The word "pyramid" always painted a picture of a pristine sandscape with towering stone tetrahedrons breaking the monotony of the sand. I was not disappointed when I opened the balcony window in my room at Oberoi Mena House in Cairo. There it was, my first face-to-face encounter with one of the great Giza pyramids.
I arrived at Mena House two days before I would meet up with the Wonders of Egypt tour I signed on with. I couldn't wait that long. I had to experience the great pyramids more closely. So I walked the short distance from Mena House to the pyramids. Walking gave me the chance to exercise and get a feeling for the streets—something you can't get from the sheltered environment of Mena House. Walking also gave me a unique view of the pyramids, one that isn't as obvious from a tourist bus.
Just outside the gate to the pyramids is a large staging area for the horses and camels used for tourist rides. It is also a place for dumping trash. The problem isn't confined to outside the pyramid. Trash is everywhere on the grounds themselves. If you are with a tour group you are likely to be herded from a bus to a photo stop, back to the bus, then to a line for a pyramid, then back to the bus, and so on. But if you are an independent traveler, it doesn't take any sleuth work to encounter old sandals, water bottles, candy wrappers, cigarette boxes, and more.
One issue is that there aren't any visible trash cans at the Giza pyramids. I spent some time observing the tourists to see who was tossing trash on the ground. The guides I've met have been quite conscientious about making sure their charges were clean and respectful. Tourists aren't the problem. The trinket vendors, along with the camel and horse people who work at the pyramid site, are the culprits.
When I toured the rest of Egypt, I realized that trash is as pervasive as the poverty. Travel photographers, reporters, and Egyptologists overlook the trash. Who want's to see it? Certainly not the armchair traveler.
At the end of the day, I mentioned the trash and the bribery (see related post Egyptian Police Double as Photography Consultants) to one of the staff at Mena House. He was shocked that I ventured out on my own. Wouldn't it be best if tourists leave Egypt with the same impression they would get sitting in an armchair at home watching Zawi Hawass on a travel channel? I don't think so. I travel to experience the reality of an area. Despite the trash, the pyramids still amaze me. I am amazed even more now that I see how well they are preserved amid the poverty and problems that Egypt has. (Note: I left Egypt just days before the January, 2011 revolution.)