Center stage at Saqqara is the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Built in 27BC for the burial of Pharoah Djoser, the first or second king of the 3rd dynasty of the Old Egyptian Kingdom. 'Step' refers to the design, with it's rectangular base and the flat roof. And is Egypt's oldest pyramid. Saqqara is located 30km from the center of the present day capital, Cairo.
Getting there, guide books and travel advice forums advise you to sign up for a tour or at least take a taxi, as there is no direct transport and getting there under your own steam is quite frankly not worth the aggrevation involved. Are they joking?? Such bollocks.
The guys at the hostel told me that the info on wikitravel was BS. Yes, I needed to take the metro to Giza but then take a series of micro buses via Mansoureya and not as stated.
Seems like I am now an old hand at dealing with such 'inconveniences' as I thought getting there was a breeze. Egypt is no longer the night mare from 5 years ago for me, just calculated quickly, that I have been in 29 new countries since 2010.
The metro on a friday morning, empty. The ride, 6 stops to Giza just 1 pound. Down to the small micro bus parking lot for a 7k ride to Mansoureya Road (a massive over pass for the Cairo ring road), 5 pounds (overcharged I think as just 3 on the way back but in an older van). And then in another micro bus down the Saqqara Road, just 2 pounds. My sense of direction working just fine cos I asked to be let out at a certain road junction, which led me straight the the Saqqara complex after a rural Egyptian walk.
"You want taxi, mister?"
"That's not a taxi, that's a donkey."
"Desert taxi mister. Twenty pounds. Where you from? England? That's not even 2 pounds for you, hey mister!!"
I'd walked off.
Hey mister".. and so it goes on...
"You wanna go in the tombs? I have keys. A little baksheesh, just 50 pounds"
"No need for baksheesh, I have a ticket"
"Your ticket does not cover these tombs, OK, just 30"
I walked off.
"Mister, just 20 for you"
The Serapeum is an underground burial chamber dedicated to the sacred Apis Bulls, the most important of the cult animals entombed at Saqqara. The Apis, it was believed, was an incarnation of Ptah, the God of Memphis and was the calf of a cow struck by lightning from heaven.
"Hey" called the police man, "Ticket"
I showed him my ticket, he studied it, shook my hand and said "Welcome to Egypt"
I was at the SERAPEUM complex which my ticket did not cover. I guess he couldn't read English.
I descended the steps into the underground chamber.
"Ticket" I heard behind me. "This is not the SERAPEUM ticket, you need seperate ticket."
I'd been rumbled. "How much?"
"Ticket price is 100pounds"
I offered a ragged 20 pound note.
"100 is too much, 50 is too much. 20 is good baksheesh for you."
"Tourism very bad now"
This I knew. I refrained from telling him, that the news of a possible bomb having been the cause of the crash of the Russian airliner last week, on top of the killing by the Egyptian security forces last month of some Mexican tourists, was gonna hurt him even more.
By the time we'd gotten outside his price had dropped to '20, 10more'. "You mean 30?"
"Yes, 20, 10 more, 5 minutes only."
If he could drop from 100 to 30 in a matter of minutes, getting in for 20 wouldn't take too long. 'Desperate times cause for desperate measures', I heard on a film last week. Indeed.
"Hey mister".. does it ever stop? Nope, not in Egypt..
"You wanna see a statue?"
"just over here. Come. A little baksheesh. Big statue", puffing his chest out like a wood pigeon. "A little baksheesh, tourism very bad now".
I detoured away. Found a vantage point and surveyed the scene. 2 hours later I was back in town, swaping one madness for another. On the highway a guy on a motor bike stopped for me "no baksheesh, free" and took me 10km up the road to a spot where the micro bus should have an empty seat and pick me up where a fellow passenger then took me to the spot to get back to Giza.
Later that evening as I strolled the streets, I re paid the kindness. A school girl sitting on blanket, on the sidewalk, with a few packets of tissues before her, hoping for a sale, doing her homework. I felt sad for her. I come as a visitor and when things get too bad I can always leave. For what the touts at the pyramids were wanting, for doing little more than wishing you a nice day, I dropped the girl some cash, hoping she could at least, may be stay at home the next night to do her homework, instead of sitting there in the dirt as Cairo walked around her.