Chaos in Giza

University of Alaska Anchorage journalism student, Linda Hardyman, is spending a year abroad in Egypt as an exchange student. Each week, the Northern Light prints her first-hand account of her experiences in the Middle East. This week Hardyman describes her trip to the Pyramids at Giza.

CAIRO, Egypt – Never underestimate the persistence of an Egyptian taxi driver. My roommate and I learned this the hard way.

Our cab was speeding down a busy street when all of a sudden there they were: the Great Pyramids of Giza. In spite of their mammoth size, they seemed to appear out of nowhere. I’d seen so many pictures of the pyramids that it felt like I’d already seen them, so I didn’t expect to be so impressed with their size. It looks like you could stand on the top of them and touch the sky.

The taxi turned off the main road and entered a shopping district. We decided to get out and walk the last few blocks. But our driver had other plans. He drove us down a long alley before he stopped. Cabs here don’t use meters and there are average rates to go from one place to another. Acting like you don’t know the rate is a guarantee you are going to pay too much, so fares are not usually discussed in advance. After getting out of the car, I gave him the money, and he proceeded to have an Academy Award-winning meltdown. When this happens in Cairo, and it often does, you just walk away. Typically, when the driver sees that you know the routine they just leave. However, this time it was obvious that we weren’t getting out of that alley without paying him an extra 30 percent.

We quickly learned the drama had just begun. Our driver had delivered us to some of his friends, and as soon as the fare was paid they seemed to come out of the sand. We were slowly making our way toward the street while surrounded by camel guides insisting that we ride out to the pyramids with them. As we ducked into a Hard Rock Café merchandise store, the most persistent guide said, “Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.”

While we regrouped and formulated our plan, the man in the store proceeded to show us every t-shirt, hat and novelty item in his inventory. Twenty minutes later, with an over-priced stuffed camel, we bravely stepped out into the street, and true to his word, the guide was waiting. Our plan was to walk fast and ignore him. Eventually, he gave up and moved on.

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People have been coming to see the pyramids for thousands of years, but we got there just as they closed. Unable to get in, we decided to walk around. It seemed like everyone in Giza, even the children, was out to sell us something. We just wanted a quiet place to sit and watch the sunset. So, we went into a shop and asked to sit on the roof and were told it was closed. I wasn’t willing to give up, so I bought a drink and slipped an employee a bribe. Suddenly, it was open. We’d found an oasis in the chaos of Giza. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset from the roof of the Pizza Hut and gathered our strength for the taxi ride home.