I am currently sitting at my guesthouse in Giza, Egypt sipping my morning coffee and staring at the Giza Pyramid Complex. On the Giza Plateau sit the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. Three pyramids dominate the landscape and each one was built as the final resting place for a king from the 4th Dynasty also known as the “Golden Age” of the Old Kingdom. The 4th Dynasty lasted from 2613-2494 BC. It was a time of peace and prosperity.
I have been in Egypt, for 6 days. These magnificent structures are the first thing I see in the morning as my guesthouse (which I highly recommend) gave me a “pyramid view” room. They are also the last thing I see at night as each evening I go to the rooftop and watch the sunset over these structures. I still have trouble grasping the fact that I am looking at and have touched something over 4000 years old…. it’s mindboggling. The smallest of the 3 great pyramids was built for King Menkaure, his son, and his grandson. Don’t worry ladies, the queens got their own pyramids. The middle pyramid was built for King Khafre. The largest and oldest of the three was built for King Khufu 2589–2566 BC and is also known as the Pyramid of Cheops. At an original height of 146.5 (481 feet), it would take 3,800 years before another building would exceed it in height. This building would be Old St. Paul’s Cathedral (1300) in London.
The other structure that stands out and is right before my eyes is the Great Sphinx of Giza. The Sphinx is a limestone structure, and it appears to have the face of the Pharaoh, Khafre. The mythical creature also sits in from of the pyramid of Khafre. Not only is it one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, but it is also the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt.
The most amazing thing about this view is looking at the Great Pyramid and realizing it is the oldest of the seven wonders of the ancient world and the only one mostly intact. I will say it again, it’s mindboggling. There are other structures on the plateau, and I will talk about my experience later. I have always been fascinated by Egypt, hieroglyphics, the pyramids, and the Pharaohs, especially Tutankhamen. So, how did I end up ticking this bucket list item? I want to take a minute to say again, “You’re Never Too Old To Make Your Life a Story Worth Telling” or for that matter too young. A little over 7 years ago, I packed up my life and moved abroad. I have lived in Paris, China, Bali, and my current place of residence is Warsaw, Poland. In February of 2020, I got on a plane and landed in Poland to work for English Wizards. It is because of English Wizards I am fulfilling a dream. No, they didn’t send me to Egypt. They did however ask me if I was interested in working at a summer youth language camp in Bulgaria. You can read about that here. I jumped on the opportunity and started thinking about where I might go after the 7 weeks of camp finished since I had booked only a one-way ticket to Bulgaria. Greece, Turkey, Georgia, back to Romania were all thoughts passing through my wanderlust infected head. I even considered taking the train from Bulgaria to Istanbul. After a lot more thought, I realized the opportunity to add a new continent to my list was enticing. I looked up flights to Cairo and on impulse hit the button to buy the ticket. No looking back now. A week or so later, I hadn’t made any plans (ticket) to return to Warsaw from Cairo. Another bucket list crossed my mind. It must be easier to get back to Europe from Morocco than Egypt, right? Bingo…plane ticket to Casablanca booked and a return flight to Warsaw from Marrakech booked. I could figure out how to get from Casablanca to Marrakech later. By the way, I haven’t worked that out yet. Okay, I know I have gotten way off track from the Pyramids, but the point I really want to make is don’t be afraid to follow your dreams. You are never too old, trust me…I spent 7 weeks remembering what it is like to be with kids and seeing their energy 24/7. I turned 59 years young at Z Camp. Some nights I fell into bed exhausted and felt every one of those years and more. But it was an experience I will never forget and might even repeat. So, if I’m not too old, neither are you and you’re never too young. Take that gap year, take any opportunity thrown your way. I promise you won’t regret it. I also realize this kind of life isn’t for everyone. I just happen to love it. That’s how I ended up waking to the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. I’d like to tell you a bit more of my experience walking in the steps of pharaohs, the land where it is believed Moses was pulled from the Nile in a basket…it is indeed holy ground.
I arrived at my guesthouse in Giza just in time for sunset. I went straight to the roof with a bottle of water, trust me when I tell you it is hot here. I sat in awe as the sun dropped perfectly behind the Pyramid of Khafre. I was mesmerized. I decided at that moment that I would start the next day exploring the Giza Plateau. After a lovely Egyptian dinner of lamb chops and rice, my head hit the pillow and I had dreams of ancient Pharaohs.
My guesthouse sits directly across from the ticket office and entrance to the pyramids. The price for the initial ticket is 200 Egyptian pounds or about $13. Entrance to the Great Pyramid and any camel or carriage rides are extra and paid on site. I have to insert a warning here, once you have your ticket in hand, you will be bombarded by locals wanting to ride you up the hill in a carriage (for a price of course) or wanting to be your guide (for a price of course). They will tell you it is no cost, just tip what you feel. I was warned by the staff at the guest house not to fall for this. They have ways of making you part with more money than you wish.
