Where the tourists are fair game

The pyramids are closed. They're always closed at this time. But that's OK, you can take a camel ride instead. Right now. Very cheaply.

No, wait, the pyramids are open. But this gate is closed. There's another gate, which is a long way away. But that's OK, because you can ride a horse to get there. Right now. Very cheaply.

No thanks - you're just going to continue up to the gate that you're closest to.

But that one is closed, sir. Closed for the day.

Still, you'll take your chances.

OK, but you should ride a horse up to that gate because it's still very far.

But you can see the gate, it's right up there.

It doesn't look far, sir, but it is far.

Sigh. This is what it's like, and you haven't even entered the pyramids proper yet.


Cairo. It's big, bustling, honking, sandy, smoggy, in-your-face and exciting. It never gives you a spare moment, always hustling you and charming you and bending you to its will, taking its ounce of baksheesh whether you like it or not.

Tourists are fair game in Cairo, and it really is a game, generally played with good humour. What can they persuade you to do? How much can they persuade you to do it for?

Nowhere is this more apparent than at the pyramids of Giza, a genuine wonder of the world that leaves you genuinely wondering how all these people were allowed inside to try to sell you something.

Outside the gates, it's almost expected. The guys with the horses and the camels hang around like sharks in an estuary, waiting for their prey to inevitably materialise. Some visitors bypass them in the airconditioned comfort of a tour bus, while others are forced to do battle on foot.

"The pyramids are closed. Come this way, sir, cheap to ride my horse, take you to the other gate." With a bit of experience you can just smile and stride on through, leaving the sharks to gobble up slower-moving prey.

Pay the entry fee, walk into the site. Two huge pyramids are right there, soaring out of the sand. This is the stuff you've been dreaming about. This is the reason you paid all that money. This is the ...

"Sir! Sir! Take my photo!"

Turn around, and there's a guy on a camel and he's dressed in full Arab regalia, whip raised majestically to the sky, a wide smile beneath his wire brush of a moustache. Confusion reigns for about a second until you wise up to the scheme. "Sir, please! Take my photo. No cost to you."

Um, no thanks. Nothing around here comes at "no cost to you". And people, in your experience, don't dress up in elaborate costumes and hang around world-renowned landmarks for the pure joy of winding up in someone's photograph (give us a wave, "gladiators" outside the Colosseum in Rome).

But back to those pyramids, those grandiose monuments to an ancient empire, those potent symbols of a lost culture, those ...

"Sir! Sir! Would you like to buy an Egyptian hat?"

There's a guy right behind you clutching an armful of dodgy keffiyehs and Arabian headscarves, and he's desperate to get rid of them. You refuse, of course, but this guy isn't going to give up that easily. "Here, take one, it is free. I want you to have one."

"Surely you must want something in return?"

"No, I give it to you, here."

Nothing's ever really free, everyone knows that, so it's time to walk away and start really taking in those pyramids. You can touch the huge slabs of rock, slabs that were levered into place by a pharaoh's slaves thousands and thousands of years ago. There's a tingle of history like an electric shock as you brush a hand over those stone blocks. You can feel ...

"Sir! Would you like a camel ride, sir? Cheap today for you, sir."

There's another guy with another camel and this time he wants you to climb aboard, take a tour of the pyramid site aboard one of the ships of the desert. Interested? No. But that's hardly the point. It's really cheap, you see.

You're about to give him the brush-off when you see another camel , this one with a familiar figure perched on top, whip raised to the sky.

"Sir! Take my photo!"

You throw your hands up, stalk off in search of the Sphinx and some peace, past the guy still proffering his dodgy keffiyehs, politely ignoring someone else offering his skills as a guide, stumbling on through the sands in some sort of dystopian nightmare of unwanted services.

It's crazy, the trouble you have to go to just to see those pyramids, that wonder of the world. But unfortunately you know, and they know, that it's worth the hassle. And those gates aren't closed.

Have touts tainted your experience of the pyramids or other attractions around the world? Or are you OK with being spruiked to while checking out world wonders?