The Waiting Game

Trip Start Apr 09, 2008
1
91
138
Trip End Aug 30, 2008


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Where I stayed

Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Monday, June 30, 2008

During our overland journey, I've been reading about travel writer Paul Theroux's overland adventures from Cairo to Cape Town in his Dark Star Safari. Visiting the same countries as him, although he saw Mozambique and Zimbabwe whereas we went through Namibia and Botswana, he traveled mainly by public transport and stayed in local hotels. Most of the book's chapters are divided into countries, so I read it backwards, reading only the chapter that was relevant to our trip at that time.

I'm at the Egypt chapter, the first African country Theroux encounters and my last. I find myself laughing out loud at his vivid descriptions of what life is like as a tourist or passer-by in this ancient land.

Regarding Aswan, he paints an accurate portrait of the "persistent, nagging, stalking" curio-sellers in a "good-natured bazaar, divided in half - local people buying melons and grapes and fava beans and coffee and spices, and tourists haggling over plaster images of the pyramids and the Sphinx, and Nefertiti, brassware depicting King Tut's shiny face and colourful carpets, walking sticks and T-shirts."

I couldn't have described it any better.

~~

This morning our taxi driver, Kamal, picked us all up at 8:30 on the dot to take us to the police station to get our car insurance, Egyptian license plate and license, and to obtain other necessary official car documents that needed to be stamped and verified. We have resigned ourselves to all this bureaucracy and don't bother to ask what or why anymore.

Yesterday, when Kamal took Matt and Christoph to get the cars registered, they were two minutes late coming downstairs from the hotel and Kamal made it a point to tell them off. Now when an Egyptian gets angry, be it man or woman, they can really scream and yell like you wouldn't believe. It's a bit scary actually. So we made sure we were ready and waiting by the curb when he arrived today.

It's rather interesting to notice that, so far, Egyptians are quite the sticklers when it comes to keeping time. What happened to "African time?" Is this a product of a productive and consumerist society, or is it simply their character?

We arrived at the police station by 9 o'clock but we were too early. Apparently the "man with the stamp" was either busy, not there or asleep. Nobody could really speak English and tell us which it was.

But it didn't matter. All we could do was practice what we have become extremely good at doing: waiting.

~~

Convoys must be adhered to, we are told, to protect foreigners. It was during the Luxor massacre in 1997, that Islamic fanatics suddenly opened fire on some tourists at a temple, killing 63 people. We later visited this temple, Hatshepsut Temple.

A few years ago, six German tourists were taken hostage but were fortunately released after a week. Also, there have been bomb explosions at Sinai and Sharm el-Sheikh.

And the list goes on.

So these police-escorted convoys between cities have been enforced. All tourists, no matter if you are traveling independently or in a packaged-tour, must move together, sandwiched by dozens of siren-blaring cars carrying machine gun-touting officers.

From Luxor to Aswan alone, there are nine checkpoints and it is impossible to get through if you are not in convoy.

After all our procedures were completed at the police station, we made a quick stop at the Aswan High Dam and then headed to the starting point of the 2pm convoy to Luxor.

We didn't have time to grab some lunch but at the start of the convoy was a little shop selling snacks and drinks. We went in, saw that all the drinks had prices marked underneath them on the shelves which we were relieved about (no bargaining!), grabbed some cold Cokes and water and got out our wallets to pay.

Immediately, the shop-keeping told us that the price was converted to dollars for foreigners so it would actually cost us about 10 EGP for each drink, five times the amount that was marked. This was outrageous! Bargaining for something that doesn't have a fixed price is one thing, but this guy was trying to blatantly cheat us when the listed price was there for everyone to see.

Matt decided to try the tough-guy approach (based on Christoph's theory that it's sometimes a normal part of Egyptian dealings), which basically meant some nose-to-nose confrontation and raised voices.

Eventually we got the listed price, but having to expend that much energy for cold drinks, especially ones that were already price-marked, is just not right.

~~

Four hours later, when we arrived at Rezeiky Camp, the only camping option in Luxor, we found out that the camping fee was more expensive than staying at the Nubian Oasis Hotel in Aswan.

We were not willing to pay this rate and told the man on duty we needed to negotiate a price with the Manager now or else we go looking elsewhere. It was after 5pm and we didn't want to drive around Luxor in the dark. The man told us the Manager was asleep at home and could we please wait an hour, have a drink or something, until he comes.

We couldn't believe it, this was the second time today we were told somebody we wanted to see was asleep! I didn't believe it the first time I heard it and I certainly didn't believe it now.

I was not in a good mood. For some reason, I get the feeling that not many people here are helpful unless they know they can personally gain in some way. They would rather give you some lame nonsense excuses before admitting they didn't know something. It's only been a few days, but all of us are drained from having to constantly face this "I'm going to rip you off because I can" attitude.

What could we do but wait? While the others sat at a table, I went exploring and met another guest in their 'internet café' (dark and dingy room with 3 old PC's and some broken chairs) who happened to be good family friends with the Manager and the camp's supplier of Stella Beer and Heineken. I explained to him our situation and how we needed to confirm a reasonable camping fee or else we would head elsewhere. He immediately called up his manager-friend on his mobile, who was most definitely NOT asleep, and passed him to me.

In the end, we bargained a fairly decent price, including free breakfast, and after a quick shower, went out to search for dinner.

We found the Metropolitan Restaurant after a 20 minute walk, right on the banks of the Nile River. Although the food was rather expensive, they did have a wide-screen TV and satellite reception, which made our decision about where to watch the Germany vs. Spain final of the Euro 2008 very easy. Too bad for Christoph (and us, and all Germans) the Germans lost.




Start: Nile Nubian Oasis Hotel, Aswan, EGYPT. 14:00
End: Rezeiky Camp, Luxor, EGYPT. 17:30
Distance Traveled: 234 km
Road Conditions: in convoy on good paved roads
Average Speed: 60.0 km/hr
Max Speed: 95.9 km/hr
Temperature: low 40's but pleasant
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