Nothing Added Up, Except for the Bill!
Trip Start Feb 28, 2013
10Trip End Mar 22, 2013
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Where I stayed
Couchsurfed in Giza
Couchsurfing with Rami
After emailing back and forth with a couchsurfing host, we decided on Rania who lives in Giza near the pyramids. She referred us to her brother Rami and soon we were just corresponding with him. Rami confirmed that he could host us and we checked out of our hotel. We were able
to leave one pack at the hotel and planned to see Giza for two days before taking the train to Aswan the following day. Rami phoned us in the morning and told us to go to end station on metro line then have a taxi-driver call him for directions.
Rami was waiting outside of Café Horus, the busy little shisha café that he owns, when we arrived. We got to know each other over a refreshingly cool glass of hibiscus tea, the tea of the Pharaohs. He seemed like an outgoing guy. He married a Swiss girl who was back in Switzerland to deliver their first baby.
We were surprised to learn that Rami already had two other couchsurfers at his flat and another arriving in the afternoon! Rami's first note mentioned that his family’s flat overlooks the Giza pyramids. It turned out that Rami's flat, where we would stay, is a short taxi ride away, without a view. It is his uncle’s flat that has perfect pyramid view from rooftop. We met two young Berliners, one an art student and the other the owner of an event lighting business, Fabian and Michael! The sleepy headed Germans were just waking up when we arrived in Rami’s flat. We were all gung-ho to ride camels at the pyramids. Rami said we would have time to do that, have dinner with his family, plus have time to run into Cairo for a Sufi dance performance. Wow, what a great plan!
Negotiating for Camels
The five of us piled into a rickshaw for the short ride to FG Stables. The first clue that something was amiss for me was when Rami didn't go through elaborate kiss and hug greeting when he met the stableman. He had taken many friends and couchsurfers on this type of trip, plus his family has lived in the area for generations, I doubted that he would take us to someone he was not familiar with. In other words, he should have had a great price established long ago.
We were ushered inside and sat down.No time was wasted and the stableman gave a wild quote for a 4 hour guided camel trip into the Giza Pyramid complex 700 ($103US) pounds per person. The boys almost fell off their chairs. Rami explained that he understood the quote and would negotiate on our behalf. First off, we all said we were not too interested in paying to enter any empty pyramids. A few hundred came off the price right there.
Seeing the Iconic Giza Pyramids at Last!
Our group took the route outside the fence and up to panorama point where we could see all the famous pyramids in the distance. Rami received a call from our fifth couchsurfer who had entered the ground with a private guide and would leave him to continue on with Rami. We waited while one of the camel men went to get our fifth surfer, also a German, named David. Once he was with us, our group made our way to the base of Khafre Pyramid on our camels. It was fun goofing around and snapping group photos. We rode past the squat Sphinx which guards the entrance to the pyramids. Someone compared seeing the Sphinx to meeting famous actors in person. They are much smaller than you had imagined.
We are convinced this is a scam, but now what?
We dismounted our camels. The ride was over. We had actually been on the camels about 30 minutes in total. Rami said we would tip the camel men 25 pounds each and David (Germany) would need to pay 125 pounds for his camel ride. That’s when Dave became suspicious of Rami. He was going to charge his couchsurfer for the privilege of sharing his already paid-for camel. He hadn’t even gotten his own camel. And come to think of it, there were no site entry tickets for any of us. Our planned 4 hour camel ride and visit lasted less than 2 hours. What happened to the planned sunset view on the Giza pyramids, we asked each other. We all shrugged and speculated that we must have misunderstood.
More unfulfilled Promises
The proposed family dinner was at even another home in the in-process building project. We were welcomed into the fourth floor flat and met Rami’s sister, Rania, and his mother. Other family members were busy in the other room. Dinner was served on the floor of the dining room. No family members joined us. What happened to dinner with the family?
