Like most people, I cruised with a friend to Cairo to see the Pyramids. Everyone’s got that story about “the craziest taxi driver ever” but seriously, in Cairo, I was actually afraid for my life. It’s all out anarchy on those streets, it’s nuts, pure chaos. But when you live to tell about it, it’s now fun, and after we near lost our lives driving to our hostel from the airport we found ourselves asking for our drivers business card. If you want a wicked adventure you’ll never find in a Lonely Planet book, spend 20 bucks and find the most reckless taxi driver with no rear view mirrors and drive around Cairo for an afternoon.
The first thing I have to say about Cairo is that I’ve never been so well-behaved in my life. There’s something about Cairo that makes you behave, maybe fear of the unknown, because after travelling the inner-city for a while (especially at night) you get a sense for what must go on behind the scenes. The city never sleeps, there’s shoulder-to-shoulder crowds clogging the streets at midnight. Only at 5 in the morning would it quiet down, but only for an hour. There’s about 7 million people in this city, and its pretty polluted.
Back to the best-behavior thing, it’s because I wasn’t used to hanging out amongst Muslim culture. It’s easy to accidently be disrespectful.
For example, nobody takes pictures, seriously. You do not want to be “that guy” walking downtown snapping photos. Many of the mosques and museums are sacred to Egyptians, and taking photos inside these places is a big no-no. The metro has separate carts for the women, and mosques have a separate entrance for women too. Dress modest in Cairo, especially ladies. Don’t expose shoulders, knees, pretty much dress in the most unattractive way possible. Kidding. Just cover up.
Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx
What can I say, they’re cool. Really cool. We took a horse and a camel because walking around the entire area is a long trek, especially on uneven ground in the desert heat. If you pay for a horse and camel you’ll get a guide too, which is a bonus to hang out with a local for an afternoon.
From the second we arrived in Cairo, we started paying. For everything. If someone sold us something for 5 Egyptian Pounds, it was 10. If a taxi driver quotes 20 Egyptian Pounds for a ride, it’s actually 30 by the time he’s done. We booked a “tour” of the Giza Pyramids for 100 from the guys running our hostel. But that didn’t even come close to what we paid in the end. The taxi ride cost 40 both ways, the camel and horse cost 200, and the entrance to the site wasn’t included. Plus, our guide wasn’t free. It’s funny how you’d expect/assume things to be, but they’re not even close to that. You’ll have a little kid come shake your hand and introduce himself, then tell you he’s owed 2 Pounds for his time. You’ll take a picture of a pyramid, then be chased down buy a kid who wants 5 Pounds for taking his photo, and you bet he’ll show you exactly where he is, that little 1 pixel high spec in the corner of your photo. Guides will take you on a camel ride then not let you off the camel unless you tip them (and no, you don’t want to jump off, it’s a pretty steep fall). Locals will come up to you and tie a turban on your head then ask for 20 Pounds, and no you can’t give it back, because it’s extremely rude and disrespectful to return a “gift” in Cairo. Don’t get my wrong, the Egyptians are awesome, very hard-working and nice, respectful people. Our pyramid guide talked about his wife and kids all day, and asked us questions about our girlfriends and what life was like back home. They’re very friendly people, their business experience just makes them work every angle to make an extra buck. My advice: prepare to spend at least triple what you budget for in Cairo. My friend and I arrived in Cairo with 3,000 Egyptian Pounds, which is about USD$500. Plenty, we thought, knowing a meal only cost USD$4, and our hostel was USD$12 per night. By the time we left Cairo, only a few days later, we were wiped out. We ate our last meal at McDonalds and didn’t even have a buck left over to buy a soda!