September 15th, Friday!
Finally the weekend was here! My first break in over 15 days ! I had somehow survived my first week at office here in Egypt without any major issues, and now, this was the chance for me to visit the various historic/tourist spots that Cairo is so famous for!
My first stop had to be the Pyramids at Giza. Giza was a plateau about 20 kms south-west of the down-town Cairo, and over the past few days, I had been doing a lot of research on how to go about visiting that place …..the guys at office had asked me to take a cab (costing about 25 pounds) , or take the metro to Giza Square and subsequently a cab to the Pyramids. Besides, as I was browsing the Lonely-Planet guide on Egypt at the book-shop inside Arkadia mall, I had noticed that there were special Air-con buses to the Pyramids, meant for tourists – that could get you there for just 2 pounds ! These buses were available somewhere around the Egyptian Museum.
So I rose early in morning ….after my usual breakfast of bread and butter, I loaded my digi-cam and my handycam into my bag, threw a bottle of water in…..and by ard 7:30 AM, set out towards the Egyptian Museum.
I walked all the way, along the Corniche del Nile, and by about 8 PM, reached the museum. But nowhere around the musuem, could I find the big, Air-Con, special buses to the Pyramids 😦
I walked over to Tahrir square, just across the museum, and decided to ask some people around.
As I emerged out of the subway, along the pavement, I noticed this gorgeous Western damsel perched high on a railing, apparently waiting for somebody.
Knowing that Western tourists are always armed with these Tourist Information books which give you every damn detail ( probably even the name of the shoe-polisher on the street corner ) that you would ever want to use, I figured that she had to be my best bet !
I approached her and asked her if she knew where these special buses to Giza would be available ……She replied in perfect American accent that she had no idea, and asked me if I knew Arabic……
I explained that I did not and that I was from India…….
Smiling, she offered, “Do you want me to ask some people around for you ?”
[ Huh ? …..now how could this American female possibly communicate to the locals here and what could she tell them that I cannot ? ]
But even before I could say, ” No, thank you ….its fine” , she leaped down from the railing, pulled me along and led me to the hawkers on the sidewalks …
Being the obedient person that I was, I followed ……….
She narrowed down on one particular newspaper seller on the foot-path and said to me, ” Ok, lets go ask that guy !”
[ Oh yeah, this is gonna be fun …..I smiled at the prospect of getting to watch this American babe play dumb-chardes with the street vendor ! ]
But what happened next hit me like a thunderbolt ……
She started conversing to the guy in perfect, fluent Arabic …..
[ Boy, had Himesh Reshamiya taken off his cap on TV, I may have been less surprised !!! ]
After conversing with the vendor, she turned to me, looking rather unconvinced and explained that according to the guy, these special buses could be boarded at the south-western side of the ‘Egytpian Museum’, behind the ‘Nile Hilton’ hotel.
She looked around, and suggested that we ask a few other people as well….as normally here in Egypt, according to her, men are too egoistic to admit when they do not know something …instead, they just make wild guesses !
We went over to the group of men chatting at the nearby traffic signal, and she enquired with them – again in Arabic…..soon 4-5 men were circling around her and major discussions were on ….all I could make out was each person pointing his hand in distinct directions, as they explained !
Finally she thanked them, turned over to me and explained that it was better for me to take the Metro to ‘Giza Square’ ( that would cover about 80% of the total distance ), and from there take a bus or cab to the Pyramids.
I asked her on what would be the bus number that I should take from there ….she said that I just had to ask for the “AHRAMM” ( Arabic for ‘Pyramid’ ) and they would say Yes/No ! Sounded quite simple !
She showed me to the entrance of the nearby Tahrir Metro station.
“Have you ever been in the metro before ?”, she asked.
“No”, I replied.
So I attentively listened as she explained to me in detail the whole procedure, on how I should first go up to the counter, pay 1 pound and get a ticket [ a mere 1 pound can take you from any end of Cairo to another, irrespective of the distance ! ], look at the map, and find out the platform meant for the right destination, punch my ticket and get in the train , etc ………….