Dave and I discussed if we wanted to end this couchsurfing experience and go back to Cairo on our own. But we could not think of a diplomatic way out. Plus Rami proposed a trip to a Sufi Dance performance; we would need to pay 40 each for the taxi and 30 for entry. The performance sounded interesting so we let Rami call a taxi. The taxi turned out to be an old beat up jalopy driven by his friend. Okay, the tally would have been expensive for a taxi ride but this was a private car of a friend. We got to the theater late, too late to buy tickets and get in. We stopped for tea before heading back to Rami’s place.
Rami Ups the Anti
Rami said ‘What do you guys want to do tomorrow?” “We could go to the museum... or I could take you all to the other rarely visited pyramids for a picnic.” The Germans said the museum was out of their budget so a picnic sounded good to them. Rami was excited about the picnic. “I go there to meditate every month”, he said. “I bribe the guard and we can get in to a pyramid that is not open to the public.” The guys were enchanted with the idea of meditation in the pyramid and perhaps by the chance to break the rules. Mostly they were enchanted by Rami’s smooth talk. Rami doubled his continuing con and outlined the costs. We’ll buy some food for a picnic, pay a taxi to get there and back, and pay-off security, should run about 450 pounds each…Times that by 5 works out to be $332! By Egypt standards, that is a preposterous amount and enough for a hell of a picnic.When the boys didn’t flinch. Rami said, think about it and we will decide in the morning. We privately told the boys that 450 ($66) each was too much for a picnic as far as we were concerned…..
Our Misguided Couchsurfing Experience in a Nutshell
After another round of tea at Rami’s restaurant, we left him with the German guys and went to his flat to sleep. The others later went for a night out in Cairo. We felt we had been tricked by Rami into this misguided couchsurfing adventure;
- First, we were hooked in my Rania’s couchsurfing profile. Rami doesn't even have a couchsurfing account of his own.
- Second, we agreed to pay 390 pounds ($57) for entry and a camel ride. We later consulted the LP guide and figured this would have cost each of 65 Egyptian pounds for site entry and 100 maximum for a 1 hour camel ride ($24 each total) if we had gone without Rami.
- Third, the ‘family dinner’ didn’t include eating with any of the family
- Fourth, we overpaid for a private car to take us to an event that we could never had gotten in to because we left way too late.
- And finally, Rami was proposing 450 Egyptian pounds ($67) each for picnic in the desert.
Hashing Things Out
We woke early, packed our things, and waited for Rami to wake. They had been out really late (4am). Rami came out of his bedroom and we told him we were leaving for Cairo. He acted shocked and surprised. Once he asked the reason, we told him we thought he was a con man and it was a shame he was preying on trusting tourist. He adamantly denied all the charges. He said it was just a misunderstanding. Dave said the math is the math, and there is no room to dispute it. Rami said he wanted our discussion to be in front of the boys so he woke them up. We rehashed our suspicions again.
Fabian, the sensitive art student, buried his face in his hands and said ‘Why are we arguing about money?” Michael,the sound and lighting man said, he was not being naïve and sometimes it is worth getting extra money out of an ATM to pay for a unique, once in a lifetime, experience.David, pragmatically said maybe we are overpaying for some things, but we are getting a free place to stay, tea, dinner and other things from Rami. Rami even paid for the pizza last night, or was it two pizzas?
Bad Feelings All Around
We were surprised at the responses. Don’t they see that Rami is playing them? Does this mean they are going on the 450 pounds each magic picnic? We had said our peace. Our departure discussion left bad feelings all around.
It is true that there is a sucker born every day and Rami is smooth. He gave us his own confidence and encouraged us to trust him. He posed as a trustworthy person seeking other trustworthy people. Like a typical confidence artist, he exploits the human traits such as natural desires, honesty, vanity, compassion, irresponsibility (or laziness) and naïveté. We were suckers and can’t figure out why we didn’t leave at the first sign of a rat.
Many things just didn't add up, just the bill.