We’d been given a couple warning pep talks regarding our pyramid experience. “Wear a head scarf to attract less attention.” “Don’t let anyone take your ticket.” “Don’t let anyone else into your taxi.” “Bring a guide of your own to help ward off the other touts.” As a result, we went in on hyper alert, and it seemed maybe warranted when a man stopped our taxi to tell us the road ahead was closed and tried to convince our taxi driver to let him in to show us the way there. At Colin’s pleading, our driver sped off. He had to dodge dozens of men standing in the street on the hill up to the entrance, one of whom jumped on the back of our taxi to hitch a ride to the top. It was all a little anxiety inducing, but there were the pyramids towering over us, so we pushed on to get our tickets.
Following instructions, I barreled past the men crowded around the metal detector asking for our tickets. Finally the woman operating the detector jumped up to stop me and insisted that I really did need to show one of them our tickets.
Then we faced the gauntlet of touts inside the compound, hoping to sell us a guided tour or a camel ride. We blew through them and emerged… totally alone. No stragglers, no persistent kids—that was all of it. We shook off the shock and enjoyed our time walking almost completely unbothered, taking our time setting up photos, sitting and resting at the base of the Pyramid of Khafre.
I didn’t expect to escape the crowds of Cairo at the pyramids, but it turned out that of everywhere we went in Cairo, the touristy places were dependably the least crowded. We had plenty of breathing room in the musty Egyptian Museum, with a guided tour interrupting the peace only once. The museum is in desperate need of an eager museum studies graduate student with some serious funding to spruce the joint up. Bare energy-efficient bulbs hung from long wires from the ceiling, and where there were labels, many of them had been done on a typewriter. I’m all for embracing the Indiana Jones feel of the place, but the treasures inside the museum deserve better than a central room that has, without explanation or tarps, moving equipment in the corner. Likewise, if in addition to the worldly possessions of King Tutankhamun, you have the second-most impressive collection taken from a pharaoh’s tomb, give it a second-best display rather than leaving it in a room so dark, the stone sarcophagus might easily be mistaken for a bench.
To go along with some of their commentary on the ongoing revolution, our friend Teresa met us in Tahrir Square one afternoon to show us the street art. There was a sizable encampment there when we visited, but everything was very calm, and there was some new art going up as we walked along the barricaded-off streets. To my surprise, it was the army that had put up the barricades to try to contain the protesters—not the protesters trying to keep out the army (and massively disrupt Cairo’s traffic).
It may have been the only time we will ever be in Egypt, in which case, I’m sorry that we didn’t get back to see Old Cairo, and I’m sorry we had to miss Alexandria, and maybe it would have been worth actually going inside one of the pyramids. We did have an unforgettable trip, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves back in that cradle of civilization.