I have never thought that the goal of terrorism was killing people. Rather, I think it is to destroy economies, the morale of the people and, subsequently, governments and trust. Sadly, terrorism is kind of a fact of life these days and people are genuinely suffering from it. Certainly, that is true in Egypt, where places that were once hotspots, like Sharm el-Sheikh, have seen declines of 50% or more in the past few years. Although I enjoyed my day, my experience at the Egyptian Pyramids at Giza was a not-so-subtle and depressing reminder of how well this strategy can actually work.
In 2014, I spent a few days Cairo and the Giza area. I was on a bit of an extended layover while traveling from Italy to Jordan and decided to spend a few days there before heading to Dahab to dive and then to Jordan. I knew there were issues in the news, but I honestly didn’t expect that I would be the only Westerner in the country. Well, that’s what it felt like to me, anyway. I’d walk down the streets and cross over the bridge spanning the Nile River. Everywhere I went, people would approach to me:
“Where are you from?” they’d ask.
“Canada,” I’d respond.
“Oh! Canada Dry!”
It’s funny because every single person said that! Every. Single. One. But what was even funnier was how genuinely happy these people – both young and old, by the way – were to welcome me to their country. I say “funny” because people would stare at me, wide-eyed, as if I was the first foreigner they’d seen in a long time. Everyone wanted to talk. They all wanted to walk with me. Helpful people wanted to give me directions. No one ever did anything malicious. It was always kind. Every time.
I wish people could see that side of the Middle East instead of just the scare-mongering they get pummeled with every day on western media outlets. I cringe when I hear people talk about Muslims and Arabs when the only experience they ever have with them is from television news or as a person they know only in passing from the office. When I was in Egypt, I felt completely comfortable. If there was any discomfort at all, it was because this was my first time experiencing the culture. But that happens to be the kind of discomfort I like anyway.
On my second to last day in Cairo, I arranged with a local guide to visit the Egyptian pyramids. For me, this was the excursion of a lifetime, as I’ve always had a fascination with Egyptology, the pyramids and Egyptian royalty in particular. The day before, I visited the Egyptian Museum, so I was all set to visit the pyramids as the perfect end to my Egyptian stay.
I woke up that morning, put on some appropriate clothing, and then went to meet my guide. After getting the payment out of the way, I hopped on a camel and we were off. Fifteen short minutes later, we entered the pyramid compound – and it is sort of a compound, fenced off on all sides. You can’t get in without paying and, for me at least, getting a moderate security check from a local police officer.
Here’s what I’ve been told and what I’ve read from other travel writers – when you get to the Egyptian pyramids, it’s going to be crowded with tourists. There will be people there trying to sell you everything under the sun. I was told that, on average, there were hundreds of people visiting at a time. It would be a madhouse! So I expected to round the corner and be inundated with vendors, wading though the crowds to see the sight I’ve wanted to see since I was a child.
But that didn’t happen. As we made our way up the small hill, nothing appeared over the horizon – nothing but pyramids – lonely Egyptian pyramids.
For all intents and purposes, I was alone. It wasn’t the sight of these giant monuments to a past civilization that stunned me. It was the quiet. The silence was only broken by the occasional light breeze that whipped up a bit of sand or by my guide explaining things to me. It was surreal. I thought to myself, “More tourists are looking at some stupid largest ball of string somewhere in the middle of Kansas than are here exploring some of the most iconic monuments human beings have ever created.”
There was an upside to this, of course. I didn’t have to wade through a sea of people to get a good photo. And I am sure I paid far less for my tour of the pyramids than someone would have during a normal high season. But it just didn’t feel right. And for some reason, it made me enjoy it a little less. Don’t get me wrong, I loved visiting. But there’s something about the excitement of watching others enjoying it as much as I did that I missed. The other downside is that I was the only one there to sell to. And I got hit up by every one of them!
I was at the pyramid complex for about 3 hours that day. When I arrived, I saw a tour bus leaving in the distance. Other than that, I counted only nine people there while I was.You can see from the photos that I was basically alone.
Odd doesn’t begin to describe it. The Egyptian pyramids, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place included in every history textbook in recorded history. And there’s no one there.
An experience I won’t forget.
Funny side note: At the end of your tour, you can tip your guide. I was going to tip him 50 Egyptian pounds. Be careful that you don’t give the guide the only 50€ note you have in your wallet like I did. I’m sure he was thrilled. I was not.
The Egyptian Pyramids: A serious side note
Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and I’d like to ask that you please re-consider riding camels to the pyramids. I’ve since learned that these beautiful animals are mistreated, as I believe the camel I rode on was. I was told not less than 4 times to whip my camel while I was riding it – which I obviously refused to do. I saw marks on its neck that were obviously intentionally inflicted. Walking is not that difficult here and you don’t need a camel. If you need transportation, please go by bus or some other way.