Journal Entry # 65 - Road Entry#55 (Flight --> Salt Lake City to Burbank - June 9, 2011)

I wake up at 6:30AM and shower quickly. This means I've missed my run time at 5:30AM on my first morning in Cairo. The purpose for getting up so early after the travel day and getting swindled by Dr. Maggr was for the pyramids tour we'd lined up for the whole day. Ahmed, our host, concierge, and Egyptian educator set up the driver so that we could visit all the pyramids in one day. There are more than just the three main Giza pyramids like I thought. There are roughly 12-15 pyramids in the greater Cairo area, and our first stop was Giza.

The opportunity for one of the original seven wonders of the world awaited us. The driver maneuvered through the morning traffic towards the massive pyramids surrounded by morning fog/smog/clouds. The pollution dense above; preventing the sun's preeminent power. I think it helped that it was the middle of January and the day was remarkably dry, temperate, and somewhat brisk. I was wearing shorts and a long-sleeve running pullover.

We made it to the base of the pyramid area where we were greeted by 3 men and a gentleman who spoke superb english. I knew we were in for a long sales pitch as soon as we stepped inside his 'office'. His sales office was a entry-room of a housing development that was composed of stone, grey, and dilapidated. He gave us a stunning overview of the 9 pyramids and the Sphinx that make up Giza what it was as a city, landscape, and space. The tour he verbalizes can be enjoyed on only horseback or camel (more expensive). I know from my research that the cost of entry into the pyramids is only 35 egyptian pounds with a student card and 70 without. I also know that entering the Sphinx area is another 15 egyptian pounds with ID. As soon as I running these numbers through my head in his presentation he says that the biggest packaged tour costs 250 egyptian pounds. He says we'll have a guide, we'll get to do everything imaginable in the Giza area, etc, etc... I crap on his initial price by counter offering 70 egyptian pounds for the horseback ride and a basic overview including the Sphinx. He then begins to explain that the 250 pounds were for the camels and the horses are cheaper. Sam asks, "How Much?". He responds with a quick '175 pounds'. The pricing was all over the place. He started to fire off different horse packages for different options in the area. I was still stuck on 70 pounds and didn't care what he had to say. I'm not going to get bamboozled two days in a row.

Johnny wasn't even appreciating the situation and decided to walk out on his own and test the prices at the gate. (I suspect he was insulted because he did a bunch of research online about tourist prices at Giza.) I was tempted to leave with him but Sam, Jackie, and I came to the conclusion that the horses would be a decent adventure for 100 pounds.

From 8:00AM - 10:00AM we rode the abused stallions around the Giza landscape. To enter Giza with our tour guide, we had to enter through the 'backdoor' and tip a guard that relaxed with tea and hookah. He stood guard at a portion of the wall where it had been smashed. There were dozens of locales with their camels entering the gate as the same time as us. These men were prepared to take the camels to the pyramid area where people would tip them a negotiated fee for a picture on the camel in front of the massive pyramids. The three of us had a blast taking pictures the two hours we were there. Here is a shot of me at one of the large pyramids and Sphinx.

Even though we didn't want the group to split up, we agreed with Johnny to meet back at the car between 10:15 and 10:30 so that we could go to the next pyramid. He kept his word and we drove off to the Dashour pyramid southwest of Giza. The Dahshur pyramid is unique in that it is one of the pyramids you can still enter as a tourist and for miniscule negotiated price. This massive pyramid stands on it's own with two other pyramids in the far distance from it. The four of us hiked up to the entry point near the middle of the pyramid. I had imagined that the pyramids would be a hard and straight climb up on a slick surface like a paved parking garage.

This hike up was quick and easy because of the steps and the traversing aspect to the stairs. At the top, we found a man asking for a photographers fee that we quickly disregarded with "We don't have any cameras with us" and climbed into the pyramid's descending tunnel. The tunnel was roughly 3 feet wide by 4 feet tall. Sam and I crammed ourselves into the space where Johnny and Jackie weren't having as difficult a time.

Finally, we made it to the bottom of the pyramid with a quick re-stretching moment. During the arm and leg extension, I inhaled deeply to a rotten aroma of what smelled like rusted nails the were marinated in eggs. All four of us got over the pungency by taking out our cameras and snapping "illegal" photos. We walked from the first catacomb to the next through a little 3x3 tunnel and then up a 'newly' manufactured wooden staircase to the final room. We spent about 20 minutes inside the pyramid before ascending back up the chute to our original entrance. We took some more photos on the steps of the pyramid while we walked down. I posed for a picture (trying to simulate lifting a boulder) in commemoration of the enslaved jews who built them.

Jackie and I walked around to the east side of the pyramid where we found a group of 4-5 puppies. It was completely random to find them there without the mother or father. A police guard to the pyramid approached us as we walked further down the east side of the pyramid. At first, we thought we were breaking our tourist pyramid 'code', but as his face manifested as he neared, there was a natural smile.

Ali, the police officer, offered to take multiple pictures of Jackie and I on his camel and near the pyramidion on the east side. The pyramidion there is the reconstructed top of the 'Red Pyramid' in Dahshur. At the time we didn't know, but we were metaphorically standing atop the 'Red Pyramid' when Ali offered to boost us up to the top of the pyramidion for a photo. We obliged and took a couple shots.

