Friday, December 21, 2012

Another mixed experience

One of the main reasons anyone visits Cairo would have to be to go to the Pyramids of Giza.  I wasn't any different.

I had luckily chanced upon a meeting with another one of the guests of the Pension Roma who had managed to organise a cheap car for the day to visit the Pyramids.  He was happy to share the costs with me for the day and so our transport was sorted.

We arrived at the rear entrance to the Pyramids at Giza and we were unsurprisingly ushered immediately into the office of a tour company.  We were immediately subjected to a barrage of lies about how it was essential that we get a tour of the grounds, because if we didn't there would surely be disaster for us.  I was well acquainted with all their tricks.  I had decided before even getting into the car that I would be conducting my own tour of the Pyramids without the assistance of any guides.  I ignored the "friendly" advice to take sign up to one of their tours.  Sadly, my traveling companion was not so experienced and he immediately agreed to the tour, without even giving the company the opportunity to start discounting themselves.  I wanted to get up out of my seat and take him by the hand like a child and lead him away, but this was between him and the company.  They were truly shameless, and the quick acceptance of the offer by my friend  didn't stop the company from continuing to offer me with discounts in an attempt to sway me.  I was in no mood to change my mind, but I could see the look of horror on my friend's face as he realised how badly duped he had been.

Eventually after the painful dance reached its conclusion, the tour company gave up on me.  I walked outside and entered the Pyramid compound by myself.
I was not immediately accosted nor was I robbed.

In fact it was very quiet.  The poor performance of the tourism industry had reached a point where many of the old tour operators and touts had given up.
This wasn't a problem for me.  I had enjoyed the ability to visit the sights through Egypt in peace and away from the bustling crowds.

Standing in front of the enormous structures in silence or by myself felt more appropriate.  It added to the majesty and spectacle of these beautiful structures.
I walked to the front where the ticketing offices were.  I had read that the tickets for entry into the pyramids were tough to come by, with only 300 on offer per day for Cheops, but an unlimited number for the other pyramid open on the day.

I got to the office and found no queue.

Arriving at the counter, I expected there to be no tickets available.  I was wrong.  The girl behind the counter didn't blink as she gave me tickets to both the pyramids.  The tourism trade was clearly doing badly at a historical level.  It was mid morning and there had been less than 300 people who had wanted tickets.  How this could be sustained in the long term I did not know.

I enjoyed going inside the pyramids.  The feeling of mystery as well as the knowledge that there was a literal mountain of stone above me was thrilling.  The experience was clearly too much for some though, and as I walked through one of the tunnels a young and very posh English girl began crying, imploring that "Daddy" take her out back outside.

My happy time inside the pyramids convinced me to give one of the touts a try and so I hired a camel.  I was once again lucky and I found the driver Ahmed to be both friendly and intelligent.  He explained to me the state of the tourism industry and the profound impact that it had had on all aspects of their lives.  For the first time in my entire journey, I happily tipped him at the end.  
This happy turn with Ahmed didn't last though.

No sooner had he left than I was being harassed by a young guy trying to force me to purchase some ridiculous Egyptian headpiece.  My polite declines were ignored and it wasn't until I became more assertive that he began to understand.  But even then, rather than merely walking away he then resorted to insults and abuse as though that would somehow goad me into making the purchase.
I was surprised that he thought that this behaivour would work, but I was even more surprised at myself for still be shocked when these things occurred.

After I finished my walk, I went back to the tourist company office.  I found my friend sitting there already waiting.  I asked him what he thought of the incredible experience of walking inside the pyramids.  He replied that he hadn't gone inside as his guides had told him that it "wasn't worth it".  I could see his face drop as he saw my reaction.  I was livid.  These guides had already overcharged him by at least 5 times the true cost of entry and they had still decide to rob him further by denying him the experience of the pyramids.  With treatment of tourists like this, I had little pity for them and the state of their industry.

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