The pyramids, Sphinx, and watching the sunset at a Bedouin camp in the desert.
Egypt. Whatta day! I only had a 22hr layover in Cairo, but I made the most of it. I booked myself one night at the Pyramids View Inn for only $35. The hotel itself wasn't anything to get excited about, but the view from the rooftop terrace sure was!!!
Look how tiny the people on horses are in comparison!
I checked into the hotel at 8am, enjoyed a free breakfast on the rooftop, then literally walked across the street to the pyramids.
I visited Egypt at a time when no one else was. Everyone thought it was too dangerous to be traveling here, including my own mother. She was sure I was going to die or get taken. *Spoiler alert - I managed just fine. But since tourism was down, the touts around the pyramids were desparate for my business. Actually, it started at the airport already. Taxi drivers refused to drop their prices. Maybe its cuz they badly needed the money, or more likely its because they saw a blonde woman traveling alone and thought she was the perfect target to rip off. I wasted so much time bargaining over a taxi ride to my hotel, but got them down to $20CAD. I only had a day here, so I didn't want to waste any more time arguing with them.
I already knew to beware of all the scams & rip offs going on around the pyramids, and expected myself to be a target since I was alone. But geez, I got ripped off on EVERYTHING! And the worst part was I knew it was happening but couldn't do anything about it. So here is my story on how I paid a small fortune for an afternoon at the pyramids. It should really only cost you $12CAD for admission, and that's it. Walk past everyone trying to sell you everything from souvenirs to camel rides, carriage rides, horse rides, donkey rides, tour guide services ... the list goes on & on. Even if you do want something, like say a camel ride, be warned that you will pay a fortune, the ride will last 5min, and they will also want a tip ... and not just a couple dollars, $10, $15, etc! Its absurd!
Even before I made it to the entrance a man named Mustafa saw me coming. He introduced himself and walked me to the entrance gate, showed me where to purchase my ticket, helped me through security, etc. Again, I knew he'd want a tip. This wasn't Jordan any more where no one asks for tips. This is Egypt, and nothing is free. Mustafa kept walking & talking with me showing me this & that. I had somehow gotten myself a tour guide without wanting one. And I couldn't get rid of him. He kept saying it was free, no charge ... which is code for "but your going to have to give me a huge tip".
Upon arriving at the pyramids I realized they were a lot farther apart than I expected, so I decided to hire a horse and carriage to take me around them. They wanted $40CAD. I thought this was for the whole day, and so I agreed. Nope, turns out it was for 1hr. More on this later.
So Mustafa jumps in the carriage with me and we head out to the largest pyramid. WOW is it big!!! Standing at the bottom looking up, you cant even see the top! It is 461ft tall ... whereas the Sphinx is only 65ft tall.
Of course Mustafa just so happened to have a friend waiting by the pyramid that also just so happened to know how to work my camera and "you should give him your camera, he will make nice pictures of you".
I let him take a few, then checked to make sure they were actually clear. And they were. Since I was solo and didn't have anyone to take photos of me, I figured, what the heck, why not.
I knew he would ask for a tip. And he did. Well, heres the trick, they don't call it a tip. They tell you its free. Then when they are done, they say "are you happy?" To which I replied yes. Then they say "Ok, now you make me happy" and they hold out their hand for a tip. So don't fall for it! Nothing is actually FREE here! NOTHING! I asked how much, to which they all say the same damn thing "whatever you feel in your heart". So then when I try to give him a few dollars ... he looks at it & scoffs and says, "No. 250 Egytian Pounds". WHAT?! That's $40! I gave him 100p, which was still a rip off and he knew it. Ugh. What happened to "whatever you feel in your heart?'
Then whadaya know, Mr Photographer just so happens to have a son that can take me on a camel ride around the pyramids. By now I know this is all a set up. They just pass me along to their next 'friend' so that they can all make money off of me. But how do I say no to a camel ride by the pyramids?! This is what I came here for. And so, on a camel I get, lol!
This is Hemi, who is 13, and already quickly learning how to scam tourists.
At least unlimited photos were included in the camel ride.
They tell you that they will take you around the pyramids and to the Sphinx for $40CAD. What they really mean, is that they'll take you to a lookout point over the Sphinx, not actually right up to it. And you don't actually ride around all the pyramids, you only ride past the one you are already at.
