We storm out of Giza station and onto an awaiting mini-van. Being a Thursday, we’re without the traffic blessing of last Friday and Mohammed does little to reassure the group by saying..
‘Thursday is the worst, worst day of traffic..’ he’s not wrong..
We have little to do but weave our way through the chorus of horns; but the advantage of being a traveling band of travelers, is that we have conversation and soon enough Mohammed is saying..
‘Guys, look out to your left now.. you can see the pyramids’ ..
And there, just beyond the freeway and a row of ramshackle houses, looms the mistakable shape of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. In the distance, with it’s kind of limestone hat, the Great Pyramid of Khafre. We get into the car park up on the Giza plateau with it’s panoramas of the nearby city and suddenly there’s a gathering of touts at the van door.
‘Ok guys, you’re gonna be very careful of these guy. They are they worst. Guys if they give you something and say it’s for free..they gonna just throw it at you. It’s not for free okay? Nothings for free, and they gonna want like a tip or something.. so just ignore them, don’t even talk to them, just walk’
So like robots we abandon the van, and abandon conversation. These guys try and put stuff in our hands by we’re like a stoic army and just press on. Walking toward the magnificent, looming ancient structures. As we pass the ticket office, some local tout is being held across the neck by a horse whip, held by the guy behind him. Just ignore, we were taught.. just ignore.
Despite significant signage, people are clambering all over the Great Pyramid of Khufu, a standing directly in front of us. There’s 2.3 million blocks of limestone weighing anywhere between 2 and 4 tonnes piled almost perfectly up to a pinnacle at 136 meters. It’s the grandfather pyramid, a funerary temple to Khufu (Cheops) built by his son Khafre.
Construction began 4000 years ago and took 20 years to complete. The neighboring limestone cap on the Great Pyramid of Khafre shows us the pyramids were once covered in a fine limestone layer that would have gleamed in the sunshine. Beyond Khafre is the smallest of the pyramids, The Pyramid of Menkaure, at only 62 meters tall. A gaping wound in it’s side, a result of a 12th century caliphs attempt over 8 months, to destroy the triplets.
Beyond the Pyramid of Mankaure is arid desert for as far as the eye can see, a stark contrast from the other side of the plateau which peers over the great city of Cairo and it’s 20 million inhabitants. Walking around it’s difficult to soak in the magnitude of the last remaining structures of the Ancient World because the horse and souvenir touts are relentless to the point of reckless. A great tip for anyone wanting to visit the pyramids is to avoid a horse ride. I’ll tell you why.. well the hides of the group of trail horses we saw were slapped so that they galloped. Bumbling like a ball on a trampoline, one rider bounches off the hide and lands heavily on the rocks..
‘Grmmmmmmaaaaaargh!!!..’ he yells, clutching his elbow and look at his nearby smashed phone. He is gingerly assisted up by the tout and lead away to a nearby medical station.
So.. no horse rides okay.
But like any good tourist, we jump onto camels and take a clump through the sands of the Sahara to the best vantage points. Camels are much higher off the ground, and more chilled out. Mine was called ‘007’.. but we also had Bob Marley and Charlie Brown in the group.
The nearby Sphinx, with the face of Khafre looks away from the pyramids, like a guard. At it’s paws, kids grab cameras out of the hands of tourists, take a bunch of cheesy ‘pick it’s nose’ type photos and then hassle for tips. Avoid them and you might manage to take in the beauty of the sight. Air pollution, wind and rain have eroded most of the facial features of the Sphinx but there’s an entertaining rumor floating around that Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops used it for target practice. Not true, we’re told.
We jump on the van and swing past a local roadside diner for for shwarmas and then press on to the Grand Bazaar of Khan al-Khalili. It’s an amazing labyrinth of old tea lights, carpets and spices in amongst narrow cobbled alleys wafting with the smell of shisha and hibiscus. It’s chaos and you spend most of your time fighting off vendors but once you retire from the spree of shopping, you can relax in a tea shop and soak in the surroundings of the square. Mosques ring out the call of prayer over the bazaar, and it’s so intoxicating you can find the tireless rantings of touts somewhat amusing because it all just kind of fits into the picture.
Sinai is a peninsula on the asian side of Egypt, an area of dispute for a long-time and briefly occupied by Israel in the late 1960’s. It’s unfortunately notorious for tourist kidnappings at the hands of Bedouins but we’re heading that way tomorrow, to Dahab, a beach town on the Red Sea. It’s time to see what this ocean is famous for.