Stiff neck. Check. Stiff back. Check. Sleep deprived. Check. Okay! Let’s go check out some pyramids! Kristina and I arrived in القاهرة (Cairo) at about 8am after a straight shot from Dahab that departed at 1am.
Cairo was so run down, it was another level. Everything I had witnessed in Serbia and Macedonia didn’t compare. Nothing was growing. The streets were littered with garbage. There was a smog that made Los Angeles feel clean. There were more unoccupied buildings than occupied buildings. It made me think of how run down I thought Belgrade was at first until I realized the occasional unoccupied building that I saw was bombed by NATO in the 90’s. Here was so much worse that it really changed my perspective on Serbia. There were large walled-in sites with gunman posted at each corner. I’m not sure what they were defending. I have trouble believing that they were all military bases.
Our friend Osama (no relation) that we met in Dahab took the bus with us to Cairo. He hadn’t been home in five months so he took the opportunity to visit his brother and mother and show us around Cairo.
Osama’s friend picked us up at the bus station and drove us to his apartment. I was transfixed, eyes glued to the window on the drive there. This was different. We made it to the apartment. From his window we could see pyramids for the first time, although the smog made it difficult to make them out.
So we drove to the pyramids and this is the first spot that we stopped:
The entire ground was that covered in garbage. The parking lot was filled with camels and horses. You could see the hip bones protruding out from malnourishment. The locals tried pushing camel rides on us for an astronomical price, lying to us: “It’s a 10km walk around to the pyramids. You don’t want to do it by foot!” We got back in the car and drove up further.
The guards stopped us and checked the whole car. They ended up saying that we had to bring in our bags and have them run through security, even though we wanted to leave our bags in the car anyway. We brought them to security and after saying hello to the inattentive staff we watched our bags crash on the ground on the other side of the conveyor belt.
We then went to get tickets…the tickets for “non-egyptians” are very expensive and it’s unclear what you’re supposed to buy. We saw three options that we may be interested in:
- Area 120 EGP ($6.78)
- Great Pyramid 300 EGP ($16.94)
- Area + Great Pyramid + Khufu Boat 400 EGP ($22.59)
The area ticket is for just walking around but not going inside anywhere. We had a very simple question: Does the Great Pyramid ticket include the area or not? The ticket saleswoman spoke terrible broken english, but I would argue that this was not an issue of language barriers. We tried asking said question and she kept repeating that it’s 420 if you get the area and great pyramid tickets…why would anyone even buy that if it’s cheaper for both PLUS the Khufu boat.
We ended up buying the very expensive combo ticket. Screw it.
By the time we had gone through this whole ordeal and seen how trashed this amazing historical site had become, this is how I felt:
Right when we got out of the car and started walking about people began staring at us hard. There were occasional other westerners, but not as young. The teenage Egyptians immediately came forward and asked to take selfies with us. It was very similar to the reaction when you feed a pigeon, in that once we said yes to one selfie, the others flocked in to get their photos as well.
At one point one of the girls said hello, to which Kristina replied by waving and saying hi. Immediately we heard an uproar of young girls called out “HI!!!” and waving. Personally, I quite liked seeing the joy that they got out of it, and I can say that if you ever want to feel like a celebrity, have a walk around the pyramids.
We then went inside the Pyramid of Khufu (the Great Pyramid of Giza). There was barely any management of the pyramid except a single guard at the entrance. I was definitely saddened to see that people had signed their names on the walls of the tunnels, and you could touch and defile the tomb any way you desired. I tried getting into the scene, and for just a moment, I was really excited to be climbing the the narrow shaft, but ultimately I was far too distracted by the mess going on around me to appreciate this site. In Athens I tried placing myself back in the time and it was very powerful to imagine that. Here I was so bombarded with profit seeking locals and pyramid defiling assholes that I couldn’t think straight.
We visited the Khufu Boat, or Solar Barge, which is a boat that was sealed in a pit by the great pyramid around 2500 BC. The boat was discovered in the 1950’s which is so cool because it implies that even today we could still discover more things at this site. The boat was reconstructed soon after discovery and it now resides in an enclosed structure right next to its original pit. The pit, which was originally covered by about 30 massive stones, can now be seen right under the boat itself.
A few fun facts about the pyramids while I’m thinking about it: the stones used to build the pyramids were primarily not all that accurate. There were coarsely cut and then creases were stuffed with rubble. The only stones cut with the incredible precision the ancient Egyptians have a reputation for are the outer stones that are showing, and the ones showing inside the pyramid tunnels. Other fun and somewhat sad fact: the outside of the pyramid was originally a layer of polished white limestone that would have shone radiant white in the sun when it was originally constructed. Unfortunately, most of these stones, with the exception of some on the top of the Pyramid of Khafre, were looted and used for construction of other buildings in more recent centuries.
Unlike in Dahab, the people here felt very much like they were trying to take advantage of you. We went by this one area and a man continued to talk to us and take pictures for us until we told him to leave us alone (the hundredth time). He finally got the message and said “Thank you for your time. I accept any tips. People typically give 300 to 500 pounds.” Are you fucking kidding me?! I gave him 25 and I even felt generous with that.
Here’s some more pictures of ancient shit or whatever.
