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EGYPT 2005

Peter in the Valley of the Kings on the left and Anne with friend in one of the temples

 

Our holidays can generally be divided into the relaxing, the more adventurous and the experiences.

 

Egypt in 2005 fell into the latter category. It was one of those holidays we were glad to undertake, but not sure that we ever want to repeat.

 

We found Egypt a sad and even pathetic country, struggling with its identity and poverty and clashing with the bright and rich European way of life.

 

Visiting Egypt largely means either Cairo, the Red Sea resorts or for most people a cruise along the Nile. Our holiday was the latter. For a week we lived on a "cruiser" and we use the word loosely. Perhaps a sailing barge might have been a better description. The vessel carried just over 60 passengers, was advertised as four star but in reality should have struggled to make two stars.

 

And we soon found out that there was an horrendous clash between the wealth of European visitors and the abject poverty of the Egyptian people that manifested itself in aggressive begging at every twist and turn.

 

A short walk off the main road of the towns we visited was a real eye opener. While vast efforts have obviously gone into making water front areas such as a Aswan and Luxor bright and smart, you only needed to walk a few hundred yards to find squalor and filth and that's where the Egyptian people live.

 

It is difficult to criticise the Egyptians for trying to make the most out of tourism, but it is also difficult to accept the feeling of corruption that hangs over what seems to be an immensely sad country.

 

I have a theory about the problems that exist. The need for begging obviously comes from the extraordinarily low rates of pay. A police officer receives no more than 20 per month in wages - hence the fact that they continually ask visitors for handouts. But there are more underlying problems than this.

 

Millions of tourists' pounds and dollars come into the country every year, but it seems that virtually none of this goes into improving the country's infrastructure or the lives of the people who are left to beg or sell virtually worthless souvenirs.

 

My real theory surrounds the clash of religions and the reason for tourists coming to the country which is simply to see the historic sights. This brings a problem in itself. The country is obviously deeply religious with the majority of people following the Moslem faith. There are also a minority of Christians. Visitors will be largely Christian or non religious. But the draw of the country is the pagan temples, monuments and burial chambers of the Pharoahs.

 

That poses a large problem as I assume the Egyptian people see these as pagan symbols that have nothing to do with their religion. Places where vast sums of money have been spent on restoration and discovery and places that "rich tourists" come to visit. But these monuments are only of historic interest and I would hazard a guess that most Egyptians have a contempt of them.

 

Certainly the word contempt comes high on my list. Under a very thin veneer of being hospitable people, the Egyptians are out to "fleece tourists." They continually tell you what a friendly, welcoming people they are only, in the next breathe, to try to rip you off with some worthless souvenir which they pass off as being the "real thing."

 

I know that many travellers enjoy haggling to knock prices down, but in Egypt this is totally false. It becomes a rather boring game of "we know what price we are willing to pay and you know what price you are willing to sell at so why are we going through this charade?"

 

Every village and every town has its own bazaar (or should it be bizarre?). Most have many and large cities have hundreds. They are all the same - tourist traps. The only difference is that the selling methods in some are more aggressive than others.

 

 

Guides talk to tourists about "having time for shopping." But this isn't shopping as we know it. You cannot undertake the good old English game of browsing. And making eye contact with the "shop keepers" is fatal. Tourists are continually pestered and the result can be either buying a bag full of souvenirs that you just don't want or buying nothing - even when you set out to do so.

 

See a shop where you like the look of the scarves or T-shirts and before you know it you are being offered models of cats, decorated stones, cigarettes and just about everything else imaginable that you have no intention of buying.

 

After a few days of this you do get used to saying no in quite strong terms but it is all very offputting. At one point I ended up buying a shirt for 8 that I was later told was worth only 2. I paid up simply to get out of a bazaar where I was being physically manhandled.

 

I was fortunate as we were later told that tourists had at times paid 50 or more for items just to get away.

 

Once we were off the boat we became "fair game" for the salesman. During a short half mile walk along the front of the Nile at Luxor we were offered horse and cart rides, taxi rides, boat rides (both sail and motor), cigarettes, old newspapers, sunglasses, souvenirs. And the annoying thing is these "salesmen" (and they all are men) will walk alongside you whilst you are in conversation, continually offering you goods and services that you don't want. Taxis will happily do U turns in the road if they think they have a chance of a fare.

 

And when you do want to avail yourself of a service, the problems can really start. In Aswan we wanted to find a way of going across to the local Botanical Gardens on a nearby island - a short boat trip from the mainland.

