The Sphinx is drowsy,
Her wings are furled:
Her ear is heavy,
She broods on the world.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I knew I would be on the road and alone for Christmas, and when I realized last week that I would be in Cairo today, I decided to spend my Christmas visiting Giza to see the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World that is still standing. I have to say, based on the treatment it is receiving from Egypt, the real wonder is that it hasn’t collapsed like its peers.
After my visit to Cairo’s museum, the appalling lack of organization at Giza came as no surprise. That did not make it any less disappointing and depressing. I think the best way to convey Egypt’s presentation of her centerpiece is to describe my visit.
I decided the most affordable, and likely fastest, way to get to the pyramids was via the subway, so I boarded a Metro train (cost per ride, 17 cents!) headed in the direction of Giza. Here I encountered my first problem. There are two Giza stops, and no indication as to which station serves visitors to the pyramids. In any other country, it would be made obvious. The Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty– whatever a given city’s chief attraction is, that city spares no expense in making sure every visitor knows how to get to it. Not Cairo. I disembarked the train at the first Giza stop, reasoning that if it were the wrong one it would be easier to hop back on and continue to the next station than if I overshot it and had to go back. Once off the train I found no sign referring in any way to the pyramids. No picture of a giant triangle or sphinx– nothing. I went out one exit, and saw nothing, so I went back in and exited via the other side. Then it became clear to me I was in the correct place. Not because of any signage, but rather because of the dozens of local touts and hucksters approaching me in an attempt to rip me off. “Buy your official government ticket from me!” “Only 100 pounds for a taxi to the pyramid!” I was clearly in the right place.
I walked past the throng of would-be scammers, out to the city street and hailed a white taxi. I negotiated with the driver, and agreed to a price of 20 EGP (still too much, but only $3.50– it wasn’t worth flagging down multiple taxis to save perhaps $1.75.) and hopped into the cab. As I expected, he constantly attempted to detour off the route, but each time I reminded him “no, I do not want tickets or a camel,” and he got back on the road. Taxi drivers, given the chance, will take you to a friend’s camel rental stand, where the friend will attempt to fleece you out of anywhere between 300 to 500 EGP. They will try to sell you tickets that you don’t need, or run any manner of other scams on you. I had read in advance about this, and I was able to get the driver to take me to the entrance without stopping.
As soon as I got out of the taxi, I was again beset upon by locals trying to sell me all manner of things. Still no signage indicating I was anywhere special, either– just a ticket booth (shack?) and a plain-clothed ticket agent. The fee was 60 EGP, which equates to about 11 U.S. dollars. I can’t help but think they are drastically underpricing their exhibit, and if they were to charge more, perhaps they could take care of a few of the problems I am about to enumerate. And really, I think I speak for nearly every tourist when I say that I’d be willing to pay more to see them. In fact, though part of me is glad the cost was so low, I probably would have paid any astronomical sum I’d been asked to pay. I mean, come on, these are the pyramids! And the Sphinx! I am sure there is some limit to what one will pay to gain admission, but that bar is certainly steeper than $11.00! I would not have batted an eye had I been asked for 60 U.S. dollars rather than 60 EGP, that’s for sure. Maybe to be fair to all travelers, the cost could be 60 whatever-you-spend-in-your-country. You present a passport and pay however many Egyptian pounds 60 of your bucks buys. That would drastically increase the site’s revenue, and I don’t think anyone would change their mind and go home. If you have come all the way to Cairo, you aren’t leaving without visiting the pyramids.
ANYWAY– once I got inside, it was the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities all over again. No signs directing you anywhere, no labels, no maps, no descriptions. Nothing whatsoever, save for a bunch of guards posted so as to prevent anyone from climbing onto a pyramid. Including no trash cans! Which means that the various tombs and pits and… and… well, whatever they are, I wouldn’t know because there was nothing to tell me, but there are a lot of excavations and holes and pits all slowly filling with water bottles and candy wrappers. I’m pretty sure the pharaohs weren’t eating all those potato chips, so they must have come from the tourists.
While I couldn’t find out whose tomb was where, or when a particular pyramid was constructed, I could have rented all the camels I wanted to rent, for every two minutes a man on a camel would approach me and attempt to sell me a camel ride. They won’t take no for an answer, either. They’ll follow you and attempt to rent you the camel for at least a minute, about which time another camel rides up. Coupled with the hundreds of children selling packets of kleenex or postcards, and you never have a moment’s peace to simply observe or contemplate the wonders around you.
That is just the way things are run in Egypt– poorly. I guarantee if any other nation had the pyramids, they would be clean, organized, and well-run, and there would be tour guides, brochures, maps, signs, and the overall experience would be a pleasant, informative one. Sadly, that is far from the case, and though I by no means regret going, and consider this day to be one of the highlights of my life in terms of having viewed something majestic and awe-inspiring, I know that the experience could have been far, far better.
At one point I ducked into a tomb of some sort. Inside, one of the guards pointed to a carved image of a cow being butchered and said “cow, butchered,” and then held out his hand and said “give me tip.” I am neither lying nor exaggerating. That was exactly what happened, and it serves as a very good metaphor for the entire experience of visiting Egypt. I had intended to visit Sakkara, and view more pyramids later in the trip, but have changed my mind. I have had my fill of pyramids.