I signed out from Antiquities Museum after a magical three-hour date with those mummies. As I walked toward the main road, I saw some tanks and bunch of soldiers outside the building. It wasn’t a rare view in Cairo. Three years had passed after the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 but some important places still needed intensive protection, especially because one week prior my arrival there was a bombing that killed 6 civilians. I didn’t really care about those military units, until when I noticed the nearby metro station was closed. Their English proficiency couldn’t explain to me what was going on. So maybe another bombing terror, I said to myself.
I was about to see the pyramids and supposed to take a metro to Giza from that station. So I decided to take a cab to another station (5 Egyptian pounds or US$0.5), and transfer to a train there (1 pound). Oh right, it was an on-budget trip, so I had to calculate everything carefully. I stopped a cab owned by a non English-speaking driver. His name was Hassan, around 40. I sat on the front seat, opened my Google Translate, and showed him where I’d wanted to go. He nodded. I didn’t remember how it went, but his poor English managed to offer me a ride straight to Giza instead of the station. He said I only needed to pay 8 pounds for the entire ride, only 2 pounds more expensive than my actual plan. It was suspicious, because Lonely Planet said it would cost me at least 18 pounds from Cairo to Giza. But seeing his smiley face, maybe I had to ignore my doubt. So I nodded.
Hassan was kind. When we crossed a bridge over Nile River, he asked if I wanted to take a pic. I said yes, then we pulled over. I opened the car’s door and handed him my camera. We continued the trip mostly in silence. I was stunned when we arrived in the desert area. I always have a thing with desert, maybe because I had too much Aladdin movies when I was younger. I was busy taking pictures while he made several phone calls with a man in language I didn’t understand. The traffic was great; there was no other car around us. It was a perfect day until I realized there was a strange view in my sight: a man stood in the middle of the road, spread his hands, and tried to stop us. Oh fuck.
He was definitely not a hitchhiker. He was skinny, tall, bearded, wore a lousy black jacket And of fuck again, he wasn’t alone. There was another guy. This one was chubbier, shorter, no beard. Both were mid 30. I panicked. “Who are they?” I asked Hassan, but he shook his head.
They approached my cab. The skinny one went to Hassan’s side, and the chubby one was on my window. Skinny spoke something in Arabic to Hassan. He looked and sounded mad, and my driver looked terrified. I asked him what the guy was saying, but he couldn’t really explain. So I collected all my guts and asked him, “What do you want?”
“You go pyramid?” he asked back. The tone wasn’t very friendly.
He replied in Arabic. I asked Hassan again, but his English was too poor to explain. He shouted to me in Arabic. I was scared as hell.
“Call!” he challenged me. He didn’t believe someone like me had a local friend.
Shit. No answer from Nour. He told me this morning he’d be busy all day. I took a deep breath. Very deep, especially when I realized both Skinny and Chubby were on the back seat of my cab! I was afraid they’d do something harmful to me. I knew I couldn’t ask for help from anyone because there were no other people here. Everything I saw was only desert. Not even camels.
“Where your friend?” the Chubby mocked me.
I asked, “Why are you in my cab?” They answered in Arabic with an offensive tone.
Then I realized something odd. Wait, was is staged? Was it all staged by Hassan, my driver? He gave such a cheap rate to go to Giza, then he made some phone calls along the way. Were these cocksuckers his friends? But he also looked scared. Or maybe he was just pretending? Were they going to rob me?
I called Nour again. Thank God this time he picked up. I told him what was going on and asked him to speak with those assholes.
I handed my phone to Skinny, although I was afraid he’d not return that to me. They spoke for less than a minute, then he gave my phone back. With such a disappointing look in their face, they got off the cab. He yelled one more time before crossing to the other side of the street. We continued the journey. I felt relieved. Nour saved my life.
I called him again to ask what happened, and his answer kinda surprised me, “They know you’re heading to the pyramids, and want you to rent their camel for your trip there.”
What the fuck?
I suddenly recalled an article from USA Today I’d read months before, that Egypt pyramid vendors grew violent. After the revolution, the tourism business dropped. They were desperate to make money; hence they became aggressive to get tourists to give them some business. I didn’t expect I’d experience that. And until now I still have no idea if Hassan was involved on that incident or not. Well, that doesn’t matter now. Most importantly, I finally made my way to the Great Pyramids of Giza, rented a horse to wander from one ancient building to another, and took that very touristy picture. I just have to be more careful next time.
This post is aimed to inform my readers that it’s important to know a local when visiting a non English-speaking country, especially if the country is experiencing a hard time or conflict. I always make friends with the locals through CouchSurfing.org, a website for travelers that enables me to find a place to stay for free. Well it’s not only about the free-of-charge thingy, but also about the friendships I build with them.
In Cairo, I found Nour. He confirmed my request to stay just two days prior my arrival date. He’s a very decent guy, polite, and full of knowledge. He lives in an apartment with his lovely mother. These two beautiful creatures let me stay in a big room with large bed and lots of blankets (it was winter in Egypt). Not only that, they cooked me breakfast every morning and provided me with so many useful local insights. Nour brought me to meet his friendly friends, and wrote me some street directions in Arabic alphabet so I can just show it to taxi driver or people in case I get lost. I will also remember when he surprised me with a lemon cheesecake on my birthday night. He definitely made the cold Egypt a little warmer.