 

Unable to find any kind of official ferry we were approached by a typical Egyptian offering us a boat trip. On the surface he showed all the traits of the so called friendly Egyptian. He smiled, spoke relatively good English and seemed genuinely friendly. We agreed a price of 8 to take us to the island, wait for an hour and bring us back.

 

This seemed a simple transaction. But firstly we had to go part of the way on a boat laden with rubbish. We then had to clamber through another boat to get to his which was moored just off the mainland. On arriving at the island we were told he would wait for us. This he did (presumably as we had made no payment).

 

We were back in the boat after an hour and subsequently back at the mainland where our genial host began to turn nasty. Having completed his service he pointed out that our agreement was just for one hour and we had gone into two and started demanding the equivalent of 15 and then a tip on top. So started another round of haggling, but this time as we had already had the service I wasn't in a very strong position. I envisaged that if I failed to pay up a number of his "friends" might suddenly appear and the whole thing would have taken on an ugly appearance. Eventually we came to some kind of agreement and we paid up and made off as quickly as possible.

 

And that was a trait of the Egyptian character I certainly didn't like. Whilst trying to sell you a service they were almost over the top with their politeness and friendship. As soon as the bargain was struck they gave you the goods and ignored you and moved on to the next "victim". If you refused the friendly smile was replaced by a glum expression and a much more aggressive demeanor.

 

Before and during a sale it was "my friend" this and "my friend" that.

 

And they all seemed to have the same line of patter. There must be a school or institute that offers degrees in fleecing tourists. One particular purchase (and we didn't make all that many) went something like this.

 

We stopped in a small town which consisted of bazaars and piles of stone and little else. Anne wanted a pair of sandals. So we went into one shop where we felt we wouldn't be subjected to being sold straw donkeys and statues of the Pharoahs.

 

"My friend how are you. You are Engleesh. I like Engleesh my friend. My friend what do you want?"

"My wife would like a pair of those sandals."

At this point she picked up a pair of pink ones.

"How much you offer my friend."

"2"

A pained expression came over his face. The same one we had seen countless times before.

"My friend these sandals are 88 Engleesh."

"88 - my entire wardrobe of shoes didn't cost that," replied my wife who is a cost conscious Yorkshire woman."

"Okay my friend. As I like you. I will say 50 Engleesh."

"2" I replied going back to the starting point.

"My friend do you want the shirt off my back?"

"Okay 5 for the sandals and shirt off your back," I wanted to say but of course he was only speaking in jest (or was he?)"

"2" I replied like some old stuck record.

"My friend tell me what your lowest offer is?"

Well this seemed a pointless question

"2" I replied.

"10" he replied.

At this point my wife did what she usually does and dropped them on the floor and started walking off. This usually leads to them running after you for more negotiation. It can also make them angry, but we at least seem to have a more laid back salesman.

"Okay my friend 5."

Anyway to cut a long story short we got them for 3 before he tried to sell us shirts, scarves, cigarettes, bottled water and many other things.

On the way back to the boat I asked Anne how much they would cost in England.

"Oh about 2.50," she said with half a grin. Yorkshire people don't like being diddled out of 50p as many of you will know.

 

The above scenario was typical. But whereas there was some fun in this situation with the shopkeeper happy with his 3 and us happy with our "bargain," there was a much more sinister side to all this.

 

The streets were not only full of beggars, but we were continually approached for money and not just by the "poor."

 

The Egyptians expected payment for every service, however, small. They approach you and ask if you want directions and then try to gain payment and the worst scenario came in the shape of the local police. In the botanic gardens one almost dragged us aside to show us an orange tree and then asked for baksheesh or a tip.

 

At one point our boat had to negotiate a lock in the Nile. We were leaning over the rails to have a look at the mechanics when an armed policeman caught our eye.

 

"Ello and welcome to Egypt. You Engleesh."

"Yes"

"My name is Mustapha what is yours?"

"Anne and Peter"

"Welcome to Egypt."

"Thank you"

 

And then came the main and only reason for the conversation. The guy wasn't interested in our names or welcoming us to his country.

 

"You give me pound or dollar."

 

Our response was to move away from the rail of the ship. And to me that's what's so disappointing about Egypt. You aren't allowed to go anywhere without being pestered. And the friendship is totally surface deep.

 

It's almost as if they are trained into how to con tourists. They all adopt the same tone, the same voice. And of course if you gave money to all of them you would need a permanent cash card machine in your handbag.

