Saturday, June 9, 2012

Excellent car and driver services for Giza/Cairo/Dashur/Saqaara/Memphis, Egypt

Sharif, sharing lunch with me. Contact him on his Egyptian cell phone: 011.4501.4803, country code (0020)
i found Horizon Pyramids Hotel by searching for cheap hotels in Giza on TripAdvisor. i knew i wanted to stay near the pyramids and that i didn't want to spend a lot of money.

The hotel turned out to be okay and modern to European standards. And the neighborhood it was in is a bustling, commercial area where i found good food, both local and foreign, and great deals on American, Italian and Egyptian clothes and shoes.

But the real treat were the tour services subcontracted by the hotel to an agency called Golden Pyramid. Being a tour guide in Rome, and having some Egyptian friends, i was given a recommendation of a tour guide for Giza and Cairo to contact when i arrived. That tour guide wanted $90 for a full day of touring, and he wasn't even going to do it himself, he would pass the tour to a colleague.

The guys at Golden Pyramid offered the same tour (Great Pyramid, Sphinx and other Giza pyramids, Saqaara pyramids and Memphis Museum with car, driver and guide) for $40!.

So i tried it out and got what i expected: a government-licensed guide who could recite facts and figures, tell me how beautiful everything is and made every attempt to get me to the correct shops and camel drivers, but could not answer any questions because her English was not good enough to understand them (about the same as it works in Rome with the official guides.)

But then i met Sharif. He was one of the drivers for Golden Pyramid. He drove me to the (excellent and wonderful) Giza Light and Sound Show at the site of the Sphinx. i found that his English was conversational and i quickly felt like i was chatting with a friend.

On the drive home we arranged to get the agency's car again the next day to tour with him, without a guide - his English was better and he was far more interesting.

We met at lunch time and went directly to have a hardy Egyptian lunch of camel liver and camel heart cooked in a sauce of oil, tomatoes, peppers and spices at a very local lunch spot. It was delicious. We ate family style from the same dish, using surprisingly tasty, fresh chunks of unleavened bread to scoop up the meat and veggies. "No tourists has ever eaten camel meat with me before," he told me.

"i will write about it on the internet, and others will ask for it, inshallah," i said.

"Inshallah," he said with a boyish grin. ("Inshallah" is a common Arabic expression meaning, "God willing.")

Then we drove back past the pyramids of Giza to Saqaara road where Saqaara and Memphis, having not gotten my fill of these places with the shoddy tour guide a couple days earlier. Then to Dashur, where Sharif has a flat. He introduced me to some of his family there in their home. And he had a friend who took me walking out past where the town ends, right into the Sahara desert, to get an amazing view of four big pyramids, countless smaller ones, and the 7,000 year old tombs of the soldiers of an ancient Egyptian king right there beneath our feet.

Sharif and i bonded over our common work background and became good friends. Several times we sat together to drink tea or smoke flavored tobacco through houka water pipes. In Giza, he brought me to his home to met his wife and 3 year old son.

i know he does not make such a close and personal connection to all clients, but i do highly recommend his professional services to anyone visiting this region. Having met many guides, drivers and tourism professionals there, he was the most respectful, fluent, happy and interesting among them. He does not read English (Arabic has a whole other alphabet) and i don't think the agency has a web site, but you can reach Sharif directly by phone at 011.4501.4803 on his Egyptian cell phone.

The car he drives belongs to the agency, so you will still end up working through them. Prices varied based on...i don't know which variable, but i found having the car for a full day ran between $40 and $50. Then the drivers work just for tips. For our first full day together i gave Sharif $20 and he seemed pretty happy with that.





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