Five days in Egypt isn’t a lot of time for anything. But we knew that we couldn’t go Egypt and settle for seeing the Giza Pyramids from the highway. So, calling today a b-roll shoot (but really it was a day to check off the main tourist sites) we set off for downtown.
We had hoped to bring all of our film equipment in with us, but were quickly told that the cost of filming was well outside of our budget. We weren’t too put off by this: there are literally hundreds of places outside of the gates with beautiful views of the Pyramids. We packed our gear away and flashed our press passes to bypass the ticket line and we were on our way,Raiders of the Lost Ark theme music rattling through our heads all the while.
One thing to note about the Pyramids: they really are right on the edge of Cairo. Their location makes them easy to get to, but it’s also somewhat shocking to see in person. Most pictures of the Pyramids are from the east looking west. It’s a classic view: the Pyramids tower over a vast expanse of desert, a line of camels the only object that breaks the sand horizon. Turn your camera around and you’ll see the sprawl of Cairo begins just beyond the gates and stretches well into the distance. The city is so close, in fact, that it seems the Sphinx might just be yearning for a bucket of chicken from the KFC a few hundred yards from it’s broken nose (seriously, look at the right of the frame HERE–the Spinx is directly across from a KFC).
The proximity to Cairo brings out all kinds of hucksters. It’s like Times Square, except the men handing out “free” comedy tickets are replaced by teenage boys “giving away” headdresses. “My friend, this is a gift,” they’d say. “No thank you,” we’d reply. But for the hundred feet between the ticket window and the base of the Pyramid, we were accosted by these boys, who, despite us not taking the headdresses, somehow got them on our persons. As I looked back to see one particularly feisty lad jam a headdress onto Ty’s head, another one stuffed one into the crook of my arm, then refused to take it back. We kept walking—and so did they. Now that we had them, the boys demanded money for their “gift.” When we declined, they quickly, and angrily, took back the headdresses.
In the midst of this madness, a man approached—with our guide—and shooed everyone away, then offered to give us a free tour. Let me be clear: we knew this tour wouldn’t be free. We’re not that naïve. But this man was able to do away with the annoyances we were facing, our guide seemed to give him the stamp of approval and we thought it probably wouldn’t be the worst idea to have a tour.
We learned the history of the Pyramids as he recited it by rote. We entered stunning tombs where we were allowed to photograph ancient hieroglyphs as we fought off claustrophobia. It was in one of these tiny spaces that I had a desperate urge to pee (can I write that in a company blog?). We had all tried to enter the loo prior to entering the Pyramids, but the pay toilets required small change, which we did not have. I started to leave the tomb in search of a bathroom, no matter the cost, when our guide told me his “brother” would help me. Thinking he was going to lead me to another bathroom where I wouldn’t have to pay and that I wouldn’t hold up the rest of the tour, I went along.
When the guide’s brother insisted I get into a horse-drawn carriage, I knew I was in for an expensive bathroom break.
Despite my protest that I could walk, he wouldn’t hear it: I was riding in the carriage. It’s a good thing I didn’t walk—I don’t know how I could’ve possibly made it through all 50 yards of scorching desert heat. Somehow, my trusty steed managed. And, of course, once I got to the outhouse, from where I had a clear view of the boys continuing the tour, I had to pay more than I would have outside. I did my business and started to walk back, but, once more, I found myself in the carriage.
Feeling like a complete boob and thinking how badly the fellas were going to lambast me for riding up to them like Wills and Princess Kate, I hung my head in shame.
It was just then that I saw Clay rocket off the ground atop the back of a camel. If we were going to be tourists, we were going to do it the Copper Pot way: all in.
Not only were all three boys on camelback, they had also picked one out for me. I threw my leg over, leaned back and, at the instruction of the 7-year-old who would lead us through the desert, my camel stood up and we were off.
Thinking of going to the Pyramids and you want a classic photo on a camel? Here’s a tip: opt for the short tour. When we were given the options we were told that only the long tour featured the Sphinx. Confidently, I said, “That’s ok, we can just see the Sphinx on foot.” The guide told me this was impossible. The Sphinx was an eight kilometer walk… across the desert. Looks like we had no choice. Long tour it was. So, at noon, we set out across the Sahara to see the Sphinx. All we were missing was a bullwhip and a fedora.
From the start, it was clear this was a bit shady. Was this 7-year-old really going to lead our camels through eight kilometers of dusty inferno?
No. He wasn’t. Because the Sphinx isn’t eight kilometers away. In fact, it was probably 300 yards from the very spot where our guide made that ridiculous claim. Had we paid attention, we would’ve seen that it was just to the left of the entrance—down a paved road and, as previously mentioned, across from a KFC.
Nevertheless, the tour did offer great photo ops, including one at a desert plateau where a small boy and his donkey wait to sell cool beverages to tourists. When I commented I liked his donkey, he quipped, “Not donkey. Egyptian Cadillac.” I’m sure it’s a well-worn joke, but one that certainly earned him an extra tip.
The “free” tour ended up costing us probably more than it should have, but less than it would’ve back home. The haggling simply prepped us for our trip to the market later that day where we all looked for souvenirs for loved ones and Clay got his jollies by hardballing local vendors.
We did actually do some shooting today. We had asked Ahmed to find a soccer field from where we could see the Pyramids. He was able to talk our way into a military club across the street where a brother and sister kicked a ball on a cement pitch in the shadows of the Great Pyramid. It was perfect.
We’re back at the hotel, there’s an American b-movie on TV and we’re enjoying a feast of room service appetizers. It’s been an amazing trip and we’re already looking forward to coming back and getting to know the Pharaohs much better over the next few years. Tomorrow, we board a plane home to New York, where we’ll review everything we’ve gotten and start to put together some clips to share with you. Should be fun.
Thanks for reading.
The Copper Pot Crew