August 3rd, 2007

Just a Pile of Rocks

From Istanbul, I flew to Cairo. I had been curious for a while whether the pyramids in Egypt were bigger than the pyramids in the Americas.

Turkey is an Islamic country. Egypt is also Islamic. Cairo is only slightly smaller than Istanbul. However, the countries feel very different. Cairo struck me as a Bangladesh lite. For a little while, it was nice to be back in that environment; the roads are loud, there are no jay-walking laws (at all), it's dirty.

My first tourism here was just trying to learn how to work the system. I didn't want to find a taxi driver and hire him to take me to the pyramids for $10. Absolutely not. I wanted to take the bus. My hotel is near the central bus station, so that helped. However, it turned out to be something of a challenge. The buses are well labeled (in Arabic). The bus routes are number and the numbers are clearly displayed (in Arabic). The bus conductors are very helpful and shout out about the route (in Arabic). Let me describe my level in Arabic. Upon arrival, I could say 'hello', 'god willing', 'thank god', and could also read the written numbers (except 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9).

How does one overcome this problem? I had not seen any foreigners before my 3rd day in Egypt, so it certainly wasn't getting help there. Everyone knows that the pyramids are in Giza. Fortunately, the word for 'Giza' in Arabic is 'Giza'. I simply spent most of my day repeating that word with a question tone. Eventually, I ended up in Giza.

Making it from Giza to the pyramids was a little more challenging. I didn't know the word for pyramid. Fortunately, in Egypt there is always someone who would be happy to help you out. All they want in return is to be your friend. I'm pretty sure that in the Arabic-English dictionaries they use in Egypt they mixed up the words friend and salesperson. None the less, they still help.

The pyramids sit right on the edge of Giza. There is a large concrete fence around them and after paying 50 pounds to enter, crossing the fence transports you from Islamic suburbia into the desert next to the giant pyramids. I didn't go in that way. My friend wanted to talk to me about animal tour packages.

For the low price of 350 pounds you can get a tour on a horse for three hours. I started thinking about my bottom. My thoughts quickly shifted (just slightly) to my wallet, which only had 65 pounds in it. After some discussion, the price dropped to 50 pounds for a shorter tour, leaving me inside the fence at the end of the tour.

Getting onto a camel is quite a ride in itself. Camels are tall. My feet were the height of the chest of people on horses. The most remarkable part, however, is that camels really kick their riders around as they stand up. The first time the camel stood up, I'm pretty sure that we inverted completely and that I was actually below the camel for a little while.

What was the deciding factor in going to Egypt? I wanted to know if the pyramids in Egypt were more famous than the pyramids in the Americas because they were bigger or just because they were discovered by Europeans long ago. The biggest Egyptian pyramids are bigger than the biggest American pyramids (that I saw). The Egyptian ones also used construction techniques that were more much more difficult.

All told, after an hour and a half on a camel, my bottom was only sore for two days. Through a strange turn of events, I ended up tipping my tour guide my watch.

The pyramids helped me realize something I had gained from all my traveling. I managed to tour the pyramids with only a dab of sunscreen on my nose and come back without a sunburn. Yay me!