As is typical with my travels, my itinerary when I arrived in Egypt could have easily been mistaken for a blank piece of paper. I had my flight booked into Cairo, and a flight booked out of Amman, Jordan. My assumption was that everything else would just work itself out, it always has in the past!
The transition from the relative peace of the plane, to the chaos of a new environment is always fun. It's the rush that keeps me rolling around the globe. Within twenty minutes of landing in Cairo, I was in a taxi fighting for survival on a four-lane road. Sure, we have similar roads at home, but none with scooters zooming past with five people clinging on, nor with Volkswagen Golfs crammed with families of eight, and certainly none with motorbikes going slalom around pedestrians on the sidewalk. The carnage of traffic in Cairo, my first taste of the madness that fuels this city.
After a well earned sleep, the next morning I set out for the Giza Pyramids. I avoiding taking a tour group, and made my own way there. It was simple, get the metro to Giza, then take a bus. "Simple" can be a very complex word at times.
Arriving at Giza, I was confronted with hundreds of minibuses, with the same number of drivers shouting "Harem, Harem". I knew these were the buses I needed, so I piled into the last seat of a van filled with elderly Egyptians, right next to the sliding door...or at least, where there was meant to be a door.
The van spun out onto the main road, with me clinging on for dear life by pressing the ceiling to brace myself from falling out! After ten minutes, some we had soon dropped some passengers off, and I got myself a spot in the front seat, with luxuries like a seat-belt and a door now at my disposal.
We soon turned off into a derelict looking neighbourhood, with the Pyramids just still in view. We drove through some eerily quiet streets, then up a dead-end alley, where four of the shadiest blokes I've ever seen surrounded the van. There was one word prominent in my head at the time. That word was "FUCK!".
The gents surrounding the van tried in vain to sell me camel rides, donkey rides and/or Pyramid tickets, but I steadfast refused. They then suggested I owed them money as I was in a "forbidden neighbourhood for tourists". I got out, and walked away, after some terse words. They kept pestering me and following me, but eventually I managed to shake them. I was hopelessly lost in quite the dodgy neighbourhood, with locals emerging from their houses to stare every so often. I could still see the Pyramids over some of the buildings, and soon found my way to the rear entrance of the site, after a good 45 minutes of walking/cursing/walking!
Ruffled, but not deterred, I bought my ticket, and headed into the Pyramids site, only for a "policeman" to stop me, and take me aside. "It is forbidden for tourists to come here alone", he said, "you must come with me". I had already read about this scam, so I declined and walked off. "COME HERE" he roared, "you must pay the fine", and grabbed my arm. I asked him for some identification. He produced some nondescript ID card with Arabic writing only on it, possible a drivers license, or a library card! "Nice try, but you're wasting my time" I said, and walked off. He said nothing.
There is no question, the Pyramids were amazing, despite the experience being somewhat ruined by the lead-up. The current political climate in Egypt meant there were little tourists, and I had the place to myself. Well, almost to myself, I still had touts trying to sell me camels and donkey rides, and even a Tourist Police officer pointed at a Pyramid and told me it was "a Pyramid". He then extended his hand for a "guide fee". Cheeky bugger!
After a good several hours hanging in the shadows of the Pyramids, I made my way out, immediately getting swamped by Taxi Drivers, something I'd been dreading following the mornings experiences!
The driver jumped out of the car, nearly being hit by a scooted, went around to the front of the car, bent down, and then re-emerged with a £5E note (equivalent to 50 pence). He then jumped back in the car, kissed the note, place into his top pocket, and roared the engine back to 80km/h like nothing at happened. The drivers eyesight instantly overtook the Pyramids as being THE MOST impressive thing I'd seen all day.
The next day I decided to explore the Islamic area of Cairo. I soon got lost in the narrow souks and markets, all selling spices, perfumes, fish, meat, felafel's shisher pipes; all fragrant smells that mixed in with the smell of two-stroke fumes from the passing scooter. It was busy, but nice in the souks amongst local traders, but that soon changed when I man approached me holding a suspect item!
The man was holding a turd, and although I'm not expert on faeces, it did appear to be of the human variety! I quickly gave the man a wide berth and picked up the pace a little, annoyed that the Egypt tourism board hadn't made mentioned of this type of occurrence in any of the postcards I had come across.
Cairo is as busy as it is dirty, the very definition of chaos. It has an inner charm, but you have to dig a little to find it. I was glad to have visited, but equally chuffed to be getting the overnight train the hell away from it as well!