I’ll tell you how hard it is – very hard. Well, at least in our case it was. Now, granted, by refusing to take stupid tours, we inevitably make things infinitely more difficult for ourselves than they need to be. But must it have been this hard?
Table of Contents
First Attempt, Day One
We had just arrived in Cairo the night before. It was a strange arrival, where we had no local currency, and no idea where our hostel/hotel was. After arriving at our accommodations late at night, and having slept in a bit the next day, we agreed to meet the nice gentleman who helped us find our hotel/hostel (I have no idea what it was. It said it was a hotel, but it felt like a hostel) the night before.
After an awful date-like meeting with our new helpful Egyptian friend, we thought, “Sure, what better time to go the pyramids?” Our trusty, and very current Lonely Planet told us we had until 6pm to visit it. So, around 3:30pm we left to see the thing that I looked forward to seeing the most in the world.
Cab to Giza
In the middle of a busy intersection we hailed a cabbie who nodded his head when we told him our destination. After a bit of a long drive, he dropped us off near a nondescript gate leading to a long, but paved road. “But the pyramids close now,” our cab driver said. “Of course they are,” we thought as we slyly looked at each other. But we knew better not to be duped. We’ve been told by many unscrupulous cab drivers in the past that certain monuments/museums/other tourist destinations are just magically closed midday. Having such experiences before we thought, “Why didn’t you tell us that when you first picked us up?” and “We think you’re lying.”
When we exited the cab and started to walk, two other men shook their fingers at us and told us “Closed. No.” Again, why would we believe them and not our trusted guidebook? We hurried past them and began the walk first down a paved road and then through the dirt streets of a residential area of Giza.
Welcome to Downtown Giza
It was a long walk to be sure. But an even longer walk due to the locals. There were people everywhere who couldn’t believe their eyes – as if they had never seen a Western woman before. Men and boys followed us until they got tired of walking. People in the streets hollered for people indoors to come out and gawk. Boys holding hands with other boys, fingers intertwined like lovers, gyrated their hips and licked their chops while pointing at Cait.
A few women shook their heads at us. Men shook more fingers. “Where you go?” was uttered countless times in our ears, with “It’s closed” sprinkled in for good measure.
One man decided he must take action. He walked right in front of me and said, “Where you go?” With Cait holding my hand, I said “Straight. To pyramids” and then we took a step to our right and continued walking around him. He proceeded to run in front of us again. “Where you go?” After 20 minutes of walking while being followed, watched, and hollered at, I was beginning to become agitated. This time, Cait and I took a step to our left and again quietly proceeded around him.
Again, though, he ran in from of us, “Where you go?” This time he presented his question with even more force. Severely agitated, I answered his forceful question with a forceful shove. This somehow set off a silent Giza alarm as a mob of men immediately came out, circled around us, and started yelling. Undaunted, I quickly yanked Cait’s hand and we pushed our way through the mob. Their yelling got quieter and quieter with distance. If I’m being honest, we were lucky to get out of that situation unscathed. And just when it got completely silent and we were alone, we were left staring at closed gates.
Total, Abject Failure
In full sun, early afternoon, the pyramids were closed. The locals were right; Lonely Planet was wrong. We were dejected.
We made a short walk and soon found a collective bus, which would take us to a cab, which took us to a metro station, which took us within walking distance of our hostel/hotel. It would be a blueprint for the next day. The pyramids would have to wait.
We grabbed a quick snack and ended up spending our night uncomfortably being danced around by our friend who rescued us the night before and all of his friends. Seriously, when our new friend wasn’t trying to slow dance with Cait, he and his friends would all just dance around us while we stood uncomfortably. In a life full of strange nights, it was the strangest night of my life.
Second Attempt, Day Two
Based on our vast experience, we felt we were prepared to make our way to the pyramids. First, we walked like an Egyptian through crazy, traffic-filled roundabouts and busy side streets for about five minutes until we reached the nearest metro station. Next, we entered the metro station to looks of aghast and curious confusion. Oh, yeah, for a second there I had almost forgot I was walking around with a Caucasian, blonde-haired, Western women not wearing a hijab. We scanned the metro for other women but could find none. Zero. Zilch.
