30 pounds. Unbelievable. Why were these Egyptians acting that way? I had met others in Cairo before I ventured out to the Pyramids of Giza and they were the kindest, most generous people. Why were these Egyptians at the site trying so hard to change my perception of their people? Fortunately, I’m not that judgmental. Still, the experience was sad, annoying, and even a little infuriating. I disliked the fact that that’s the image of Egyptians that most tourists take away with them. I was as angry as any other Egyptian would have been.
The Second Visit
I was kind lured into this one. I was hanging out with potential roommates & they were going to visit the pyramids of Giza for the first time–guided tour and all. I decided to go again, this time with more people and a knowledgeable Egyptian guide by our side, hoping that my perception would change *buzzer* wrong again. If anything, the second visit exacerbated my POV (is that even correct grammar?). Indeed, I sighed in lament…
Tour was “great” overall, by a tourist’s standard. Driving around the pyramids in an A/C van surely made the experience more comfortable than the first time, when I felt I would drop dead at any second (desert heat is way more miserable than you can imagine). However, the guide will take you to several shops so you can buy something (aka: Commission!). Worse yet, I felt pushed to do so. Honestly, I would have rather skipped all those shops, spend more time on the sites and leave more tip instead. But nope. And it gets worse!!
The camel or horse ride. Please please pleeease: DO NOT DO IT!! I repeat: DON’T DO IT AT THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA AT LEAST!! Not only is it overpriced, but they ask for baksheesh (tip) on top of that and threaten to leave you in the middle of the desert (ok, quite a hike from the site) if you don’t shell out! Besides, the actual ride is so short for the 100 pounds which btw, by Egyptian standards, is financial rape. Seriously, at this point I wanted to cry and scream “where are the kind, honest, REAL Egyptians!? I know they are out here somewhere!”
Back to the guide: She was very knowlegable, yes. She inf act answered many, many of our questions which was wonderful. But I just wouldn’t do it again. Personally? Go to Couchsurfing, grab find an independent Egyptologist (spelling?), pay a decent rate (go to Tripadvisor.com for guidance), and skip all that camel ride and shops BS. Trust me, your experience will be way more enjoyable.
Oh! And I almost forget to tell you! Make sure you ask beforehand the way to “the panorama” — from where you can see all 6 pyramids. THAT is a perk. In fact, I must admit, maybe I felt a few butterflies when I took in that particular view.
The Third Visit
Yes, one more time. I went independently again, this time with a friend of mine from Arabic class and some friends of hers that were visiting from Spain. This was by the end of my year there, so my Arabic was at the intermediate level at this point. Boy,was that a difference! I have been told many times I even look Egyptian or Lebanese–which I totally took advantage off. When people came to hassle, I kindly looked at them and was like “please, these are my friends. I live here. We are not interested in buying anything. I’ll take care of them. Thank you very much” with the sweetest-yet-firm, most convincing face possible. It worked–to the T. As of, no one bothered us. Whoa! There we go! You no tourist? You my friend with Egyptian then? Okie we won’t bother you no problem o_O nevertheless, the magic of the pyramids of Giza had worn out by then so my crew & I decided to harass the Sphinx instead
Must Go? What to do (aka travel tips)
Many of you must go & understandably so. Here are some quick tips:
1. I would personally recommend getting a really good guide of the Pyramids of Giza so you can go around on your own. Go to Amazon & read reviews to make sure you get a quality one. You could also simply read about the pyramids’ history beforehand, then take a map of the site so you are able to get around the site once there.
2. Hire a private guide if you really want a knowledgeable (yet trustworthy) local with you. Shop around, make sure you are not taken into shops you don’t want to visit, etc. Best way to find out rates & recommended guides is to checkout the Cairo forums of Tripadvisor.com I planned most of my other trips even as far as Aswan & Luxor there and independent travel is def. the way to go.
3. Do yourself a favor and learn a few key phrases in Arabic. Grab a phrasebook, visit a forum of Arabic speakers. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but mastering a few words such as “no thank you, I’m ok on my own” will go a long way, especially if you speak in a firm, confident manner.
4. Blend in. Yes, that means no Hawaiian shirts & khaki shorts 9and women: Cover your shoulders and knees!). Neutral colors are favored, long trousers, no-brand shirts, etc. Google pictures of Egyptian people. Try to dress like them. I know, if you are blonde you might think “what’s the difference?” but the fact you are respecting the culture and trying to blend in will not go unnoticed (in a good way)
5. If visiting independently, there is a bus from Ramses Square (I believe–double check on that) that you can take to the Pyramids of Giza which drops you off right by the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, which is just a few meters off the main gate of the site. Ask “Ila Haram Giza? Feen?” (means “To Giza pyramids? Where?”) and people will point you in the right direction. Ride only costs 1.50 pounds (as of 2008–don’t think it has gone up by much). Trust me, 1.50 vs a 20-30 pound cab ride is a big difference in Egypt, sp if you are a budget traveler like me. You will love having the extra money in order to take extra side trips to other less-traveled sites of Egypt such as the White Desert, Siwa on the west and Ras Shytan, Dahab and other little gems in the Sinai (just to name a few!)
6. Want to ride a camel? Visit the Sinai peninsula and book a tour to Ras Abu Gallum reserve from Dahab instead. About 1.5 hours EACH way on a camel should sure write that off your bucket list. Plus, you get a Bedouin lunch & few hours snorkeling as added bonuses. Sounds like a better deal than at the pyramids, huh? Because it is!
Stay tuned for more entries on how to see all the amazing historical (and natural) sights around Egypt like a local.
Did you visit the Pyramids of Giza? Post comment of your experience!