Jackie and I jumped down from the reconstructed monument to retrieve our cameras and move on to the next tourist site - Memphis. We were driven to Memphis were I was not in the mood to pay more for seeing historical pieces and architecture. Jackie and Johnny were sharing my sentiment, so Sam went into the tourist site of Memphis on his own. The three of us played cards with our cab driver at the cafe outside the entrance. We enjoyed tea and ate some chips that Jackie brought along with her. Our driver tried to explain us a card game called '41'. It was tough to understand why he kept on winning every hand even though Jackie and I each got to 41 at times throughout the card session.

I guessed we missed some pretty amazing sites and historic pieces in the Memphis necropolis. Using the web, I discovered that Memphis is the location of Rameses II Colossus statue standing almost 33 feet tall. Sam didn't elaborate on the magnitude of the exhibits in Memphis and we drove quickly over to the step pyramid of Djoser in Sakkarah. Our driver realized our desire to save some money so he recommended to drive us as close to the pyramid as possible without paying the tourist admission prices of 20 or 30 egyptian pounds. We tipped the front gate guard in a quick chat and we drove through the gates. He pulled over to the side of the road 500 meters from the first memorial courtyard of the pyramid. We took some pictures and wondered why this pyramid looked so different from the rest of the pyramids. We got back into the car and jetted off back to the hotel around 3pm.

We were all dropped off in Tahrir Square where I got lunch for 20 EGP and then back to the hotel. There I finished my lunch and waited for Ahmed to get back. He said he would help me get my money back from Dr. Maggr for the swindle job he pulled the day before. I was excited for this confrontation and to get my money back. I used the internet for a bit as well before Ahmed showed up. He explained how it was all going to 'go-down' at Dr. Maggr's shop.

I was to walk into Dr. Maggr's shop with Jackie and demand our money back after throwing the fake papyrus on the table. I was to emphatically demand the money back until he never produced the cash. I was then to say I'm going to call the police and storm out of the shop. Ahmed said in order for it to all work out, I was to never loose my firm position and agree with anything they said. I understood completely.

Ahmed then took Jackie and I to an 'authentic' papyrus shop downtown where they quickly got to joke around with our fake papyrus and explain the difference between the authentic and counterfeit. I took it as a slight insult to my intelligence and didn't appreciate being additionally mocked/ridiculed. From there, Ahmed walked with us all the way until a block away from Dr. Maggr's store.

Our minds were set on a refund, and it felt as if we threw the door open to Dr. Maggr's store. I took the initiative to unroll my papyrus and throw it down on the desk. I said, "Give me my money back, these are fake." Jackie followed my lead. Dr. Maggr wasn't there at this moment and his "son" or more-likely associate said in great english, "excuse me but how do you know these are fake". We went back in forth arguing for a couple sentences and then I turned around and said I was going to the police to report them. As I walked out, Dr. Maggr was walking towards me on the street. He pretended not to recognize me and I shouted, "you better give me my money back or I'm getting the police!" He proclaimed that everything was legitimate and that he had done nothing wrong. I was enraged, pointed at him, and loudly said "bullshit!" He and his associates at a strong resistance to our demands Ahmed came by our side with the police. The conversation subsided slightly and we finally agreed on a 200 pounds refund for myself and 75 pound refund for Jackie. This was half of what we both paid and we finally 'settled' for it. It was a great swindle job by them and a learning experience for myself. I'm glad I got this lesson out of the way within the first day of traveling in Egypt because there would be plenty of other 'touts' viewing my white skin as a $$$ symbol.

Ahmed walked with us back to the hotel and we took a pit-stop at a convenient store for a "celebratory" Pepsi-Cola on Ahmed's dime. I was jacked up on testosterone and finally relaxed when I got on the subway to David and Adam's house. Before getting on the subway, I packed all my belongings, my 200 pounds, and said goodbye to Johnny, Jackie, Sam, Ahmed, and Walid for my first couch surfing adventure. I was off to stay with David, an Australian expatriate living in Maddi, Egypt. Adam was his British roommate and they had been living there for 4 or 5 years. They both taught at the British International School in Maddi.

The subway ride south from Tahrir Square contained a intense mixutre of emotion. Fear, freedom, joy, desperation, anxiety, excitement, inclusion, exclusion, paranoia, and more flooded my brain and senses. As I walked out of the subway station, I felt happiness following David's great directions to his flat. Maddi is definitely a quieter area and suburb of Cairo. Even though it is only 10 minutes by subway, it is aesthetically wold's apart from downtown. I walked past the Maddi police station like David instructed, but never found his street. Luckily, a different Australian was walking by and heard my english - asking for directions from a police officer. He kindly guided me to David's street and explained he had just moved to Cairo for a job in the oil industry.

I entered David and Adam's flat after knocking politely on the door. It felt wonderful to be with some Couch Surfing representatives in a totally foreign place. I continue to find this beautiful and delicious sentiment with almost all couch surfing users. The three of us talked for an hour and a half in the living while awaiting the food delivery. He explains that dinner will cost 15 pounds and it will be huge. I was excited. It was "comfort" food and didn't contain distinguishable flavor - but a great value nonetheless.

I finally went to be after using the internet at 11:00PM. I took this photo right before passing out. I was sleeping in the laundry room of their flat - much better than sleeping in a downtown Cairo hotel.