Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Giza Gauntlet

Egypt threw down the gauntlet at the Giza Pyramids.  I wish I could say it was a really great experience, that the pyramids dazzled me, that I was inspired, etc.  But honestly, the hassling was so extreme at this tourist trap that I spent the first 45 minutes completely overwhelmed, frazzled, frustrated, and even near tears.  I knew it was going to be a bit intense, but what I realized retrospectively is though there were still busloads of tourists, I was more or less the only solo tourist visiting at the time.  Which meant open season on me.  I should have anticipated this; I already was aware that there were less tourists than usual (something that made me sad for Egypt's economy, but happy for my ability to actually see things and not be crowded at tourist places!), and that it was a pretty intense experience at the pyramids.  But holy. guacamole.  From the minute we approached the entrance in my cab, the cabbie let some guy hop into the front seat.  I was completely alarmed, and was all "What the what.  What are you doing?" We stopped at the "entrance" twenty yards away.  It was pretty clear it was not the entrance; thanks to my guidebook I was aware that this was a bit of a scam that is often run to get tourists to fork over extra money, rent a camel they don't want, etc.  

Luckily, while wandering around and waving my arms and shouting "LA NA LA NA LA NA" (No, No NO! - yes, I learned that one from a crying child, no joke), I found a decent police officer who directed me up the hill to the real entrance, where I was immediately set upon by another guy I could not shake who kept trying to help me.  He sheparded me/followed me through the admissions process and security, and finally I just had to be like "GO AWAY, I want to be here by myself!"  I walked ten yards in and immediately picked up another helper.  If helper means guy who follows you and offers tips you don't want in the hopes that it will result in a tip of the baksheesh sort from Ole Whitey McWhitegirl.  I kind of managed to loose this guy in front of the first pyramid in the complex, but like I said, being the only solo tourist there without a guide or group, and being female to boot?  It meant that as soon as I lost one helper, another popped up, trying to get me to rent a camel or horse or show me around.  I should also say that I had originally planned to get on a camel at the Giza Pyramids.  But then I heard from multiple Egyptian sources that the guys who rent out camels and horses here are the hired thugs who stormed the Tahrir Square bridge with said camels and horse.  And trucks filled with rocks to throw at the protesters.  Another tourist told me that when she went, they actually almost bragged about it, but were dishonest in saying that they wanted to go, the government didn't hire them.  I'd say trucks filled with rocks puts a chink in that argument, sir!

The way far way down.
 Eventually, I gave up on trying to politely say thanks but no thanks punk in Arabic.  I sat down and opened my guide book to read about what I was going to be seeing.  Which of course, is an obvious invitation for helpful "helpers" to hover silently ten feet away, waiting for me to stop.  I couldn't even read the words on the page with the levels of frustration coursing through my veins.  It was at this point I almost wept, simply because I was so annoyed.  I got up and decided from that moment that I would only speak Spanish.  Excellent plan, because nobody from a Spanish speaking country travels to Egypt!  Sigh.  

A place where eternity looks much better than dealing with hasslers who want your baksheesh.
Pretty much the next thing I knew I'd picked up another guy, and couldn't figure out where to go to shake him as there is a dearth of signage.  This guy insisted in taking me to the Queen's tomb or something.  His buddy was going to take me, but I insisted I would not be tipping anyone, nor did I want to be crammed in a small, deep, humid hole with anyone but myself, and thusly climbed on down by myself.  It was a long way down and let me tell you, it was not easy to do when carrying a purse.  Bring a bag you can sling over your shoulders messenger style ladies!  I was so intent on not falling down the tomb that I think I was unintentionally tensing my muscles and thusly was sore for a few days after.  The worst was yet to come though!  Despite lingering in a tomb, yes, you read that right, I lingered in Death's Den willingly, upon crawling all the way back up, the newest helper was still there.  He then insisted he knew the way, but that he didn't want me to miss the opportunity to take pictures.  Look, isn't this one nice?