For example, if you decide to ride a camel, get the price for on and off the camel. You may think $10 to “ride” a camel is a good price, but if you didn’t negotiate to get off the camel, you may be in for a surprise. “Ahhhh, $10 to ride madam, but $20 to get you down”. Since I rode a camel when I was in the Gobi Desert, I didn’t have a desire to repeat the experience.
I had already decided I wanted to walk from the entrance up to the pyramids and was able to call everyone and their offers off after many stern “Nos”. For the ones that were particularly persistent, I used the “maybe later” line. With tourism just starting to come back, everyone vies for your attention. Me with my light-colored hair (not to mention the colorful braids) stood out in the crowd a bit. This did bite me, when I left the guesthouse the next day and someone yelled, “Wendy, (everyone wants to know your name) you said you would come back for a carriage ride in the afternoon.” To which I replied, I am sorry, I was just too tired. Not entirely a lie as I was exhausted, although I had no intention of finding him later that day for a carriage ride.
As I started walking towards the Sphinx, I was approached by an older gentleman in what looked like traditional garb and an official-looking identification around his neck. He started up a conversation with me. He had a soft, gentle voice and asked me how I felt being here. After I answered him, I went on to explain, I was warned of all the “tricks” people will use to get your money. He said he wasn’t there to take my money. Yea, right. I continued walking and he continued with me telling me different things about the pyramids and again asking me how I felt. He then said I looked like someone who would like to meditate somewhere near the pyramids. He told me he would show me a spot I could sit and be with my thoughts.
Okay, I know it sounds hokey, but his conversation with me was pretty much exactly what I was feeling. I agreed to let him walk with me around the area. I also said again, I wasn’t paying him. He said, okay, just let me walk with you, show you some things, tell you some things, and at the end, I will walk away. I spent about 3 hours walking the complex and talking. I was the only “tourist” in the area we were walking in the beginning. He showed me some new excavation sites, some minor monuments and did indeed take me to a spot where I could put my hands on an ancient object with hieroglyphics and left me alone for several minutes with my thoughts and a few tears.
We left this area and went to the pyramids. I told him I wanted to go out into the desert to see them from afar. I knew I would have to pay for either the camel or a carriage. I explained I have already done the camel thing. We negotiated the carriage ride, and a young Egyptian boy rode me out into the desert.
The view was spectacular, and I took amazing photos and he returned me to the pyramid of King Menkaure. The pyramid was not open for viewing but I did take some photos at the entrance to the tomb.
I met back up with my walking companion and he took me up close and personal to the Great Sphinx. I even took some fun photos. It was starting to get very hot; it was just hot when we started out, a mere 93 but the sun was high in the sky and the temperature was climbing. I was hot, thirsty even though I had a bottle of water with me, and tired. As fascinated as I am with the pyramids, I knew it was time to end my visit.
We started walking toward the exit and he asked me if I was as happy. I was ecstatic but I also have learned that if asked if I am happy means I should make the person responsible for “my happiness” happy in return. In other words, a tip without asking. I had planned from the beginning to give him something as we parted. I handed him a generous tip, he smiled and walked me a bit further.
As we parted ways, he handed me a small ceramic scarab. The scarab is a symbol of renewal and rebirth. My visit to the Giza Pyramid Complex was complete. My soul was happy!
A few other pointers for a visit to Egypt:
It’s hot. Even if you think you can handle the heat, it drains you. You’ve heard it before but drink a lot of water. Rest in the shade when you can.
It’s hot. It drains the battery on your phone more quickly than normal. It’s wise to have a power pack. I didn’t and my phone died late in the afternoon before I could call an Uber. This also means no google maps or google translate. I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help make the hour trip from downtown Cairo back to Giza. It’s only about 14 km but Cairo/Giza traffic is mad.
It’s hot. Your laptop battery drains quickly when you are sitting on a rooftop looking at the pyramids while getting some work done.
Uber is easy to use and reliable.
Learn a few words in Arabic. Shukran = thanks La Shukran = no thanks
Don’t expect to find alcoholic beverages/cocktails. Places are few are far between where you can get alcohol.
Try the local food. Don’t be tempted to just duck into that KFC or Pizza Hut. Local food is inexpensive and tasty, give it a try first. If you don’t like it, there is always American fast food to be found.
Take your time. Don’t rush to see as many things as you can cram into a day. You will only end up, hot and exhausted and probably won’t recall half of what you saw. Take your time, read about what you are seeing, realize the magnitude of what you are seeing. Some of these structures are over 4000 years old.
Don’t count on air conditioning. May Ubers and taxis either have no air or don’t use it. The Egyptian Museum didn’t have air-con. Although, the newer museums do. My guesthouse had ice-cold air and cold water always available. This was a plus. Just don’t assume everywhere will have air conditioning.
Finally, get caught up in the crazy, chaotic, colorful Cairo scene.
And remember, you’re never too old or too young to make your life a story worth telling!