TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE GIZA PLATEAU
No traveler can really claim to have visited Egypt unless they’ve been to the Pyramids. It’s like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Egypt twice and both times we made the trip out to Giza. You can’t really appreciate my second experience until you hear what happened the first time.
My First Visit to Giza
Just like my most recent trip to Egypt, family was the reason we visited Egypt in 1996. The primary motivation was Sophie, Bill’s mom. Some business needed to be taken care of in person, but it was also my first time to meet most of his family, including Sophie who was not well enough to travel to the States for our wedding. We crammed a lot of tourism into our 19 day stay, but family issues dominated our time there. Well, family issues coupled with luggage woes.
In spite of our lack of luggage and our family business, Bill got me to the Pyramids within 48 hours of our arrival. I was wearing the same outfit I wore on the plane, because it was the only one I had, but I was gleeful nonetheless. Bill hired a car and driver for the day, but that was a very different prospect than having Ezzat on hand for our more recent visit. Ezzat looked out for us, protected us and did everything he could to enhance our time in Egypt. The anonymous driver we hired in 1996 treated us like tourists.
The Papyrus Museum and Perfume Factory
Yes, it happened to us. Instead of enjoying a day at the most important tourist site in Egypt, we spent our morning at a Papyrus Museum (make that souvenir store) and before the day was over watched perfume bottles being blown and silver cartouches being poured against our will. Bill may have thought he was a native, but to our driver he was just another gullible American tourist.
I won’t bore you with the papyrus shopping opportunity, but what happened next was important. Our driver did not drive up to a big gate that said “The Pyramids” or buy any entry tickets. He drove through a slum and parked in front of a hovel. He and Bill had a significant conversation about it, but since I didn’t know what to expect I was not alarmed. I probably should have been.
The driver had brought us here to be the reluctant guests of a local headman. This guy, we’ll call him Ahab, had a great little industry going on. Limo drivers brought him unsuspecting tourists and Ahab would convince them to open up their pocketbooks to benefit himself and his neighbors. The driver may have misunderstood who Bill was, but by the end of the day, he and Ahab found out they hadn’t picked the right mark.
Initially, things seemed all right, unconventional, but entertaining. Ahab’s “family” put me on a camel and Bill on a horse. For awhile we rode down a street, then out into the desert and across a cemetery. Suddenly, we were at the Pyramids. We walked about for a bit, took a few pictures and then our “guides” arranged for us to go inside one of the Pyramids. It was siesta time and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. My strongest memory was heading back to Ahab’s. For a moment, I sat atop my camel looking across the Nile to Cairo with it’s crosses and crescents kissing the horizon.
Then things didn’t seem alright. We were ready to return to the hotel, but we were in Ahab’s control and he wasn’t ready for us to leave. Today, we would have used our phone to contact Uber, who would know where we were thanks to the magic of GPS. In 1996 we just had to pray for things to turn out OK.
We sat forever in a perfume showroom chatting with Ahab. This was where we were supposed to open up our pocketbooks. Bill had paid for our unique transportation to the Pyramids, but now his pocketbook was shut tight. On the surface everything appeared normal, but the air was thick with non-verbal confrontation.
When it became apparent that nothing short of a firearm was going to convince us to buy any perfume-filled bottles Ahab offered us the opportunity to buy some cartouches. He even took us into the factory where they were made, but Bill wasn’t buying a cartouche either. I was ready to buy all their perfume and cartouches – if they’d just let us leave, but not Bill.
I’m here to tell the tale, so obviously the limo drive did eventually return, but he wasn’t glad to see us. No commission would be forthcoming. On the very quiet ride back to the hotel, Bill told me to get out of the car and get to the room as soon as the car pulled to the curb. I minded him with alacrity and I don’t think any of us really want to know how things went for that driver.
No animals were involved in our most recent visit to the Pyramids and that’s just part of the good news. Come back next week and I’ll share the adventure with you.