The locals insisted on taking tacky photos of us. This was typically part of a trick to get you conversational with them. Once a few photos were snapped, “hey, how would you like to take a horse ride around the pyramids?” I’ll give the guy this. He was asking for 20 pounds. Remember how I told you the other guy asked 300+ for talking to us for 5 minutes?! I would have rather paid more and had the man put the money towards feeding the poor horses.
I was starting to literally feel nauseous, so we made the decision to get out of there and grab some food in Cairo.
We first stopped to try azir asab, a sugar cane drink. It has an interesting taste, sweet but also you can taste how raw in the processing stage it is. It tastes almost swampy but in a good way, if that makes sense. We then stopped to pick up koshari and went to Osama’s mothers house to knock it down. Koshari is a popular dish in Cairo, consisting of noodles, rice, lentils, chickpeas, fried onions and an assortment of sauces, the main one of which is tomato based. It wasn’t particularly impressive but a good filling and cheap meal.
The night went downhill fast from there. Kristina got extremely sick with what we now know is called Pharoah’s Revenge, or the Egyptian tummy bug. BEWARE OF THE PHAROAH’S REVENGE!!! This shit is horrible. I’m not sure if I got the exact same thing but I came down with a bad fever myself. We think that it’s some sort of food poisoning but it could have been from anywhere in Sinai or in Cairo. The sleep deprivation from our travels certainly didn’t help.
After a nap I was feeling slightly better and I still wanted to see Cairo so I went out with Osama and his brother. We spent most of the time driving around. Again, I was staring out the window in awe. The traffic is insane. There is no order whatsoever. There are no speed limits. You just drive however fast you feel comfortable. I think the police just deal with accidents after the fact. There is no preventative enforcement. After narrowly avoiding a car accident at least five times, I asked Osama and his brother if they had ever been in an accident. To my surprise Osama said no. His brother said yes, a guy had t-boned him, but apparently it was slow and not anything serious. I did see one woman driving. Apparently it’s allowed but also very very uncommon. Osama claims that women are really bad drivers there. Pshh…women.
We stopped to grab some beers at a store, which made me suddenly realize that there are absolutely no bars in Cairo. It’s unclear what people do. There are occasional cafes but that does not account for the population of the city.
We crossed the street by foot to get to the beer store. I followed Osama’s lead and even with his expertise I’ll say that that is one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life.
After this we stopped on a backstreet where some of Osama’s friends were hanging out. The car was simply parked in the middle of the street. His friends were chatting with one another, and all were very excited to see him, giving affectionate hugs. Unlike at the pyramids, I was of little interest here. Many of these guys either introduced themselves very inattentively, without giving their names, or ignored me altogether. One or two were eccentric and welcomed me to Cairo, but I there was certainly a language barrier here. Also, there wasn’t a woman in site.
So we stood around on this filthy street and they chain smoked cigarettes. Friends would come and go on a whim. Three guys hopped on a scooter at one time and zipped away, to return with a different one driving about 15 minutes later. Marijuana was equally as popular with this crowd as with the folks in Dahab.
Eventually someone pulled out a dirty soccer ball and they started passing it around in the street. I kept imagining someone running to get the ball and getting hit by a car. Even though it was a side street, cars passed by on occasion and they would go terrifyingly fast provided the narrow passage between the parked cars on one side and the people congregated on the other. Despite my terrifying concerns, the Egyptians moved the soccer ball with incredible skill and even passed it around as cars passed. Each one of them was able to stop the ball from any way it was coming very efficiently, and then pass it any direction with a creative pass I was yet to have seen. I opted to just sit back and watch after realizing how out of my league their skills were.
And that’s how I spent one night in Cairo. Osama dropped us off at the airport, sick and delirious, early the next morning, and by that, I mean two hours afterwards. Thank you so much for everything Osama!
Security comes before bag drop-off and check-in. That means there is no discretion between what goes in your carry-on and what goes in your checked bag. The guards, again, inattentive, let us through with large bottles of water and a full bottle of nail polish remover. I’m not sure if the guy watching the machine even looked at our bags.
At customs we found out that we had to get visas since the only visa-free zone was east Sinai. This means that we were allowed into Egypt without visas because they simply didn’t question where we were going, but on the way out they made us pay $25 each to purchase visas. There wasn’t much interesting to this, but I do really want to mention that when we were sitting in an office waiting to get the visas, at one point someone walked in to the office and the head security officer just screamed. I mean…this guy just shouted. Not a word. Just a loud sound. And then the guy in the doorway walked away. Yeah. That happened.
I realized at the check-in that I had screwed up and our flight was in fact the following day. This was honestly a pleasant surprise. We went to a hotel a few minutes from the airport and slept and binge watched Rick & Morty for the next 24 hours.
And thus ended our time in Egypt. Now that it is over I can happily say that we survived. I was very concerned about our safety given everything I had read online about Egypt and Sinai in particular and it’s absolutely crazy to think that this mass shooting occurred while we were in Sinai. That being said, I felt very safe in the tourist areas of South Sinai. The people there are so friendly and genuine. It tells me that the fears you read online don’t properly characterize the real scene. Cairo is a shithole. You can skip that. But Sinai would totally be worth visiting again. For next time, I’ll be far more concerned about Pharoah’s Revenge than anything else.