 

Another example came in a perfume shop where we were given "true Egyptian hospitality" i.e a glass of weak mint tea, whilst we listened to the salesman talk about his perfume which mirrored all the great British, French etc, but without alcohol. He proved this by setting fire to deodorant from an aerosol can. Of course containing alcohol it caught fire (rather dangerously I thought).

 

But his perfume had no alcohol as he proved by trying to set light to it without success.

 

"My friends we have the worlds great perfumes here without the alcohol which dries the skin and causes health problems."

 

"For some unknown reason he insisted on using an Arabic word "habeebie" (or something like that) which means darlings.

 

"Darlings, I call you this because you are my friends. I hope you don't mind"

 

"We are his friends as opposed to all the other coach parties whom he quite obviously doesn't like as much as us. We are the chosen ones," was my thoughts on this one. You can probably tell that I work in marketing.

 

And then came the hard sell. Buy presentation boxes of perfumes and get special dispensers free. Seemed like a good idea, particularly as the perfumes passed round were extremely aromatic and strong. So we decided to buy four small bottles in a presentation box.

 

Queue salesman pitch. He smiled, took us aside, put his arms round our shoulders and called me darling! And when he thought that perhaps a tad familiar he changed to Sir or a combination of both. Oh at this point his voice lowered and he seemed very very sincere.

 

"Darling, Sir, Friend. Just think my friend how much better value it is to have the medium size where  you get twice as much of our lovely perfume."

 

And I bloody fell for it hook, line and sinker. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that we were late for lunch and my stomach was doing cartwheels or perhaps it was more to do with the fact that I'm a pushover (although after going to Egypt I'm becoming less of one). But I agreed to supersize. But still he continued.

 

"Darling, My Friend have you considered going for the large size which is so much better for your money."

 

Our money at this time would be approaching 100. But there was a get out.

 

"I'm sorry but our coach is waiting and we were due back at our boat 20 minutes ago, so I'll stick with the medium," I replied.

 

Now I felt I had conned him, despite the fact that he had still managed to get me to size up from small to medium. Nevertheless this was a small triumph in the history of haggling for the Steward clan. So that's what we did.

 

The perfumes are now at home - three of them and some peppermint essence which we were told was very good for colds and baths. And certainly in the shop it unblocked the passages. Sadly the perfumes seem to last for less than an hour and the peppermint seems to give off no apparent smell. A bowl full of  it diluted, resided on a table in the middle of the lounge a few days ago, giving a delightful aroma to a Saturday evening (not). Actually I thought it was an empty dish and spilt most of it on the carpet on the way out of the lounge when I picked it up and swilled the water over the side.

 

"Why have you had a bowl of cold water on the table," I asked Anne.

"It's that peppermint stuff we bought on holiday?"

"Oh sorry I should have known by the smell."

 

So we were left with the feeling that the entire Egyptian population was trying to con us tourists. I have to say in their defence that if you are prepared to stand your ground you can get some bargains. The shop on the boat was delightful. A real bazaar of tat and pointless souvenirs but great fun and to get an entire Egyptian national costume for 8 really was a bargain and will keep me going in fancy dress outfits for years.

 

Also in Luxor we found two delights. The first was a five star luxury hotel where we were stopped from having a look round by a doorman on the grounds that we were wearing shorts (what else do you wear in temperatures of 40 degrees?) and weren't staying there. But he did direct us to a delightful terrace overlooking the Nile where we were allowed to drink afternoon tea, even in our shorts! Presumably because we were paying money to do so. I can't help thinking that the doorman was missing a trick here. For once we were asking to do something and he could have charged us for a guided tour!

 

Then there was the nearby department store where prices were clearly marked and non negotiable and where a large sign told tourists exactly what they wanted to hear namely "Whilst our staff are friendly and helpful they are not allowed to importune you. Please ask them if you need help." We were so pleased at not being hassled that we spent more money in this store than in all the bazaars put together. And it has to be said that it was also more expensive.

 

And there I feel is a lesson for the Egyptians. Leave us Europeans and Americans alone to browse and you will sell more than with your high powered timeshare style tactics. We want to have a look round your shops, decide ourselves which ones to go in and not be pressured into buying things we don't want. We want to be able to look to the side and not walk straight through bazaars keeping our gaze straight ahead and being fearful of catching any eye. We want to be able to ask for help and directions without being expected to pay for it and, above all, we want to be left to make our own choices.

