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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Random Sleepovers

October 9 - 10

Day 133-134

And so it turned out that we had no where to sleep the day after my birthday.  We could have easily gone into Cairo and slept at one of the many hostels that dot the streets of Cairo but no, that would be too easy. No, actually, I hadn’t seen the pyramids yet!  Since I chose to make the most of my 5-star stay, I barely emerged from the room…come on, this was the FIRST TIME since I left home, 4 months, that I was able to stay in a nice hotel! I was going to make the most of it!  That was my birthday wish! So, I didn’t want to leave Giza yet.  I didn’t want to go back and forth to Cairo, only to come back to Giza, lose sleep, spend money, carry my bags, etc.  So…I was determined to stay in Giza.  It wasn’t so easy finding a place though…

We actually had a late start the morning after, following our breakfast buffet - we were going all out at this hotel! Well, it was my birthday! The wireless internet at the hotel was €25 for a 24 hour period so we decided to go and patronize our friend from the night before. Around noon we found their perfume shop and their sole computer hooked up to the internet as promised.  We were allowed to get on so we quickly checked our emails and attempted to find a hostel for the night.  We got completely side-tracked though as Lee tried to show me his strategy in climbing the Pyramids.  This was no joke for the young man as he was determined; it was apparent that he dedicated several hours to this topic having studied youtube footage and well-read on a handful of blogs written by successful conquerors of this seemingly impossible feat. 

After we were done checking the internet, we went to the adjacent perfume room as it seemed rather obligatory since we used their computer (though they still charge us!) and because we had strategized that we would try to solicit the help of the locals on getting advice on climbing the Pyramids.

We ended up meeting with the oldest brother who had lived in the US for some time. He told us, as well as the other people before him, that we should not climb the Pyramids due to safety (some people had died by falling off) and because if we tried to get someone to help us, either they won’t help us or if they did, they would get in serious trouble if they were found. Lee considered his advice but I had already more or less decided that I wasn’t going to take part…and if Lee wanted to still go, I’d offer support.

Soon the conversation turned to other topics and somehow we allowed him to talk to us for more than 2 hours, telling us about Islam and Egyptian history. It was interesting but we were there way too long! We ended up getting out of there at about 3:00. I was able to get late check-out - again, thank you Starwood Elite Membership! - and so we only had about an hour to get our things together and enjoy the remaining time of our Pyramid viewing room.

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When we tried to check-out (after having the room for more than 30 hours!), they had problems accepting payment through their credit card machine.  So we sat poolside as they tried to figure it out and we tried to think of what we were going to do that night.  The thought of hiking the Pyramids was on Lee’s mind, I could tell.  I wanted to support him; it seemed to be his current mission in life, but I was worried for him.  Worst case scenario was that he could fall and die and I would live with the guilt of not preventing him from going, OR he could get caught and arrested and possibly banned from returning to Egypt. We didn’t know what the ramifications would be but these were possible outcomes that we had been warned about.  We had a moment. I looked Lee in the eyes and told him that I wanted to support him but I really didn’t want him to go. At the end of the day, it was his choice but I told him that I didn’t think it was worth it especially since everyone we spoke to said it wasn’t a good idea.

As we waited for them to sort out our payment, we also realized that we hadn’t found a place to stay yet!  I usually use or to find places to stay. The site is conveniently organized by geographic area but Giza, was clumped together with Cairo, so it was difficult to know which hostels actually existed in Giza.  We stopped and asked around and people had given us names but either we couldn’t find them or the prices were well over our budget of $10/night.  The first place that we found was a bit strange as the man at the reception told us he was full.  There we saw scantily dressed women that it made me think we stumbled upon the wrong kind of ‘hotel’.

We must have walked around for about 2 hours and had no luck. I could tell Lee was getting tired and I felt bad; all because I wanted to stay in Giza and didn’t want to travel 40 minutes away to Cairo and wake up early the next day to travel back to Giza. 

We stopped to consider our options and were trying to think where we were going and if we should stop for food. I could tell Lee needed to eat or else he may get cranky…he was already tired. We had actually hoped to see the ‘Sound and Light’ show - an evening show at the Pyramids - but soon realized that we didn’t have enough time and still didn’t have a place to stay. Just then, a man emerged from a restaurant that we just so happened to stop in front of and asked if we needed help. We explained our predicament and he shared that he had an American friend, from Jersey just like Lee, who could possibly house us.  He asked if we wanted to go and meet her? He explained that she was an older woman that had moved here recently and had an apartment nearby.  The man added that if he were to take us though, he wanted us to stop at his perfume shop (everyone had a perfume shop in this town!).  We agreed, we didn’t have many options at this point - 6:30PM - so we followed him.

When we got to the perfume shop, the lady was seated outside with a group of men; shooting the breeze and enjoying tea. It was a bit awkward so we went inside the shop and told the man that it was a little awkward to just ask this stranger if we could stay at her house. He encouraged us to just ask her and to go back outside and talk to her. 

We went outside and so I went up to the lady to ask if she knew of a place nearby that we could stay.  We explained our dilemma but she had no ideas…just then, one of the guys seated, a young guy in his late 20s, said something to his friend who turned out to be the soon-to-be-husband of this American woman and suggested his place. I looked at them, straight in their eyes, and thought this was a genuine offer. I looked at Lee but he was not having it. He complained that he didn’t feel well and that we should go.  They asked again if we wanted to come over and if we needed to stay at his place.  