Oh, and surprise surprise, this kid wanted a tip too! And so did the carriage ride guy. Everyone wants $40 to do whatever it is they are offering, plus they want another $40 tip!!!!!! *&!*%@ I couldn't take it anymore and started crying. Not sobbing, just a quivery chin and some silent tears. I was just SO fed up. I only had 1 day here and was trying SO hard to enjoy myself, but being ripped of every 10min just pissed me off! When Mr Photographer saw my tears he felt bad enough to give my money back, saying he would take a cut from his son (camel kid). Well of course you will! I'm sure you took it ALL from your kid, or maybe left him with a dollar! Uuuuggggghhhh! But through crying I at least got some money back, and then they felt bad and took me to feed their camels ... for free, lol!
After all that drama I find out my carriage ride is done. Um, what?! You still haven't actually taken me to the Sphinx, nor out into the desert to get that perfect shot of all the pyramids lined up in a row! I threw a hissy fit & stomped my foot. Mustafa convinced the carriage guy to take me out into the desert. He agreed, probably cuz he knew I well over-paid for this carriage ride to begin with. Plus, tourism is down, so he's unlikely to get another customer all day.
View from my carriage as we headed out in to the desert.
FINALLY! This is what I had dreamed of! Standing right here, with this view! I cried again, but this time happy tears. This time cuz I had made a long time dream come true ... by myself. No one helped me plan or pay for this (in fact, many told me not to go), I made this all happen, and it felt great!
It was just me and some local kids on a field trip out in the desert (what a fabulous place for a field trip!!). They wanted their photo taken with me, so I agreed only if I could take one with them too. I was quite the celebrity with my blonde hair and pasty white skin. You may have noticed that my head scarf turnt into a skirt part way throughout the day. This is because I somehow managed to rip a huge whole in the ass of my linen pants! I had no choice but to use it as a skirt to cover my bum, lol! But by doing so my blonde hair was exposed and drew a lot of attention. Everyone was stopping me wanting a photo with me. Now I know how celebrities feel! At first it was funny, but it got really annoying really fast. Women don't have to cover their heads in Egypt, but if you have blonde hair, I recommend it just to keep the attention off of you.
Then we headed over to the Sphinx. Hold on to your entrance ticket, cuz you'll need it to get into the enclosed Sphinx area too. You see all those kids in the photo below? ALL of them were following me snapping photos of me when they thought I wasn't looking. I swear I was the first blonde person they'd ever seen. As soon as I sat down to have Mustafa take my photo, all the kids stopped and pretended to be minding their own business. But as soon as I started walking again, they followed.
The second I entered the Sphinx enclosure there were locals offering to take my photo of me & the sphinx. Its free they say. Ya right! Not falling for that scam again. I just waited until the next tourist came in, and then we took pictures of eachother (which is what I should've done over by the pyramid too).
Finally I was rid of Mustafa (for a few hours at least - I agreed to let him take me out to a Bedouin camp in the desert for sunset later that day) and had some free time to just wander - which is what I should've been doing this whole time.
Just before sunset I met up with Mustafa again. He had borrowed his buddy's horse & carriage to take me out there. We went through the slums of Cairo before reaching the edge of the desert. Although absolutely disgusting, it was a real look into the lives of how people in this area live. I can honestly say its the dirtiest/poorest place I've ever seen (and smelt), even more so than Mombasa, Kenya! There was rotting garbage, raw sewage, badly abused & starving animals, and even a dead horse belly up in the piles of trash! All of this baking in the hot, hot sun! You can only imagine the stench!! I had to breath through my mouth in order to not throw up! I didn't feel right taking photos here, as I'm sure these people's lives are miserable enough without having some dumb tourist taking photos of them digging through the mountains of trash searching for food. By the time we finally reached the outskirts of the desert I was in tears yet again. This time cuz what I had seen was just so incredibly overwhelming
We didn't go too far into the desert, just far enough to be out of the city, and to have a good view over the pyramids. Bedouins actually live in this camp. They work in Cairo, and then come here to sleep.
This was definitely a side to Cairo that you don't see in the travel brouchures, or even when you google it. As I sat in camp waiting for the sun to set, I was served mint tea by one of the men living there. I watched the Bedouins coming home at the end of the night.
The owner of this place noticed me taking photos of his camel & donkey. So he quickly came over and posed the camel any which way I wanted (for a tip of course).
Waiting for the sun to go down ... which didn't actually set behind the pyramids like I was hoping. So I got the camel owner to pose his camel again so I could get camel sunset photos instead, lol!
So there you have it. Although seeing the pyramids was a dream come true, it was a hard day, from dealing with the rip offs, to seeing how the locals live, to just being overwhelmed by the immense size of the pyramids, and the beauty of the desert. I will definitely be back some day to explore the rest of Egypt, but this time I will be prepared for all the scams coming at me, lol! My day ended with me basically emptying out my wallet into Mustafa's hands, lol! He was with me from 8am until sunset ... so of course he wanted a tip for his unwanted 'service'.