 

But as I have already said there is a much more sinister underlying feel about all this.

 

One of our trips was to a Nubian Village and in visiting places such as this you have to suspend belief. I use the word village loosely as there is no resemblance to the concept of a European village as we know it.

 

It is more a conglomeration of huts, shacks and crumbling stone buildings. Of course the entrance to the village is via a bazaar especially set up to capture the tourist trade. The centre of the village is a square with ramshackled housing and rooms leading off in every direction. Our guide had told us about village life, marriage and other facts of Egyptian life. But he had spoken in European terms and the reality was very different.

 

When we were told that a family or individual buys an apartment bit by bit - adding to the shell with windows, then tiles and eventually furniture as and when it can be avoided we visualised the process in European terms. But what happens is the shell is added to with new rooms in a higgledy-piggledy style that looks like a giant carbuncle.

 

There was certainly no attempts to tart things up for the tourists. Sadly the locals lived in hovels and there was a certain menace about it with armed police accompanying us. It was certainly no surprise to hear on our return to England that tourists had been killed in incidents in Cairo. In the village we were subjected to begging at every twist and turn from children who couldn't have been any older than four - terribly sad.

 

And whilst these people suffer the authorities continue to bring in the tourism money. Perhaps the whole thing is summed up by the fact that on entering the country you have to purchase a visa for 10 each at the airport. To do this you have to fill a form in on the plane and then, stand in a huddle which passes off as a queue to have the Visa stamped onto your passport by a man at a small window. This man takes no notice of the form handed to him whatsoever ,neither does he check the passport. It is purely a way of obtaining millions of pounds from tourism from people trapped into the system.

 

But enough of that side of things. What about the temples and monuments etc? Well they are impressive and largely unspoiled. There was something eerie and powerful about an evening visit to Karnak Temple with the moonlight shining through the great pillars.

 

Here follows the journal of our Egyptian travels which was written at the time and edited from my diary entries.

 

Monday March 28th, 2005

 

Day one of eight in Egypt and the first impression of this African country is one of culture shock. The plane departed at 9.40 a.m from Gatwick and the journey took 4 hours and 40 minutes. As we touched down at Luxor Airport it was 28 degrees.

 

Our first taste of Egypt was quite unpleasant as we had to join a rugby scrum to get a visa which was simply a excuse for them to take 10 a person from us. There appeared to be no system whatsoever and visa cards we filled in were just ignored. Purely and simply they just wanted our money. At least there was no problem finding our coach as there were plenty of Discover Egypt reps.

 

 

The journey to the boat took just 15 minutes and the vessel was in a promenade style area. The first impressions were that it was dingy to say the least. It had none of the comforts we have been used to on cruises. Our cabin was adequate with twin beds, a shower and a toilet where you cannot flush the paper down. You have to use a water jet to flush. How unhygienic is that? Our cabin is also at water level.

 

We were feeling very tired by this time and so went onto the sun terrace and read for a while and had a pleasant beer. It was then time to get ready for the evening meal. Earlier there had been a welcome meeting for everyone in the "bar" - a room with a wooden floor and school style hard seats.

 

In the restaurant we were shown to a table (again school refectory style). Food was buffet style and a real mixture of meat and fish. It was acceptable. After the meal we returned to the sun deck, although it was now dark and cool. The sun went down very quickly and it got quite chilly.

 

Tuesday 29th March, 2005

 

The boat sailed during the night as we awoke to different Nile scenery. Many people on the boat said they hadn't slept due to the smell of diesel, the noise of the engines and going through a lock. I had no problem sleeping, but then rarely do.

 

Breakfast was a good mix of meats, fruit, omelettes, etc. We then left the boat for the first time with the party divided into two groups - Pharoahs and Ramesis (how corny). Each had a guide and each a coach.

 

We were at a place called Edfu , 71 miles south of Luxor and 65 miles north of Aswan. It has a population of 56,000 and was an important sacred site to the Egyptians because according to ancient myth it was where the falcon god Horace fought a fierce battle with his uncle Seth who had murdered his father Osiris (no happy families there then).

 

 

The temple of Horace in Edfu (pictured above) was buried under sand and silt for nearly 2,000 years and it is the largest and best preserved Ptolemaic temple in Egypt. Construction began under Ptolemy III in 237 BC and the main temple complex took 25 years to complete.

 

Driving through the main street of Edfu on the way to the temple was another culture shock. The streets were full of bazaars and rubbish and most of the population seemed to be sitting around on the pavements.

