Before we went to Nigeria, we spent a week in Egypt. I’m behind on blogging about our experiences there…so going back to our time in Egypt now.
Of all the places on our itinerary, I’d say Egypt was the one our families were most worried about us visiting. With the current revolution, we considered taking it off our itinerary altogether. In the end, decided to still go there but stay on the beaten path and not pursue our initial plan of exploring the desert with the Bedouins.
We arrived in Cairo early in the morning via a red eye flight. At the airport, we booked a tour to see the pyramids at Giza. I had always envisioned the pyramids being in the middle a desert, but in actuality, they sit really close to the city. Although they are in Giza, the city of Giza is considered part of Greater Cairo. This was our first view of the pyramids on our drive there.
There was a beautiful sunrise the morning we arrived in Egypt.
The pyramids sit close the Nile River Valley. We took the following picture from the parking lot where our guide gave us a historical overview of the pyramids. The whole Nile Valley used to flood every year, up until 1970 when the High Dam at Aswan was built. Back when the pyramids were being constructed, the water went right up to this bank, allowing for materials to be transported along the water. They say that rocks were quarried from as far as 600 miles away in Aswan and transported to Giza along rafts on the Nile.
The first pyramid we saw was the Great Pyramid, the oldest and largest of the three pyramids at Giza. Seeing the pyramids in person gives you a much better understanding of just how magnificent they are. It is estimated that the pyramids were built in 2500 B.C. Pictures don’t quite capture the magnitude of what it must have taken to build them so many years ago, before the invention of modern day heavy duty equipment. There were individual stones on the pyramids taller than me!
After the Great Pyramid, we visited the other two pyramids at Giza – the Pyramid of Khafre (the second largest) and the Pyramid of Menkaure (the smallest of the three pyramids).
From the two smaller pyramids, you could see the Great Pyramid and the Cairo skyline.
From there, we got some nice shots with Great Pyramid in the background.
The haggling at the pyramids was ridiculous. It was a constant barrage of people trying to sell you trinkets and camel rides. Our guide had given us some tips on how to handle them – don’t look at them or anything they are selling, and don’t talk to them at all, not even to say “no thank you”. The pyramids were just the first of what would be many experiences of annoyance with hagglers. At first, it felt really rude to completely ignore the hagglers, but the longer we were in Egypt, the easier it became. And we were assured that it’s not rude to ignore them, it’s just what you have to do.
Unfortunately, none of the locals do anything to curb the haggling. It is taboo for guides or police to tell them to leave you alone, since it would interrupt their source of income. I’ve traveled to a lot of different places and experienced haggling before, but nothing like what we experienced in Egypt. It’s constant and relentless here. And, the hagglers will walk down the street alongside you, apparently hoping if they bug you long enough you just might change your mind. They will put stuff on you, in your hands or arms, wherever they can put it and then expect you to purchase it. I think part of the reason it’s so bad is that tourism is down tremendously from what it used to be. Government statistics state it’s only down 30%, but all of the locals we talked to said it’s down way more – in some areas, only at 10% of what it used to be. Luxor alone used to have 6000 tourists visit per day, now it’s down to about 800 per day.
When we went to the Valley of the Kings, our guide explained that you used to have to wait 2 hours to get into each tomb. Now, there is no waiting anywhere you go. You can only imagine how much this has impacted so many people of this country whose livelihood depends on tourism. And, it gives you a sense of why the hagglers are so aggressive – they’ve become desperate. As one local told us, “there used to be 10 tourists for every haggler, now there are 10 hagglers for every tourist”.
Anywhere we went in Egypt that was a tourist attraction, you had to face a barrage of hagglers. And for me, it made it really hard to enjoy the sites. In all honesty, it made me never want to come back here again. Anyway, enough of my haggling soap box!
After the pyramids, we visited the Sphinx which sits in front of the three pyramids. The Spinx is the largest monolith statue in the world (it’s made out of one stone)! It was constructed at the same time as the Pyramid of Khafre.
After visiting the Sphinx, our tour guide said he was taking us to another site – which we found out after it was too late that it was really wasn’t a tourist destination at all; it was his friend’s perfume shop. As soon as they handed us a glass of tea, I knew what was coming next. And sure enough, before we knew it, we were being pressured to buy a $300 bottle of perfume. I almost wanted to laugh! We had been warned about such experiences and how it’s nearly impossible to visit Egypt and not get dragged into one of these forced shopping experiences. Needless to say, we left without buying a $300 bottle of perfume. Out of guilt, we put $10 bill on the table and thanked them for their time. In return, they insisted on giving us a bottle of perfume. It was just an awkward experience altogether. Jay and I vowed that if we got into this situation again, we’d recognize it sooner and get out immediately.
After our time with the tour guide, we explored Cairo a bit. We passed by Tahrir Square. It was sad to see that what used to be a vibrant city square is now mostly deserted a tent city for protestors.
Cairo is one of the dirtiest cities I’ve ever seen. Just a warning…if ever go there, beware of the public restrooms. Many of the local restaurants do not have their own bathroom and they will send you down the street to the public bathrooms, which were so disgusting I decided maybe I didn’t need to go after all. We didn’t take many pictures in Cairo, but here are a couple of some goats we saw in the street.
After spending not long in the streets of Cairo, which seemed utterly devoid of tourists, we went to the nicest hotel we could find, to relax in the hotel restaurant/bar until it was time to catch our train out of Cairo. The nice thing about Cairo is that the beautiful Nile River runs through it.
We watched the sunset over the Nile from the restaurant window.
It’s a sad situation in Cairo. In my opinion, it’s not a good place for tourists these days. That night, we boarded a sleeper train for Luxor.