Journal: Wednesday 27 September 2000
I am not a city person and neither is Jenny. We’re both sick of the hassle of taxis and just beginning to regret staying in a cheap hotel on the wrong edge of Cairo, so we decided to walk towards the Egyptian Museum where it should be easier to find a taxi whose driver would be more likely to understand where we wanted to go. Consulting my Cairo map, it was a straight road, down Sharia Rameses from the Railway Station to Midan Tahrir. A very very long straight road. Sharia Rameses is one of the main arteries of Cairo and crammed with traffic at all times of the day. It felt like every one of Cairo’s population of over fifteen million was on this road today, zig-zagging between lanes in cars, clinging to the back of overfull busses or weaving in and out on bicycles, often with large objects balanced on their heads. The noise was deafening. The buildings on either side of the wide street are an example of urban development gone mad, where beautiful but neglected colonial-style architecture is often overshadowed by modern concrete high-rise office blocks and banks. Walking down the high cracked and crowded pavements of the city is a very different experience to speeding by in a taxi and we were able to take in the sights and sounds in a much more intimate way. As is our custom, we were dressed respectably in long skirts and long-sleeved tops and we were very hot, the temperature was already soaring by 9.00am. As we walked, we were largely ignored by passers-by, for which I felt grateful. We must have been obvious as foreigners, but we tried not to appear lost or have that glazed look that many tourists seem to have. I wondered what these city people felt about the massive influx of foreign visitors each year, many looking like they belonged on a beach with their skimpy clothes revealing large portions of lobster-coloured flesh. The closer we got to the river, the more we were noticed. I had long-ago found that most Egyptians, and especially a certain sort of latter-day dragoman, can spot a tourist, name their nationality, wealth and sexual preferences from a great distance, zoom in on them and stick like glue. We kept our eyes down and forged ahead.
After many scary moments attempting to outwit traffic by crossing several main roads, Jenny and I reached the Corniche without being run over. The trick is to find a large Egyptian, move into their shadow and cross when they do (making sure that they are on the side of the oncoming traffic). After only a couple of minutes we hailed a taxi, the driver spoke good English and agreed to take us to the Giza pyramids. Well, that was easy!
We crossed the river via the 26th July Bridge, the driver pointing out landmarks along the way. On the West Bank we stopped at a junction and a young man jumped into the front seat of the taxi, the driver explaining that this was his sister’s son, Mohammed, a university student. He seemed polite, even charming and spoke very good English. A rapid conversation in Arabic followed between the driver and his nephew, before the boy turned to us and told us that the main entrance to the pyramids was closed today because of work on the sound and light show and cars were being directed to another entrance much further away. Mohamed, however, offered to show us a shortcut onto the Plateau by the horse stables. Our taxi dropped us off at the stables and Mohammed guided us through a Muslim cemetery onto the Giza Plateau. By this time we were certain that this was not an official entrance. We thanked him anyway and gave him baksheesh (LE20) for his trouble but it soon became obvious that he expected much more money from us. After a lot of argument he left us and we began the long trudge across the hot desert sand towards the pyramids in the distance. We eventually arrived at the Sphinx temple, only to be told we could not buy tickets there but had to go to the main entrance. By this time we realised that this was a scam – we had been conned and the young man had expected to make a lot of money from us by showing us a free way onto the Plateau. The main entrance was open today as usual and I felt very foolish for being taken in.
Giza is tiring, even more so because we had walked all the way from the eastern side to the western side in the blazing sun. We bought tickets and looked around the area of the Great Pyramid, went to see Khufu’s solar boat in it’s specially-built museum, and around the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure. We visited several tombs, including the newly-opened Dynasty IV tombs of Debhen and Yun-min in the Southern Cemetery. We walked down Khafre’s causeway to the sphinx but by the time we reached there it was 5.00pm and we were both exhausted.
One of today’s better times was when we easily found a taxi to take us all the way back into Cairo and to our hotel, without any further mishap. We had both enjoyed our day at Giza but I was still feeling foolish for being just as gullible as all the other tourists, even though this is my tenth visit to Egypt. We live and learn.