 

From the entrance the temple looked like just two large pieces of stone, but when you got inside the scale of the building took shape. It was most impressive.

 

To get back to the coach we had to go through a bazaar where the selling was very aggressive and I took great exception at being manhandled and pulled into one of the units. It resulted in me paying 8 for a shirt and later finding that the price should have been around 5 for two. It was an unhappy experience and not one I wish to repeat.

 

We were back on the boat for lunch and then an afternoon sailing along the river and watching the agriculture taking place along the banks. During the afternoon I sat on the sun deck re-reading Rebecca. There was a very long welcome meeting in the bar which was more about rates of tipping than anything of use.

 

The boat docked at 6 p.m at Kom Ombo. It seems to be a relatively small town and at 7 p.m we took the short walk to the temple. It was a much warmer evening and we were able to have a good look round in relative comfort. Were back on the ship for an 8.30 p.m dinner which was followed by a "cocktail party" although the cocktails were foul. There were a variety of games as well which helped make the evening enjoyable.

 

Wednesday 30th March

 

It was an early start at 6 a.m for a 6.30 a.m breakfast ahead of a morning tour which started at 7.30 a.m. The first stop, before the heat of the day took over, was at an unfinished obelisk and granite quarry. The obelisk was designed to be the largest in Egypt but developed a large split and has been left there for eternity.

 

The next step was the Temple of Philae which was on an island reached by a short boat trip. After the building of the new Aswan Dam, the island's temple was partly submerged. With the building of the modern dam the monuments were re-located on the new island of Agilika which was landscaped to look like Philae. The main building is the Temple of Isis.

 

So far our tour has looked at myths and legends rather than pure history and I find that rather disappointing - you can have too many stories of family wars, spirits, omens and gods.

 

After a long look round the temple it was back to the boat and then onto the coach. Whilst we waited for the coach we were continually pestered by tat sellers trying to offload their rubbish.

 

We drove across the old Aswan Dam and stopped at the new structure with the Nile on one side and the Nassar River on the other. Then it was on to a Papyrus Institute which was very interesting with a demonstration of how the papyrus is made. It was only a short journey back to the boat and a much needed rest before a Felucca ride.

 

Feluccas are sail boats - many of which have seen better days with rips in their sails. At times we had to be towed by a motorised vessel due to lack of wind. We were entertained(?) with a typical Nubian song which was followed (not surprisingly) with the sale of souvenirs. Also we were constantly hassled by youngsters in home made rowing boats insisting on singing "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" in broken English, obviously thinking this to be a typically English song. When we jokingly told them we were French thy changed their tune to Aloetter (sorry not sure about the spelling of that one). They seem to have a song for every country. I wonder how they would have done with the Czech Republic? Of course it's all a carefully designed rouse to extort money. But how much are they likely to get from English tourists by singing an American folk song!!!!

 

After returning to the boat and the evening meal we were entertained by a dance troop who were surprisingly good.

 

Thursday 31st March

 

Sadly there are so many things to dislike about Egypt. The haggling and selling is not haggling but aggressive and never ending preying on tourists. As soon as you stop anyhere you are approached. As soon as you make eye contact you have somebody begging for money. If you change direction somebody spots this and asks you where you want to go or offers you a taxi ride that you don't want. The concept of walking to enjoy the atmosphere seems to be completely alien to them.

 

Everything always finishes with a plea for money  and it makes everything so difficult and at times thoroughly unpleasant. In the bazaars you cannot stop to look at anything, your space is continually invaded. We might have bought a number of items but just couldn't face the bloody hassle. Don't these people realise that their constant hassling is counter productive, that it puts visitors off rather than attracts them.

 

Today we declined the trip to Abu Simble as it set off at 4 a.m. So instead we had breakfast and decided to go for a walk along the Nile as we were in Aswan. We were offered taxis, falucca rides, carriage rides, cigarettes, out of date newspapers and just about everything else. You name it and they try to flog it to you. You cannot ask directions without them asking for payment or what they call backsheesh (a tip).

 

I feel that there is an obvious resentment towards tourists. I probably earn as much in a week as they earn in a year and that is terribly sad. But there is such an underlying contempt in their attitude when they are pretending friendship to sell their goods and services. We went through a bazaar and had to walk straight ahead, trying desperately not to gain eye contact and looking at goods only when we saw other tourists engaging the sellers.

