Cairo traffic is surreal. It seems to be the one place in Egypt where the maniacal drivers that roam the roads of this fine country grind to a screeching halt, as the traffic creeps along at snail’s pace. It was with this knowledge that I, and my band of North American misfits that I had accompanied from Israel to Cairo, set off to visit the Pyramids of Giza.
See, the pyramids are located a hop, skip and a jump away from downtown Cairo in a suburb called Giza. While there is a city bus that leads from downtown to the pyramids, we figured that our best bet would be to take Cairo’s handy Metro (with its female only cars) under the Nile River and get off in Giza, where it’s only 9km or so to the pyramids themselves. Easy, right?
A New Friend
It was no sooner that we’d left the Metro station in Giza, following the throngs of people to the street when we found we’d made a friend. A nice Egyptian fellow who spoke excellent English. “I’m an English teacher from Alexandria,” he told us. “I too am going to the pyramids. Why don’t you come with me?” A nice person in the Arab world! Exactly what some incredibly racist Israeli bartender in Eilat warned me would not happen a mere 2 nights before… So why not trust this guy?
And so we were whisked away, following our new friend across a busy intersection (which, much like the streets in Hanoi, felt a bit like a real-life game of Frogger) and into a share taxi. The fare? A mere 1 Egyptian pound (roughly US$0.16). There he conversed with us, offering friendly gestures such as snacks and cigarettes (the latter of which are quite popular in the Middle East). We were hitting it off well!
A Slice of Southeast Asia…in Egypt!
We exited the share taxi and made our way to…a tuk tuk! In Egypt? Really? Yes, it seems this staple of Southeast Asia had made its way to the streets of suburban Egypt. Just with a bit less color and a lot more closed in.
It was a fun ride as we zigzagged our way through a maze of small dirt streets bursting with colors. The unique fabrics that the locals wore, the patchwork of animal feces on the streets and the fresh produce, standing out against a very monotone desert landscape. This was a Bedouin neighborhood, our new friend informed us.
Soon, the imposing pyramids were in view up ahead. They looked exactly like every picture you’ve ever seen of them, rising like giants out of the otherwise desolate desert sand.
The tuk tuk came to a stop along a wall; on the other side, the pyramids themselves. Our friend paid for our ride and we stepped out, only to find ourselves at… A shop. A shop that sold pyramid tours by camel or horse. “This is the best way to see the pyramids,” he told us. “I’ve done this before.”
We, however, were seasoned travelers and as soon as we arrived there, a red flag went up in my head. This was one of the most widespread travel scams in the book, seen across the world in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. You make a friend who takes you to a shop against your will. You buy from the shop in a high pressure sales pitch. They get commission.
Inside, we were pitched packages. 220 pounds (US$36) for a 3 hour camel tour, including entry to the park, entry to go inside the biggest pyramid, entry to the Sphinx, entry to go inside the Sphinx and use of an animal. Plus we could use the entrance right by the shop. Sound too good to be true? More on that later….
An “Escape” to Breakfast
Hoping to escape these guys, we insisted on getting some breakfast before making a decision. Our new friend insisted on following us, buying an incredible local breakfast from the surrounding Bedouin shops to share with us (“It’s my Egyptian hospitality!”). Bread, amazing falafel, pickled vegetables, some mashed potato looking-thing.
We ate back at the shop, having already made clear to this friend that we were not interested in buying a package.
Making an Exit
“It’s a 7km walk to the entry gate for people!” he warned us. Now I knew he was pulling our leg since we could see the pyramids right in front of us. And thus, we made our exit, with no argument from the shop owner or our friend, his seeming associate, who stayed put in the shop.
It took us 5 minutes to walk the alleged 7km to the entry gate. The entrance fee was 60 pounds (US$10). Had we wanted to enter the big pyramid, that would have been another 100 pounds (US$16.50), but we passed as there’s nothing to see in them anymore (and we entered a smaller one that was free). And there’s no such thing as an entrance fee for the Sphinx and it’s not possible to go inside it!
Thankful that we’d succeeded in not being bamboozled, we laughed about the experience we’d just had. Sure was a hell of a lot more interesting than a plain old taxi ride! And we got to sample some interesting food…for free!
Lesson from This Experience…
If you find yourself in this situation…walk away! As nice as people might seem, some of them are trying to sell you stuff. But hey, if you get a good story out of the experience, isn’t that all that really matters in the end?
Have you encountered travel scams before? What about at the Pyramids of Giza?