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The original world nomad "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." - Confucius.

My name is Ali (yeah, sure it is)

EGYPT | Monday, 21 December 2009 | Views [2355]

"I don't want to go to the Pyramids" said Kai after breakfast, acutely unaware of the oldest man-made structure on earth just down the road. 
Everything about the Pyramids is simply awe inspiring: their size, their age, their accuracy. The sheer SIZE of the blocks, particularly the ones along the base has to be seem to be believed; the height of a man and the size of our boardroom. That would weight, what? 100 tons? 200? 300? How did they move it? They didn't have any iron age tools, these weren't around for another thousand years, so what did they use? Ropes and trees? But ask yourself how? Imagine a stone block that big dumped outside your home or office and your asked to move it, just a little, where would you start? Put it on rollers made from trees? Sure, but it doesn't matter how many people you can recruit, how would you even lift the thing even 5mm off the ground? Not only that, you've now got to move it 500m or so up onto a plateau and place it with an accuracy of 1/28th of a degree of true north.
Even after three weeks in Egypt, these monuments are phenomenal. Sorry, put Stone Henge next to the Great Pyramid of Khufu and they'd be the height of the third row of blocks. We've been around the stepped Pyramid, the Red Pyramid, the Bent Pyramid and the three at Giza, what is amazing is that they were all built within two generations. I think they all probably had the same architect (name?) who worked out how to do it, but then his knowledge was quickly lost and they never built any more. Karnack and the New Kingdoms didn't arrive for another thousand years.
"It''s a gift. For your beautiful children" said the man in the robe, sat on one of those huge blocks. "My name is Ali. Welcome." He proceeded to put an arabic headdress on Riu and it did look pretty smart so I offered him some baksheesh but he continued with his "no, no, it's a gift" ... and then proceeded to insist on putting one on Kai and having a photo taken. I'm not so naieve as to believe this was through genuine kindness but was curious to see how he'd steer it. In fairness, the Egyptian Government has gone to extraordinary lengths to deal with the legendary hassle at the Pyramids: to start with they built a huge wall right around the Pyramids complex keep people like Ali out (obviously not entirely successfully). However, once you've run the gauntlet of touts on the approach, touts who quite literally hurl themselves in front of your taxi to try to get it to stop (also unsuccessfully: we nearly killed two men on the way) you can walk around and explore these amazing structures almost without interruption. "You have lovely family" said Ali, a much-practised line I'm sure. I could have walked off but offered him E£20 instead. "I have five sons" he said "and two wives. Very good. Children very expensive" he continued his brow creasing as though with great worry. We rewarded his chutzpah generously and wandered off to see the 4,500 year old cedar boat nearby. 
Some touts bug me, others don't, but smiling while being firm seems to work well and in most places I actually enjoy the haggle of squeezing locals down to a sharpish price and then giving them a bit more - just so they know that not all tourists are easy prey.
One typical exchange on the ferry across the Nile at Luxor with a show-shine peddler.
 "Only E£1. Look, the sole is falling off. I mend for you". Sure, OK why not. I nod. He gets to work and finishes before we reach the other side. 
"That'll be E£20". I just laughed. 
"But E£1 was just to clean the dust off" he argued.
"Five" I repeat, handing over a note and grinning
That was probably E£3 too many but who cares, it's less than a dollar anyway and feeds a family somewhere.

Tags: cairo, pyramids, touts

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