We were so rattled the day before that we failed to notice how intimidating the metro station was. We waited to board feeling like all eyes were on us, because they were. When the train came, we noticed that the metro had “women-only” cars. “What a relief,” we collectively thought. The problem was, I couldn’t go with her. Acting fast, we agreed it would be better to stay together and leered at than run the risk of her being alone in the empty, “women-only” car.
Post Metro, Pre-Everything Else
We only had to go a handful of stops before we exited near Coptic Cairo. From there, we remembered it as being fairly simple. We just had to find a good taxi driver. Having seen none at the metro stop, we were forced to take the taxi of a guy who had been following us like he was our shadow at the metro station. We got in the cab and gave him simple instructions – pyramids please.
Through a series of turns and some misdirection, it appeared we were much further from the pyramids that we thought. Or were we? After 5 minutes of driving, we picked up another gentleman who sat in front with the driver. Nothing was ever said to us. The two men conversed and we drove another 10 minutes. Something was not right, obviously.
Oh There Will be Blood
Now, I’m not going to lie, I have a bit of a temper. I started calm. “Where are we going?”, “Why did we pick this guy up?” “How much longer?” It’s not just that my questions were not being fully and timely answered, it’s that they weren’t being answered at all. Having dealt with shady cabdrivers all over the world (seriously, they are always the worst people in the country), we were on high alert.
After another question went unanswered, I kicked the seat in front of me. The unknown passenger was surprised, but there was even more surprise when everyone noticed that I had kicked a metal piece of the seat, which had been jutting out and fashioned into a point at the end. The “blade” went right underneath my big toe and blood came gushing out. I started to yell since I was way past my limit now. The driver immediately became responsive, almost immediately dropped our other passenger off, and soon we came to a busy intersection full of collective buses.
We paid a portion of the demanded fare and found ourselves lost in a maze of people and confusion. Per usual, a nice lady came to our rescue. She guided us on board the correct bus and off we went. The bus was unusual in that women never sat next to men. Caitlin and I sat in back on a bench seat meant for four passengers, her against the window and me right next to her. Women boarded, stood, and exited when they could have sat next to me. Cait and I soon realized our mistake, switched places, and then many women felt comfortable to sit on the back bench seat next to Caitlin.
Pick a Seat, Any Seat (Except that One)
At one point the bus was completely full except for one seat next to a man on the left side of the van. The seat was not a bench seat, but was instead two distinct seats. Next to those two seats was an aisle way, and then a singular seat with one woman seated. When we picked up our next passenger, a female, she quickly sized up her options. With little more than a look, she chose to sit on the one woman’s lap who was seated alone rather than sit next to the man. Egypt, man.
When another kind woman motioned to us it was time to exit the bus, we magically found ourselves standing at the gates to the pyramids. The same gates that were closed to us before were now open. I could not contain my excitement. For as long as I could remember, the great pyramids of Giza were my ultimate destination.
We hurried to the pyramids to take a picture, bloody foot and all. We stopped to take a photo but a local girl purposely walked in front of our camera while the group of men she was with giggled. Unfazed we jogged away but I stepped awkwardly on a rock and my infallible, durable, indestructible Rainbow flip-flops broke a strap. The group of men and dastardly female erupted with laughter. It was the flip-flop that belonged to my bloody foot.
Ugh. Everyone Sucks.
Slightly deterred I stopped to take a photo of a policeman’s camel in front of the pyramids. The policeman quickly ran at me yelling and shaking his fist. Slightly more deterred we took our requisite photos and only had to deal with locals saying, “Why you have no shoes?” every 30 seconds or so. The queries were always followed with laughter and look of bewilderment that turned to incredulity almost immediately. No one could believe that I was so stupid to no have shoes on.
Completely deterred and frustrated we took in a little more of the pyramids, the sphinx, the inner workings of the pyramids, et al. while I walked with a bloody foot on dirt with people pointing and laughing at me.
This did not change as we exited the gated pyramids. This did not change as we confusedly hopped onto a collective bus. This certainly did not change when we boarded the metro. And of course this did not change until I finally found a store that sold shoes near our hotel.
The ordeal to see the number one thing on my bucket list – the only remaining ancient wonder of the world – forever ruined what should have been magical. But, after all, this is Egypt, where the locals managed to ruin everything about the country for me. Sigh.