I was amazed at the manner in which she was so pro-actively helping me out ….By now, I could wait no more …. I just had to pop the question – the one that any sensible guy in my situation would have asked her at this juncture……..
I took a deep breath, and asked ….
“So….. how on earth do you know to speak Arabic ???”
With a sly smile, she explained that she had taken up Arabic studies in her University back in California, and had also done a 4-month internship in Jordan …….
She went on to say that she could have accompanied me to the Metro station below and put me on the right train, but happened to be waiting for a friend and so had to rush !
[ There was no foul word left in my vocabulary that I did not use on her friend that day ! ]
I bid good-bye to her and descended the stairs into the Tahrir Square Metro Station. Located centrally in down-town city, this was one of the busiest Metro stations in Cairo, where various segments of Metro lines converged, making it an important junction and transit point. I bought the ticket, found that platform meant for Giza, and waited. The entire station was extremely clean and beautifully maintained! It so happens that Cairo is the only city in entire Africa to have a metro !
In no time, a colourful train arrived and within the 5 seconds or so that it halted, I boarded it. The journey was smooth, and very convenient. I noticed that there were only locals in the train, and no other tourists at all ! The tourists normally took the cabs to visit Giza, but I was quite happy this way. Not only does this save me a lot of money and time, it also avoids the hassles of the chaotic Cairo traffic.
After a few stations, the metro line emerged out of the sub-terrain, and the rest of the journey was on land, giving me wonderful views of the suburbs that we were passing through. We passed via the Cairo University, where quite a lot of students got down.
Finally in about 20 minutes since starting from Tahrir station, the metro reached “Giza Square”.
I got down and noticed a bus-station just adjacent to the Metro station. I walked in, but was stopped by the Arab guard. I tried explaining that I wanted a bus to the Pyramids ….he somehow explained that I had to go to a different bus-station …….So I walked down the dusty streets searching for this other bus-station.
Giza was a distant suburb of Cairo and one of the poorer quarters of the city. It also was heavily populated ….and the people here hardly spoke any English …The roads were lined with small, humble shops …..I stopped a couple of guys on the streets and asked about the bus to the Pyramids …but they just couldn’t understand what I said ! [ quite evidently, by this time, I had forgotten the Arabic word for Pyramids, that the American gal had taught me earlier!] …..even checked up with some shop-keepers , still no luck ……Finally a little further I noticed another private bus-station on the other side of the road. I walked over, and entered the complex ….but this was more of a bus Depo, and was almost entirely deserted, except for a couple of Arab care-takers – dressed up in traditional attires….. I approached them and enquired ….Still no English 😦
I somehow used gestures and explained that I wanted to go to the Pyramids, trying to make a Triangular shape with my hands ! They somehow got the message and pointed to the other side of the street, and said something in hard-core Arabic….I barely made out that he wanted me to catch some bus from there, and he even wrote some bus numbers on a piece of paper and handed it to me. The numbers were written in Arabic ….but thankfully, I knew the Arabic numbers [ ….atleast this I remembered from my school days back in Kuwait ! ] and so could read it.
I bid good-bye to him and walked down the street, trying to find where I could get these buses. A lot of buses passed by, but nothing seemed to stop anywhere in the near vicinity.
Walking a little further up the street, I saw this Pharmaceutical shop, and went in. Inside, there were about 3 young Arab guys at the counter, watching a Football match on TV. Fortunately, one of them knew broken English. He adviced me to take a cab, as buses were not frequent and would be crowded…..he further re-iterated that I should not pay more than 5 pounds for the taxi to the Pyramids.
Outside I stopped a speeding cab, and checked for the price. The cabbie quoted 10 pounds, I said 5…… finally we settled for 7, and he silently drove, along the long street, that led straight to the Pyramids complex !