Letters from Cairo: Sand and pyramids

Today’s trip was like taken directly out of the lonely planet
guidebook. Our guide Said Azawi (todo: double check last name) picked
us up at the hotel at the appointed time. Driving over Gezira, past
the Cairo Opera house and into Giza we arrived at the pyramids at the
Giza Plateau early. We were a bit suspicious about the whole deal, but
the guide recommended we get horses or camels to take us across the
plateau.



Outside the K.G. stables

The price at K.G. stables seemed steep (LE 350 for both of us), but
when we calculated with the guide and entrance fees (LE 60 per person,
according to the guidebook) it wasn’t bad. We got a horse each. Mine
was named “Micheal Jackson” because he would whinny whenever a pretty
girl horse was around. Sarah’s horse was called “Maradonna”. The
guide, Mohammed, was chatting all the way, calling me “his brother,”
and Sarah “his sister”. The boy who lead my horse for most of the way
was also called Mohammed. He didn’t say much as he was too young to
speak english.



Big-Mohammed and Little-Mohammed

The Giza plateau by horseback is an experience I am glad to have had.
We were riding around for the better part of three hours. The pyramids
themselves are amazing, and getting up close to them and looking at
the masonry is very cool. The view of Giza city and the smog covered
Cairo as a background to the pyramids is a very interesting
combination.



Johannes and the pyramids



Sarah and the pyramids



Sarah, Johannes, the pyramids, and Giza city

When we got out of the Giza plateau, “Big Mohammed”, the guide, almost
pulled one over on us. He pulled us aside for hit tip (baksheesh), and
according to what he said, he didn’t get paid by the stable. When we
met up with Said (the driver) again, he asked if we were happy, and I
said I thought the tip was a bit steep. The result was that we got
most of the tip back, Muhammed apologized sheepishly, and probably got
in trouble with mr. K.G. the stable manager. In the end, we paid a
rather reasonable tip of USD 11, which I didn’t mind. I was a fun
trip.

I think the guy who came out really on top of the whole thing, was
“Little Mohammed”, the boy who lead the horse. We tipped him at the
similarly to “Big Mohammed”‘s top fee. But he deserved his money. He
was quite the sport running with the horse through the Saraha desert.

Observation: If you hire a driver for the day, as we did, be sure to
ask him what is reasonable to pay and tip at sites. After this
incident, Said gave us a good tip: If someone comes up and tries to
sell you something at the other sites, just say you left the money in
the car. (Or rather, “with the driver”)

We then went to South Saqqara to see the Zoser step pyramid and Teti’s
pyramid. The admission fee for South Saqqara was a reasonable LE 25
per person. At this point in time, K.G. stables had gotten most of our
available cash, but the excellent driver ended up lending us more than
twice his fee before we got to an ATM later in the day.

I enjoyed the Teti Pyramid, but the rest was not as interesting.
Walking around in sand is kind of tiresome, and we are not used to the
late Egyptian lunches. Observation: If you’re going for a pyramid
trip, be sure to pack food! The Teti pyramid allows you to crawl (or
walk hunched, as the case may be) into the actual tomb of the phareo.
At Giza, a similar experience in the Kheops pyramid will cost you LE
115! (Both Said and “Big Mohammed” adviced us to do Teti instead of
Kheops, and I am glad I did)



Johannes studies the hieroglyphs in the Teti Pyramid



Sarah comes out of the Teti Pyramid

We stopped by Memphis, where there’s a disappointing exhibit built
around a huge fallen status of Ramses II. Here, one of the ubiquitous
Tourist Police (who seem to be carrying assault rifles…) wanted
Baksheesh (tip) for showing us some hieroglyphs on the back of a
status. This was a bit much for Sarah. But she did appreciate the
experience of getting mad at a someone. :-) For real.



Two police officers hanging out in the Memphis museum

We drove back to Giza where we ate reasonably priced and well at the
Felfela. Going back to Cairo through Giza and through Zamalek, we got
to see more of the urban sprawl of Giza that is just a few decades
old. It seems like there are miles upon miles of red brick apartment
buildings in various stages of disrepair. The top stories would be
missing from some buildings, and most (but not all) of these looked
abandoned. According to Said, there are 9 million people in Giza (in
addition to the 15 million in Cairo). Seeing the tightly packed
buildings, I have no trouble believing it.

Said dropped us off back at the hotel. We were a bit nervous about his
settlement, because the price he quoted us was lower than we’d
expected. But he stuck to the deal. We tipped him 25 %, but by the
look on his face, he’d probably hoped for more.

Observation: Baksheesh is hard!

We’ve been resting and washing off the Saraha sand for the last while.
We have reservations for Abu el-Sid n Zamalek, which the guidebook
describes as fabulous. Now to brave the taxis of Cairo again.

Copyright © 2006 Johannes Brodwall. All Rights Reserved.

About Johannes Brodwall

Johannes is Principal Software Engineer in SopraSteria. In his spare time he likes to coach teams and developers on better coding, collaboration, planning and product understanding.
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