“So are those the pyramids, then?” I ask.
“Yes!” our guide answers, irritated, which was I guess my goal.
They’re hard to miss. Man-made mountains hewn from stone, colossal ego and a few thousand slaves. Whenever you see footage of them on television they’re seemingly way out in the desert, rising mysteriously from a stark and vast desert wilderness.
In reality, they are perched on the edge of Giza, a suburb of Cairo. One moment you are kicking your way through the ever-present trash of Egypt, then there are pyramids rising like great lithic icebergs from the Sahara. Presumably Giza has never bothered to skitter its crazy streets and cepiatone houses around the pyramids, in order to preserve an impressive photographic backdrop to the lifeblood industry of the region.
We made the stretch from ugly, smelly Cairo’s last suburban tentacles across the sand by way of camels. Camels are not as stubborn as I’ve been lead to believe, but they’re not particularly pleasant to ride, either. When a camel gets a good cantor going across the sand, its about like straddling a furry pogo stick. “Squeeze your legs!” you say. Keep in mind I weigh twenty pounds or so, so even with my mighty thigh muscles clenched enough to strangle someone, I will nonetheless bob up and down constantly, absorbing each impact with my pelvic bone.
We dismount the camels at the base of Cheop’s pyramid, prompting both animals to make exquisite, guttural complaints which clearly convey how they feel about us, their jobs and our species as a whole. Our guide, Sam, tells us to climb up a couple of steps on the pyramid for a picture, which I’m fairly confident is illegal. But legality has limited effect in Egypt.
This is an ongoing feature of the outing. Sam shows us something off-limits, or rides us into a forbidden area, which prompts a police officer to yell something and beckon us over. Then we leave. This always irritates the guards, but none of them show even remote initiative in chasing after us. Which is too bad, because a high-speed camel chase would be fantastic.
After a bit Sam explains that, if we’d like, we can pay extra and go inside one of the pyramids. Although upon further investigation we discover that there are no hieroglyphics, all of the statues are somewhere in London, and because its Egypt the edifice is presumably filled with garbage. This leads to an eventual decision to bribe the nearby guards with the same amount of money we would have forked over to look at garbage inside one of the pyramids. The bribe instead delivers us to a newer excavation site nearby.
Later, after poking around the verboten ruins, a guard we forgot to bribe turns up and wants to talk to us. (Presumably about getting a bribe.) We mount the camels and speed off in the direction of the Sphinx.
He yelled for a little while, and even made some hand gestures. But nobody tried to follow.