Metro columnist Julia Dimon at the Great Pyramids.



julia dimon/metro toronto

Strolling around the base of the Great Pyramid, drifting further away from the group, I realized I was being followed. Four giant camels, accessorized with furry pom-poms, blocked my path. I was surrounded.

Seated atop these sandy desert dwellers were merchants, aggressively hawking tourist souvenirs. They forced alabaster trinkets, papyrus scrolls and snow globes into my hands, first offering them as “gifts,” then demanding money.

Though I tried to be polite, the vendors were persistent. “Camel ride? Camel ride?” they shouted.

As a perceived “rich” Westerner, local vendors can make you feel like a walking pocketbook, a living, breathing dollar sign. It can be pretty exhausting sometimes. Though I should be a pro at handling aggressive vendors and beggars, I’m not. I get frustrated. I flip flop between guilt and anger, humanitarianism and a hardened heart.

This time, I’d been warned that these camel rides were sometimes scams, especially if the camel-guys claim the ride is free. They’ve been known to lead unsuspecting tourists to the desert “free-of-charge” and, once out there, they demand a hefty price for the return trip. Lonely Planet Egypt tells travellers to bargain fiercely, be sure of the agreement, and pay no more than 15 Egyptian pounds ($3 CDN) an hour.

Instead of taking the risk, I held strong and said a final and firm “NO THANKS.” I pushed my way through a labyrinth of hairy camel legs back towards the Great Sphinx.

I reminded myself that it’s the destination, not the pesky vendors, that matters. This was Egypt after all, a country with world-class diving, river-boat cruises along the Nile, ancient history and rich culture. Cairo had become one of my favourite cities. Sipping mint tea, puffing on apricot-flavoured sheesha, listening to afternoon prayer blaring from a nearby mosque — that’s a perfect day in Cairo.

On this day, I was just outside the capital at the Pyramids of Giza, a complex with some of the most impressive and most visited Egyptian pyramids.

As the only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World, the Pyramids of Giza continue to amaze. Constructed around 2550 BC, the Pyramid of Khufu was built with over two million stone blocks, each weighing more than two tons. As I strolled around its base, I found it impossible to imagine how any ancient civilization could have built such a thing without the modern conveniences of tractors and trolleys.

The pyramids were surreal.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of red. A tourist couple were snapping photos. As I approached, I saw he was wearing a sleeveless tank top. She was half-nude wearing red “bootie” shorts and a tiny tube top. My jaw dropped. Their wardrobe was completely inappropriate for Egypt; so disrespectful to local custom and social etiquette.

As her butt cheeks, thighs and cleavage all jiggled in fleshy competition, I wanted to yell: “Lady, culture and common fashion sense tell you to put some clothes on!”

I guess some tourists just don’t care. Cultural sensitivity isn’t a part of their vocab. When I travel, I like to dress modestly. I find it helps gain local respect, protect against unwanted romantic advances and dispel the misconceptions about loose Western women. Miss Red Bootie shorts was giving the rest of us female tourists a bad name.

I sneered and made my way towards her, to give her a piece of my mind. With priceless timing, the vendors swarmed in. “Camel ride? Papyrus? Postcard?” they barked.

This is the modern-day pyramid-going experience; a blend of awe-inspiring landmarks and idiot tourists. A return to ancient history and an amazing world wonder in the business of tacky souvenirs.