 

We wanted to go to the botanical gardens which were on Kitchener Island, just across from the mainland. But the problem was how to get across to them. We couldn't find a ferry, but were approached by a guy with a boat and started the ridiculous haggling process. He said he would take us for 80 Egyptian Pounds (about 8) and he would wait for us. That sounded reasonable. Again he started the bargaining at a ridiculously high rate and we started at a ridiculously low one.

 

Top left the sands of the desert are reflected in the waters of the Nile. Top right is Philae. Bottom left a Nile scene and bottom right the Nile at sunset

 

We had to clamber across three boats  to reach one piled with rubbish (what if he kidnaps us and takes us off to live like Egyptians we thought!!) Then we had to change boats to get on his and he dropped us off at the island. It cost us 2 to get in and 2.20 for two cans of coke! As tourists we were being fleeced left, right and centre.

 

The gardens were unspectacular but pleasant. Event there a police officer tried to show us some seeds and then asked for a tip. The police seem to be as corrupt as everyone else. You get used to ignoring the demands as they are constant. We agreed to meet the boat at midday. He tried to drop us back at Viking III to save us walking in the heat. It wasn't his fault when he got the wrong Viking boat but what happened next once again underlined the culture of the Egyptian people.

 

Above are scenes from the Botanical Gardens at Aswan and below the Nubian Village

 

Before and during the trip he had been chatty, all smiles and pleasant. I had intended giving him 10 to include a tip. This would have been a reasonable amount as we were told the average monthly wage was about 20. When we got back his whole persona changed. He wanted 8 for each of the two hours and then he asked for a tip on top. I ended up shelling out the equivalent of 15 which made the trip no longer good value. The phrase stitch up came to mind as he began to get nasty and threatening with phrases such as "my friend I need to have a word with you."

 

It strikes me that they are all full of smiles and false friendship whilst they are trying to sell to you, but once they have got you their whole attitude changes instantly.

 

We walked back via a park area which looked pleasant. When we were trying to find the entrance we were immediately approached by another Egyptian pretending to help us when all he wanted was money. I think at this point I was finding the entire Egyptian race rather loathsome.

 

After lunch we set off for a Nubian village. This was dreadfully sad and I was at a loss as to why we went there. Our guide seemed totally bored, the village resembled a heap of rubble - filthy and squalid. We got the boat over whilst some of the party went part way on camels. It was just too hot for that. Whilst in the village it was quite obvious that we were shadowed by armed police (presumably for our own safety). We were given coca cola to drink and bought some very cheap souvenirs, but the place was a total shambles and gave no insight into the Egyptian way of life which I presume doesn't normally involve selling coca cola.

 

As we left there were woman and children as young as three begging. To get to the boat we had to negotiate another bazaar. Begging seems to be so normal that they are brought up on it. As far as I could see they were given no money whatsoever by a party of English people who had been de-sensitised to the whole procedure.

 

Back at Viking III we had a much needed cup of tea on the sun deck and then set off for the return journey to Luxor. After the evening meal there was a treasure hunt which included myself doing an Elvis Presley impression (something I vowed I would never ever do). Here and now I re-state that vow.

 

Friday April 1st

 

April Fool's Day and a day spent mainly sailing. After breakfast we sat on deck watching the Nile pass by. Eventually arrived at Esna (better known as the city of a pile of bricks - sorry my name for it). It has a population of 55,000 and is described in one guide book as "a sleepy farming town" which is certainly not how I would describe it.

 

As we walked into town there were more and more beggars and the squalor increased. Grotesque hovels are the words that sprang to mind. Where does all the tourist money go? Again the locals professed friendship but only when they were trying to sell something. Once again you couldn't make any eye contact and we are finding it all very tiresome. Anne did buy some sandals where the guy started at 88 English and we started at 2.50. As soon as he sold them he changed from being "our friend" to ignoring us. Up until that point he had been our best mate Mahmood. We gave him a Norfolk Constabulary pen which seemed to leave him less than impressed (I thought these were valuable sought after mementos).

 

The boat was due to set off at 1 p.m but it was 3.20 p.m before it got off. Esna was more interesting from the boat where the noise of the calls to prayer on this the holy day mingled with the traffic and local noise.

 

The boat travelled very very slowly and we had to wait for some time firstly to get through a bridge and secondly to get through the lock. The locks are guarded by police and we accidentally made eye contact with one of them who promptly asked us for money.

