Sunday, January 02, 2005

Egypt: The Pyramids

It seems that almost everyone who goes to visit the pyramids finds themselves stung by a scam of some sort. For example:
  • Two Danish guys told me how they intended to take a bus to the pyramids, but on walking outside of their hotel were greeted by a Egyptian who offered them a taxi ride to the pyramids for a pittance, so they took the offer. From that point on they lost control of their itinerary, ending up at a camel stables in the desert far from the pyramids, where the taxi driver dropped them off and refused to let them back in the car. Instead they had to pay exorbitant prices for a camel ride to the pyramids.
  • Two Australians were offered the chance by their taxi driver to see the "Papyrus Musuem", something they "shouldn't miss" in Egypt. Of course it was no museum but a crappy souvenir shop where they found themselves buying coloured perfumed oils that they didn't want, and which after struggling to carry with them around Egpyt for a week realised were worthless junk and finally threw them away.

Amazingly I got there unscammed, although that could be because I went there with someone who was making a second visit. Equally amazingly, the taxi driver who took us there didn't seem to know where or what the pyramids were, even when we pointed to a picture of them on the front of my guidebook. These are ancient, enormous, world-famous things on the edge of his city, something every tourist to Egypt comes to see, and he needed to ask an English-speaking policemen where the pyramids were.

When I first saw the pyramids they seemed quite small and I was unimpressed. I found that was because I was much further away from them than I realised - in the desert there is nothing to gain a sense of perspective against. They are actually enormous and imposing when seen up close. The sides are not sloped as they appear, but are actually made up of lots of enormous recangular stones, each almost person-height. It is possible to go through tunnels made for dwarves inside one of the pyramids too.

James, the guy I went there with, wanted to climb one of the pyramids, which these days is illegal. But the guards get paid a pittance, so they are always open to bribes to look the other way. Naturally it would be wrong to bribe someone and I would never normally do that, but it was the peer pressure thing again. I swear that in Egypt if someone said to me, "Hey Steve, have a cigarette - it will make you look really cool", I would have started smoking.

James found the right guy to handle the bribes, and we found that the further up you wanted to go, the more you had to pay, because more guards could see and would need to be paid off. They negotiated a price of 30 Egyptian pounds (4 euros, AUD$6). I said I wouldn't go up, and so the bribe-taker said it would only be 20 pounds for me. James had already paid 30 pounds and wasn't pleased with this. The bribe-taker explained by saying about me, "he is very poor. I can see it in his face." A bargain like that couldn't be given up, so up the pyramid I went.

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