I had been living in Cairo for roughly two weeks and of course my first major excursion outside of the city was to Giza to visit the pyramids.
We took a yellow cab whose driver managed to lose his way more times than we would’ve wished and we finally made it to the pyramids around 11:30 AM despite calling for the taxi at 9. Our driver included a nice little sidetrip to a sketchy camel ride salesman, who informed us that we “had to take a camel or horse to get to the pyramids” which, of course, we knew was a complete lie. Still we were forced to converse with him and his workers for another 20 minutes as one of our friends debated the merits of taking him up on his extremely over-priced offer. Just a note: you can get a camel or horse ride around the pyramids for between 5 and 20 pounds.
Once we dispensed with the salesman and his crew, we reached the pyramid area and I was simply ecstatic. The pyramids and Sphinx were so much grander than I had imagined. Larger and more stunning than what the pictures had shown. We spent some time wandering around the ground looking at the pyramids, one of which I even climbed. There were many people on the pyramids, climbing or eating and drinking, and every once in a while a uniformed guard would come by yelling at them all to get off though this rarely worked to remove them for longer than a minute. Honestly, I was quite appalled by the trash surrounding the pyramids. With everyone eating and drinking on them and the strong gusts blowing up sand and whatnot, it looked like someone had dumped a trash can onto the ground. Whenever the winds picked up speed, the trash would dance around in small cyclones.
Another interesting aspect of our trip was my first confrontation with the culture of baksheesh (tipping). There were many smaller enclosed buildings that we entered on the Pyramid grounds and often (nearly always) the attendant would grant us special treatment (taking pictures and going into areas we were not supposed to) on the understanding that he would receive some amount of pounds upon our exit. Of course, I was of two minds about this whole situation, on the one hand who would not want to examine the buildings in great detail and photograph the wonderful things we could see, but of course on the other hand, we were risking damage to these important monuments and giving the attendant incentive to continue to propagate this damage.
After a few hours of wandering around the pyramids, we purchased tickets to go inside of the Great Pyramid. I found the King’s chamber to be somewhat anti-climatic. The climb up on rickety “stairs” while hunched over was somewhat annoying, especially when I kept smacking my head on the ceiling, and the final destination was nothing more than a large square room with a stone sarcophagus. On the other hand, the realization that I was inside of the Great Pyramid standing in a room thousands of years old was more than enough to make up for the lack of splendor that I had unconsciously been expecting.
The Pyramid grounds closed around 4 or 5 PM so we went into the town and spent sometime sampling the local food and desserts before taking a taxi back to the New Campus. The trip to Giza was a very pleasing experience and I plan to go back at least once more to see the Pyramids again.