I’ve now been in Cairo for 3 days but today was by far the most eventful. I nearly got scammed, nearly got robbed, got on the women’s carriage of the metro, got lost, hopped on a local bus, caught a microbus, climbed a pyramid, turned down at least 15 camel rides and went to the museum. But I’ll get to that later.
Day 1 in Cairo (Red pyramid, Bent pyramid, Saqqara, Step pyramid, Memphis)
Organised a taxi for the day (110 LE, $22) with a bird from Melbourne called Erin who was also staying at Dina’s Hostel to take us around 3 sites. First stop were the Red and Bent pyramids. I was surprised at the lack of tourists; there were possibly 8 other westerners in the whole site and 2 buses of British/American school kids. We attempted to climb one of the queens pyramids next to the bent but was quickly kicked off by the tourist police and told it was ‘closed’. They all happened to carry AK47s so I wasn’t in any position to argue. We then proceeded to walk across the dunes to the badly damaged Black pyramid about 1km in the distance, this was also ‘closed’, yet there was no sign or fence. So I suppose it was just up to these ‘tourist police’. The Tourist Police then followed us around, not sure if they thought we were trouble or just checking out the rip in Erin’s jean.
There were stairs leading into the red pyramid (it was apparently red in colour some 4000 years ago) which gave you access into the inner chambers. The lovely old man at the entrance assured me that we had to pay him baksheesh (a tip) for letting us enter; Erin asked one of the school kids nearly by who told us he was just trying to rip us off. So we pushed past and we were on our way. The tunnel down into that had to have been no taller than chest height and quite steep (this 100m challenge led to both our quads being torn for the next few days). The inside of the pyramid had a 100mm ag line running the length of it which I suppose was ventilation but didn’t actually do anything, instead we got a varnish/urine smell. At the end of the tunnel there was a large chamber followed by another tunnel and then a final chamber which contained a pile of rocks. The smell now felt like someone stabbing the inside of my nose and heat inside the pyramid was getting quite intense. It was time to get out. I’d still do it again.
Next stop was Memphis which was the ancient Egyptian capital. We visited an outdoor museum containing a large statue of Ramses II and various other smaller statues. Again, only a dozen westerners in here.
This was followed by a visit to Saqqara. First stop was the Saqqara museum, quite small and I was starting to get over museums after this, there’s only so many scarab beetles, spears, pharaoh miniatures I can handle. We got back in the taxi and headed up to the step pyramid and surrounding tombs. I’m my opinion the step pyramid was the most impressive because it was the first(?) built and also the amount of scaffolding on it which made it look like it was still under construction. The whole Saqqara area is either being restored or still under excavation. I’d say in 10 years this site will be more impressive than Giza.
Day 2 in Cairo – Islamic Cairo
This place is beautiful, about a 1.5km walk from Downtown through endless shops underneath a motorway(?). I think I ended up walking about 10km over 6hrs. Islamic Cairo consists of one really long street barely trafficable my motorcycle yet the occasional car tries (and succeeds somehow). The street is lined with mosques and player halls, some cost to enter (10 – 25LE), some you can climb the minarets (spire) and overlook the entire area. Anyone is allowed to enter the mosque except during prayer time (although people pray at all time throughout the day). I really don’t know how to describe these 500 year old buildings and I don’t think the photos do them any justice. After walking in the wrong-ish direction for about 2km (minimal street signs and small map), i found my way and ended up at the citadel. This is a giant fortress surrounded by mosques which I will have to save for my next visit to Cairo.
Day 3 – the day in question
It was Friday, which is Sunday, so the streets are empty, and a lot of shops are closed.
The day started by getting the metro (1 LE, approx 20cents) to Giza and meeting local who lived near the pyramids and showed me which local bus to get (50p, 10cents) while I quizzed him about how Egypt/Cairo functioned.. He then proceeded to tell me about another entrance into the pyramids for locals and I figured I had nothing to lose so I went with him. As you can guess, it turns out he was a scout for a horse/camel back tour group who wanted around 300 LE for an ‘everything included’ tour. So I got out of there, walked to the normal entrance, paid 60 LE and was in; learnt my lesson from that one. I later found out locals pay 2 LE for entry. This sets a challenge for next time, convince the dude in the ticket booth I’m Arab and get in dirt cheap. This also applies for the museum, which also costs tourists 60 LE ($12).
At approx 140m tall, the pyramids were a spectacle. Surrounded by approx 2000 people (both Westerners and Arabs) it was the first time I’d seen a large gathering of tourists to date. Upon entry I noticed a few kids halfway up one of the smaller queen’s pyramids (even though I’d read that it was illegal to climb them) I decided this would make for an awesome view/photo opportunity. I climbed to the top after begin stopped twice by little Egyptian kids wanting a photo with a westerner, I suppose it not very common for these kids to communicate with one. At the top I got about half a dozen photos in before a puffed out, very angry security man yelled at me in Arabic and informed me that this was strictly forbidden and that I needed to get down straight way (got a translation from an American couple who were living in Cairo) but I figured that’s what he meant anyway.
Walking around the pyramids you are offered a camel ride, photo with a camel; buy a miniature pyramid, scarf, camel or pharaoh every 30 seconds. I decided to walk into the desert for about half a km to get a photo of all 9, totally worth it.
After getting the bus back to the Metro I stopped for coke in a small shop, while paying for my drink I felt a slight tug on my backpack, turned around to see a smiling Egyptian man, I pushed him back grabbed my change, checked my backpack and left for the metro; dirty bastard. While standing on the platform I noticed a few blue signs with ‘ladies’ written on them but there were no toilets near them. I got on the metro not thinking when a local woman said ‘woman’ and she pointed around. Oops, turns out they have carriages just for women.
Later that day I went to the Cairo Museum (60 LE) which is packed to the rafters with ancient stuff. I spent a total of 2 hrs in there but I was getting over it after the first hour. That was until I walked into Tutankhamen’s gallery. Damn! Talk about serious bling. The dude had gold everything. Unfortunately you can’t take a camera into the museum and they search your bag twice, x-ray your bag twice and you pass through 2 metal detectors throughout your trip. Overkill much?
All in all this was probably the most enjoyable day in the city with a million smells, Cairo. I’m off to Aswan next via a night train ($60), if a seat is available.