After a quick and simple Egyptian breakfast, we hit the road heading to Sakkara to see the oldest pyramids
. Once we were out of the city we followed a canal for irrigation that was fed by the Nile. I was kind of surprised at the condition of the canal. For a civilization that is so old, and was so advanced 5,000 years ago. It appeared we were in a third world country. Along the canal were fields where buffalo and donkeys shared their space with the Ibis and Egrets. The shops and houses that lined the street ranged from grass houses, to mud huts to unfinished concrete building with the re bar sticking out of the top. Along the roadway there were guys riding in home made carts that had car tires and were usually pulled by donkeys. On they back they would have a load of long grasses or a load of vegetables. It was very primitive looking. There were no guard rails on either side, just a low wall every so often. Which is a good thing, because we came across a dump truck that was half hanging over the wall and the other half was on (or in) a small car that had been crushed underneath. The large front tire had plowed into the drivers door of the car, and settled about half way through. Our driver said he is sure the driver of the car had been killed. Along the bank of the canal was a continuous slope of trash. I cannot believe that they let this happen to the most important resource they have! They rely on this water for not only the crops, but for drinking water for the animals, laundry and fishing. Without it they would not be able to exist. I wish I could say this was only in a few spots, but these were the conditions for the whole ride (at least a forty minutes)
. We stopped for bottled water, the driver told me to stay in the car, that he could get it for an Egyptian price.
Arriving in Sakkara we were able to go down into an old tomb and see the hieroglyphics and sarcofogus. Above ground we could see several pyramids all round. The closest being the Sakkara (the step pyramid) and the 3 pyramids of Giza off in the distance. We were soon on our way, back along the canal to Giza. We went through a maze of side dirt streets and back alleys. We get out of the car and entered into a sort of courtyard where our guide gave us a rundown of what was were, relating to the pyramids. We were soon met by the owner of the place, he spoke very good English and explained that we were going on a camel trek to the Pyramids of Giza. He had a basket of headdresses and asked us to pick two out for ourselves. I was a bit hesitant but they were quick to point out that it was a bit windy that day and the sun is strong here. So we put on the white headdresses and top them with the multicolored bands. I thought we were sporting more of a Saudi Arabian Halloween outfit from the 99 cent store. I asked our guide "Now I really look like a tourist" and his reply was "Yes!". Not what I was hoping to hear. When the owner returned he explained that we owe him 40 LE (Egyptian pounds) or $7 USD for the headdress. Still trying to figure out the exchange rate, we pulled them off of our heads and said that we really did not want them
. He suddenly changed his mind and they were now free. His gift to us. (Since he was charging us 400 LE for this trip ($70 USD). Quit a lot for this part of the world. We probably could have bought the two camels for less. But we figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity... especially they way things were going.
You could see the nervousness in Lyns face every time someone mentioned the word camel. She was a good sport and climbed on. We were led by two young teenagers. One on foot guided my camel and one who spoke English, was on horseback. We followed the narrow alleyways and ended up on a wider road that bordered the great dunes. We followed a large wall topped by a chain link fence for a few hundred yards, then reached a group of policeman of tourism and antiquities and locals sitting around. The kid leading my camel approached the break in the wall and motioned for someone to open move the chain that was strung across. There were a few comments exchanged and I thought we were not getting in. Then Our guide on horseback made a few comments and the chain was lifted. As I crossed from the dirt road into the sand I was chased by an older fellow in local garb. He was yelling "Welcome to Egypt, Coca-cola?" holding up two small bottles. I shook my head and confirmed with a 'No' but he kept coming. I said no again, but this did not stop him. When he reached the camel he even popped one open but I refused to take it. He mumbled something under his breath and walked away. I can still picture him kicking sand. I just wander how many times those bottles had been opened and just how expensive they would have been. As we hoofed it up over a large dune we reached another fence. Here the same scenario played out. The pyramids were soon in sight. We were obviously coming in through the back door. We reached the top of the dune and had a fantastic view of the three pyramids. They were still off in the distance
. Between us there was a large valley of sand. On a few other hilltops you could make out the silhouette of camels doing the same as us. Down in the valley there were a couple of other small groups, some racing each other on horseback. It seemed like a timeless view. It could be 2006 or 1406. We made our way down the slope to the pyramids, stopping every so often for photos. Every so often one of the police that seemed to be everywhere would yell to us. Our guide in horseback would ride up and talk with him as we continued on. When we got close our guides said we could walk up and touch the pyramids and take a few more pics. Between our camels and the site, we were approached by several people looking so sell us jewelry or scarabs that would not take no for an answer. We were able to climb up a block or two, but no further, This was fine w/me. Those blocks are huge and covered in dust and sand. We jumped back on the camels and got closer to the Sphinx. We could see the buses driving from the gate to the entrance of the greatest pyramid and many people down around the Sphinx. We dismounted again and headed closer on foot. There was a policeman coming towards us looking for our tickets. We retreated and found our guides in a bit of trouble. They were talking very loudly with an older man who looked like a local dressed up like a tourist. I am sure he was undercover security. He approached us and asked us how much we paid for our camel ride. Not sure how this was going to unfold, I said that it was part of an all day excursion to all the pyramids and did not know the price of just the camel ride
. He did not seem happy with this response and I might have helped our guides in ripping me off. But I was just looking to avoid any confrontation at this point. We headed out and our guide on horseback followed a few minutes later. He assured us there was no problem. Which verified that something fishy was going on. We exited and had the same hassle getting out of the gates as we did getting through them the first time. Our guide told us a few cheesy jokes to butter us up and just as we approached the final turn before the stable, he explained that he does not get paid, he only works on tips. He said if we had something for the two of them, this was the time. It made for a bit of an uncomfortable few seconds, but I explained that we had just arrived and had not hit the ATM yet. Our guide was paying and we were paying him later. His response was "Oh Ok, the guide can include the tip, how much were you planning on giving me?". I said I would have to think about it and motion to continue moving. We had planned on tipping them, but I am sure there is a more comfortable way to approach the topic.
We were soon on our way back to the hotel. It was a LONG ride. It was probably 6:00 PM and traffic was heavy. The roads here are dark and windy and many drivers for some odd reason, do not use headlights. We got back to the hotel used the ATM and asked for some advice on where to find food. They asked us what we would like. I said, something simple and quick like falafel. He told me they would order food for us and we could eat there at the hotel. We were so drained from lack of sleep and the long day so we agreed. (It is definately fishy... the guides say they can get the best price. But part of me feels that they just don't want you to know how much things cost). Soon we had falafel abd rosted chicken. It hit the spot. Hopefully this will hold us over on our overnight train ride to Aswan!!
We took the 12:15am (yep, just after midnight) flight from Athens to Cairo. Besides arriving at 3am, the flight was fine. We purchased visas (two small stickers in the passport that look like postage stamps) and headed through customs. There were quite a few people at the airport considering the time of day. Back when we were planning our trip the Hezbollah situation was just starting and there were many people fleeing to Egypt. We thought it would be best to book a tour rather than travel independently. I found a good review online. Lyn did some research and booked the trip. Apparently here they use their last name first. So when we found our driver, he was holding a sign that had LYN in large letters. He drove us through an almost traffic free Cairo, past old Palaces, mosques all lit up, the Cairo museum and to our hotel. We settled in a hit the bed for a few hours before our first tour began at 9:30AM.