 You know what is not nice?  The series of pictures he then forced me to take.  Yes, I say forced, but I stepped naively and somewhat willingly into it by agreeing to have him take my picture.  I honestly just wanted a normal one.  But NO.  First we did a classic "Oh look at me, cleverly touching the tip of this pyramid."  I grew angry.  We did one of me casually propping myself up on the pyramid.  At this point, it was lucky that I was wearing shades, as I'm pretty sure I would have Cyclopsed him X-Men style with the rage lighting bolts shooting from behind my eyes.  But no.  We can to take the most humiliating picture and related picture taking experience ever.  He told me to bend over and open my mouth.  Being Spanish, I pretended not to know what he was talking about.  So, he modeled, and the more or less molded me into the pose.  I was STEAMING.  Enjoy my humiliation!

I never want to hear about this ever again. 

 Let's just say he then demanded money, specifically Euros after I gave him coins, which he deemed not enough.  Let's just say I might have thrown my coins at him and run away.  Anyways, I thusly decided to respond to nobody and talk to no one until I left, except for the occasionally emphatic Arabic NO.  This strategy went much better.  Except there did appear a shortage of school hours for teenage Egyptian school boys, and they all seemed to want to hang out at the pyramids.  Which was not a terrible problem, until they asked to take my picture.  I said no.  Which apparently translates into "Please follow me around en masse, silently, taking my picture."  SIGH.  I should have taken a picture of this happening; it would have blown your minds.  Except I felt playing into it would make it a million times worse.  

Eventually they wandered off to bother someone else, and I finally had a small measure of peace and quiet to wander around and make important discoveries.  For I discovered that Egyptian crows are weird and two toned.  Does this somehow make these crows more creepy?  Who is with me?!  Also, you are not supposed to climb on the pyramids, but they have special stairs.  So I did, mildly, largely to take a picture of the crow.  Finally, I bumped into some tour buses of British tourists who I felt would probably not force me to take humiliating pictures and then ask for payment.  I was right!  They were very nice and took a nice picture for me:

Redcoats are good with cameras. 

 Though the heckling never really stopped, I did get better at ignoring it.  I did, however, have a really hard time not reacting with laughter when one man on a camel told me he'd give me a million camels as a dowry if he could be my Egyptian husband.  When Stone Cold Steph Dono had no reaction, he said, "Okay, for you, one million and FIVE!"  

 The following picture warmed my heart.  There was a group of SUPER excited Egyptian teenagers, who seemed to be only at the Sphinx to thank the foreign tourists.  Yes, thank us.  For what I'm not entirely sure.  Their sign seems to indicate the Revolution, but I'm pretty sure that was all you, Egypt.  Maybe because we were trickling back in?  Either way, they were really sweet, and really excited, and asked me to sign their sign, so I did.  Yay, savvy, activist, excited teenagers!  They also had matching T-shirts, so there was possibly some organization beyond the signage.  They were a complete breath of fresh air after the gauntlet that was the rest of the time I spent there.  Oh yes, also there was a Sphinx.  Perhaps you've seen it?  Kind of iconic and such.  It's definitely a little rough around the edges, but strangely cool to behold.  Also, in need of a nose. 

I would say this.  If you are a solo tourist going to the Giza pyramids, brace yourself.  Talk to nobody, unless you actually want a camel or horse ride or shady guide.  Wear good walking shoes.  Do not climb into the tombs unless you are physically fit and not afraid of tight spaces.  Wear sunblock, bring water, expect there to be no shade because there isn't.  Above all, realize that the pyramids are pyramids.  They are cool to behold, but truthfully, I found the monuments and tombs in the south of Egypt much better preserved and less...rough.  As in, they are in better shape and were probably robbed less a million and five years ago.  Thusly, you have been warned.  The bottom line is this:  the Giza Pyramids are part of the Wonders of the World, so check it off your list if you want, but do yourself a favor and check out the other wonders Egypt has to offer too.  Because I assure you, there are many, many, better ones to behold.  Like the following truck filled with garlic, which will no doubt give my garlic loathing mother nightmares.
Kidding!  About this being a wonder, not about it giving my mother nightmares. 

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