 

The evening took the form of a Galabaya party where we all dressed up as Egyptians. I am pleased to say that we didn't behave like them, however, and not once during the evening did we ask the crew for money or tips. We had bought two complete outfits at the small shop on the boat. It was a pleasant evening.

 

Saturday April 2nd

 

The latest trip started at 8 a.m and as we awoke we realised we were back in Luxor at our starting point. First stop of the day was at Luxor Temple where we had half an hour with the guide and then "free time. Then went on to Karnak. The two were very close.

 

Karnak was dedicated to Amun Ra the Sun God and King of the Gods and along with Abu Simble is the most popular temple in Egypt. It was vast and extraordinary.

 

Of course we were pestered all the time and offered rubbish. Most of the morning was spent at the temples before we decided to go on an optional visit to a perfumery. Whilst being quite interesting it was another con. We were promised exact copies of the world's top perfumes but without the damaging alcohol.

 

We were offered hospitality in the guise of tasteless drinks whilst we had to listen to salesman banter. The salesman seemed friendly and knowledgeable but then, of course, came the sales pitch and the offers that were just too good to refuse.

 

We decided to buy perfume in a gift box for presents and plumped for the medium size, but of course he told us all the advantages of having the large. The only advantage I could see was to his pockets. I could only think "Oh here we go again. His voice lowered, he put his hand on my shoulder and the rest as they say is history. The free gifts promised turned out to be nothing like we expected and he even asked us what we thought of the Egyptian people's friendly nature. Of course I lied.

 

We were back at the boat late for lunch and after eating we decided to have a walk along the promenade with the usual pleas of "do you want a falucca/taxi/ferry/boat/newspaper/film/cigarette etc etc etc."

 

We tried to have a look in the five star Winter Palace Hotel but were refused entry because we were wearing shorts. I'm sure a couple of quid would have got us in but I wasn't playing those sorts of game. We were of course allowed to take tea and coffee on the terrace where we would be spending money. I have to say that it was still cheap, however. Apparently one of our party had got into the hotel to look round. Jackie had gone round the back and through the tradesman's entrance. We didn't have that much cheek!

 

Close to the hotel was a wonderful old fashioned department store resembling Grace Bothers from Are You Being Served? It was wonderful because the chairman had placed a large sign just inside the door stating that his staff were not permitted to importune customers. We bought a number of things there simply because you were left in peace to make purchases. Then we walked back to the boat and went to a five course gala dinner.

 

Almost half of the boat seem to have picked up a stomach bug which is hardly surprising due to the lack of sanitation. After the meal we were almost herded into the bar for a display of belly dancing featuring a rather portly lady who produced more of a belly flop than dance. Some of the female passengers had made a much better attempt in previous evenings. And we soon realised that the belly dancer and her musicians were doing dual bookings when they waved goodbye, gathered up their things and ran out presumably to a nearby boat. Often boats are moored five or more abreast along the quayside and to get to yours you have to walk through numerous others.

 

Sunday 3rd April

 

The best trip of the holiday by far as we travelled to the west bank for the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. It was very hot and tiring but well worth the effort. It was our last full day in Egypt. The holiday has been an experience but I can't say that it has been hugely enjoyable thanks to the constant hassle which is only relieved when you are on the boat.

 

Above left is Karnak Temple and on the right is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.

Above on the left and right are two views of the Valley of the Kings

 

We had an early start with breakfast at 6 a.m and then on to the coach at 7 a.m for the journey to the west bank. It took about half an hour and first stop was the Colossus of Memnon at Thebes. These were 60 ft high partially preserved statues of Amenhotep III. Today they are faceless and the tomb they guarded has gone, but they are still an impressive sight.

 

It was only a brief visit there before moving on the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut which looked very much like a modern building but was certainly not. It was three tiered with a mountain background and a small train took us to it from the coach park. During our one hour look round we had the same problem of being continually approached for money. One Egyptian pointed to a wall painting of a cow, uttered the word "Milk" and held his hand out for payment!

 

At least there was some humour in the bazaar as we heard phrases such as "I know you. I went to school with you" and another one wished everyone a "Happy Christmas" They also seem to think that British people walk around using phrases such as "How Now Brown Cow," "Hi-de-hi" and that old favourite "The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain." Personally can't remember the last time I used any of those (apart from in this diary of course).

