Sign of the times at the pointy end of Egyptian tourism

Photo: Belinda Jackson

The first time I visited the Pyramids, I went through the front door with several hundred other foreigners, all lining up for a photo of ‘kissing’ the Sphinx or ‘holding’ a pyramid by the fingertips. 

The other day,  I went round the back, where a handful of guards nearly fell over to see someone, and the touts couldn’t believe their luck at not one, but two carloads of visitors, even if they were all Egyptian (including one suspiciously blonde one in the middle).   

Sitting on the boot of our cars, they literally corralled us into a private car park to negotiate the hire of two caretas (carriages) and two horses. 

Those who have been held hostage high on a camel until they paid up big will be pleased to know not even the locals can resist the Giza Pyramid mafia. 

A camel driver. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Let me tell you this: Egyptians visit the Pyramids in a whole different way to us foreigners. Toss the guidebook, forget about learning kings’ names and studying informative plaques earnestly. 

It’s all about the photos, the freedom of the desert surrounds and the physicality of being beside something so magnificent, that you forget about the traffic jams, the pollution, the protests and the curfews that see you trapped indoors after 7pm on a Friday night thanks to the current army curfew. 

The newspapers are reporting an 80 percent drop in tourism to Egypt, which, based on what I saw at the Pyramids on a sunny autumn afternoon, should read more like 95 percent. 

There were three young Americans, skinny, bearded and wearing the obligatory Arafat scarf, there was a Euro-couple celebrating the end of a Cape Town to Cairo adventure, and a small tour group of Russians snavelling basement-bargain travel. That’s all. 

Forlorn camel owners perked up when they saw us coming, and Giza’s notoriously overworked and underfed horses were fleet of foot and ready to run. My little grey mare, Sousou, is surely the fastest pony in Giza. 

It’s been a very long time since I rode around the Pyramids in the daylight. Usually, I’d ride on a full moon, flat out down the plateau at full gallop, breathing in the cool desert night air. In broad daylight, it’s a whole different ballgame. You see the stones the size of basketballs that your horse is dodging. You see the concrete wall that the horses aim for at full tilt, before swerving left to pass through the exit gate. You see the snarling curs that lick around the ponies’ hooves, snapping at ankles as you pass.

It’s consoling to know that the Pyramids remain unchanged while Egypt twists and wrenches itself into a new form. But the lesson from Afghanistan and China is that you can never take even heroic art and architecture for granted. 

Popular Posts