Saturday, February 4, 2006
AFRICAN CUP OF NATIONS - Only fools and camels
After 11 days of non-stop football, at last a break. I used the opportunity to head for the pyramids, and also take in the Sufi dancing. The Sufi's follow a Muslim mystic order who spin and whirl to attain a trance like state, it reminded me off defenders who have come up against Eto'o in this competition.
Giza pyramids lie just 8km south west of Cairo and are reached by a dual carriageway that runs right past them. Not content with just driving up to them I opted to take the classic approach and went to hire a camel for the day. As with everything in Egypt the price seems to be negotiable and there are always hidden extras. As well as this baksheesh is expected at every turn for even the smallest of service. The price was agreed and during the course of the trip extras were added. More money was required for entry to the pyramids, then for the guide and the boys looking after the camel. By now I am well aware that the Egyptian salesmen will never give you the full story and will always be looking for more money. The police at Giza could be seen openly counting their takings for the day from what appeared to be on the spot fines for cutting corners and causing damage to the monuments.
It has been the same with asking directions. The standard reply is that wherever you ask to go you will need a taxi. In some cases this may well be true. But in a number of cases the intended destination has been a five minute walk away. Even if you ask for the mini-bus station for the local bus they will deny that their is one, until you point one out.
The art of the salesman is demonstrated in every walk of life. Everyone is looking for their cut. Whenever anything is being sold without a price the Egyptians will ask for what we think is a fair price. Bearing in mind that some people work for the equivalent of 15 British pounds, this is understandable, and chances are that what we offer is a kings ransom. One of the many other ploys frequently used is that they will never have any change. There are times when I think I am getting used to life her for example when I am congratulated for having exactly the right amount of money in my hand to pay. The reason they are so happy is that it is too much.
Being aware of these facts I went off to more Pyramids at Dashur and Saqqara. These are around 35km from Cairo and everyone recommends taking a taxi. I took the metro to the end of the line and wandered round the streets of Helwan. It was a pleasant change as I was totally ignored by the locals unlike everywhere else I have been. Using the multi lingual skills I have acquired over the years I pointed out what I would like for breakfast from a bakers. (Still need to work on my numbers as I asked for 2 fig rolls and got eight.)
Now I needed a taxi as the pyramids were still 10km away and they cover a vast site. Decided to ensure that the driver spoke English so I could be confident that he would wait for me. After 10 minutes I eventually found a driver for the day, Salah warmly greeted me and we set off. Five minutes down the road he had to stop to ask for directions. I realised he had never been here before and invited him to join me at the first pyramid. He gladly accepted, although I think he changed his mind during our trip inside. The pharaohs of Egypt are to be respected and have ensured that everyone who visits them bows, by making the passage to their tomb around a metre high. Crouched down we descended the 63 metres and 118 steps . I looked back up the shaft to see he had stopped and was gasping for breath. Worried that firstly I might need to carry him out and secondly that I might lose my driver for the day I told him to stay where he was and return if it was too much. We emerged unscathed but that was the last time he came with me.
The next pyramid was a more remote sight, and there were only the tourist police in evidence. One mounted on a camel and the other calling over to me asking if I wanted help. He told me all about the pyramid and its surroundings and then asked if I wanted to ride the police camel. Can you imagine at home, you get to the match early, there is no one about and the mounted policeman offers you a ride on his horse! Of course I took him up on this offer and rode round the pyramids while the police with gun in hand ensured I did not make off for the desert. I had the necessary small change and left my baksheesh as the police held their finger to their mouth so that I told no-one!
Another experience was being led to a papyrus shop where in open conversation my host came out with "luvverly, jubberly" during his sales patter. Somewhat taken aback by this I looked out side for the reliant robin, but it was no where to be seen.
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