Okay, I would only do this if I was with a guy, I thought…they looked like genuine people and wanted to help us out.  Lee didn’t think so.  We decided that we would go and eat first and get our things (we left it at the hotel) and would come back…after we left, I assured Lee that I thought it was okay and I felt no harm or bad vibes from them. I told him that if he felt uncomfortable about the idea, we didn’t have to do it but that I thought it was okay. I told him that if we didn’t want to go back we didn’t have to…we’d never see them again.

We decided to have dinner at a pizza place nearby. Food was all Lee needed to think clearly. His feet had been calloused by the hours of walking and he was silently frustrated that it had taken us more than two hours and still had not found anything.  In the end, I was able to convince him.  So after dinner, we picked up a small gift of sweets then went back to the hotel. We actually told the hotel that we met up with our friends and they were going to take us on a night cruise on the Nile so we would come back in the morning but wanted to leave our things there overnight.  I thought, since we technically didn’t know these people, I didn’t want to go with all our things in case we needed to make a quick getaway.  The hotel was surprisingly very agreeable and allowed us to go through our bags to make a night bag for ourselves; we promised we would return the following day.

We went back to the perfume shop, more than an hour later, and then we went up to the woman’s apartment which just so happened to be in the building across the perfume shop. Our new friends were: Cathy, Sam, and Mohammad the guy who would be opening up his home to us. We hung out in Cathy’s apartment for a bit, making the most of our rather awkward meeting…I mean, we pretty much invited ourselves over to a stranger’s house for the night!

About an hour or so later, we hopped in two taxis and headed over to Mohammad’s house. It was a rather old building but his apartment was nicely decorated with furniture from someone with more mature tastes.  Elegant chandelier, china cabinet, drapery…Mohammad spoke little English and Cathy’s Arabic was non-existent so Sam was the main translator for us as well as Lee and his Arabic.  Sam went to buy snacks and we just hung out and talked and played cards. Lee tried to ask the guys about climbing the Pyramids and to recruit their help but he got the same response so he reluctantly started to abandon the idea of climbing…


Finally, I was tired so I said I was going to head to bed in one of the bedrooms. I had a pretty good sleep and woke up the next morning around 8:00AM…we found Mohammad sprawled out sleeping out in the living room, with the air-conditioning.  It occurred to me then that perhaps we occupied his room? We didn’t want to wake him up but today was the day that I was going to see the Pyramids! 

About an hour or so later, Mohammad woke up and we told him that we were going to be on our way. He asked if he wanted us to join him. I thought he had probably been to the Pyramids a million times since it’s in his backyard and so he probably didn’t want to have to go AGAIN. I told him that he didn’t need to come with us and we would go on our own. He mentioned that Cathy hadn’t gone yet either so we should all go together. But when Mohammad tried to ring Sam, they didn’t answer.  It was already close to 11:00AM and I had wanted to be out of the house hours ago; mainly wanted to minimize the time we would under the blazing Egyptian sun. Finally, we decided to make a move on and Mohammad seemed to want to join us so we told him to come along.

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In a way it was good that he was there because he helped us ride the minibus straight to the Pyramids. We seemed to have approached from the back and on our way to the entrance gates, we were touted by several men trying to get us to rent a camel from them. Lee had already done this and wasn’t keen on doing it again (unless of course the price was good) but the guys argued that this was the only way we could go in. Mohammad didn’t seem to object to what the guys were saying and seemed to be in agreement that we had to get on a camel here so we bargained for a camel (for me), and two horses for the guys…

We entered but we still needed to buy tickets to enter into the grounds. There were long lines but we were able to get through….it was so hot but Mohammad had armed us with frozen 1.5 liter bottles of water which was helpful! We went around the perimeter of the Pyramids with our one guide. It was a bit surreal to view these amazing structures up close and personal! You study about the great Pyramids but I don’t think you’re ever prepared to see it in real life!  We went around the entire perimeter and took many photos….

After we got back to the other end, our guide announced that the tour had ended and that we needed to get off here. I was surprised that our tour was already over because I hadn’t actually gone up to the Pyramids and touched it! I also wanted to go inside but apparently we were supposed to have bought the tickets at the entrance. Lee had already gone in and both he and Mohammad tried to convince me that it was just a smelly underground tunnel that was not worth it.  I knew they wanted to leave so didn’t push it too much…I suppose I’ll go back one day and even if I don’t, at least Lee took some videos when he went in the first time so I can get an idea of how it was. Same thing went for the Sphinx as it was an additional cost to get in on the other side of the fence though it is visible from the side we were standing.  So we just took more photos and were on our way.

We were hungry as it was already past lunch time and Mohammad wanted us to go back to his place to make lunch, in fact he insisted. I told Lee that I didn’t want to go back there mainly because I wanted to spend time in Cairo and spending the night in Giza the night before was mainly to go and see the Pyramids…now that we had seen it, I was ready to explore Cairo.  Mohammad kept trying to persuade us to go back to his place and finally Lee told Mohammad that ‘I’ wanted to be alone with Lee and that we needed our own place…well whatever, it worked. So Mohammad walked us back to our hotel (though we tried to keep it a secret that we were actually staying at the 5-star property to limit questions) and we went in to pick up our backpacks.  Before we parted we got Mohammad’s phone number (he said he didn’t have email) and told him that we would call him after we settled in our place and we would meet up for dinner with him, Sam and Cathy.

Everything worked out well and Mohammad was a great host.  We were able to have a nice experience with locals and came out alive!  It was a bit risky for us to have gone to stay with strangers but all in all, everything worked out; we never needed to make an emergency getaway.  Now we were on our to Cairo!

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