 

The temple itself was very interesting with some of the mosaics having retained their original colour. On the way back tot he coach Anne wanted to buy some cat figures. We got all the usual crap:

 

"I am a good man my friend - better than Allah" and "You hurt me my friend with your price" We stuck to our guns on the price offered and once again when we tried to walk away the friendliness and smiles suddenly vanished and turned into something much more sinister. We got short changed as well and there was nothing we could do about it as they wouldn't listen. As a result of all that we were the last back on the coach.

 

It was a short drive through the desert and shanty towns to reach the Valley of the Kings which, not surprisingly, was very busy. Our ticket gave us access to three tombs but not that of Tutenkhamun which was extra. We decided to pay an additional 14 to see this most famous tomb of all. Virtually nobody else on our tour bothered with it which I found rather strange.

 

When we got to the tomb there were absolutely no queues and only about five people in it. So it was straight down some steps to the burial chamber. There was of course an Egyptian man pointing out the obvious and asking for money!

 

The visit took no time at all but it was one of those "I've been there" moments. Other tombs were much more crowded and that of one of the Rameses (not sure which one) took about 20 minutes to snake down a long corridor to the main tomb. People were getting hot and bad tempered by the time we got there. We then visited two lesser tombs which were nevertheless very interesting and we only just made it back to the coach in time for departure.

 

It was then off to the Valley of the Queens which was much less impressive. There we visited two smaller tombs and by that time we were very hot and tired and glad to get back to the air conditioned coach and the half hour drive back to the boat which took the time to 12.45 p.m.

 

After lunch there was a departure meeting which was more of a run through of whom we should tip and how much. After that sat on deck as we couldn't face walking through the salesmen again, although we did go for a short stroll later in the day.

 

The evening trip was another "con". We were picked up by coach for the five minute journey to the Karnak light show. The tickets cost us 15 each. When we got there we found tickets were on sale for 5 and the distance was easily walkable. So we paid 10 for a coach journey of less than one mile! The light show was rather long and drawn out and at times confusing despite being in English. It consisted of standing around for half an hour and then walking through the temple while columns were lit up and actors voiced some of the history of the Pharoahs.

 

It ended up with everyone seated overlooking the "sacred" lake for what seemed ages. That was the boring bit. I have to say that at times amongst the massive pillars, gazing at the night sky, it was almost mystical. You could imagine the power of the place in centuries past. It was good viewing it all in the cool and with everyone together in the same place and walking in the same direction.

 

As we left the whole show was being repeated again in French. They do four shows a night in different languages and must make a fortune which I presume goes again into the government's coffers and not into the country's infra-structure. It was subsequently well past 10 p.m before we had finished the evening meal.

 

Monday 4th April

 

And finally back to civilisation (thankfully), although first there was a final day in Egypt to negotiate. I think most people on the boat have had enough of it and there are a number of bugs flying about. It will be strange to return to a country where people in the main treat each other with respect and are not constantly trying to con each other out of money (apart from all those annoying cold selling telephone calls of course).

 

We faced a long and stressful journey to get back home and coupled with a hot cabin and a sleepless night, neither of us felt 100 per cent when we got up. Got packed before breakfast and paid all the bills and there was nothing to do until lunch at midday. We decided to walk to the luxury hotel and have another cup of tea on the terrace. It was a half-an-hour walk and we got all the usual hassle.

 

Had an enjoyable cup of tea as we were left alone and then returned to the boat for a leisurely lunch. The coach for the airport left at 1.45 p.m. The journey took 15 minutes but it took us an hour to get the bags through check in. The departure lounge was typically Egyptian. There was no order or organisation. It was dirty, crowded and unsanitary and the public address announcements were drowned out by a video of Egypt they were trying to sell, which somehow seemed typical. People seemed completely confused about flights and it rather summed the entire holiday up.

 

We were back in Gatwick by 9.15 p.m but even then there was a small Egyptian legacy. When the bags came off the conveyer they were filthy and battered!

 

                 *                                             *                                   *

 

The above travelogue is dedicated to the people of Egypt in whatever way they wish to take it. I feel extremely sad about the country and its future. Shortly after arriving home there were news stories about attacks on tourists again in Cairo.

 

This to me is the essence of the Egyptian psyche. The country has many many problems that money alone cannot solve. I am concerned for its future.

 

The travelogue is also dedicated to my fellow passengers on Viking III and particularly the amazing Frank (Francesco) and his partner Pat, sisters Katie and Louise and the delightfully eccentric Jackie. Frank will never know just how entertaining he was on the boat. Born in Tenerife, he is at present applying for British Citizenship and kept us greatly amused with his British accents. Frank thought that he could do impressions of cockneys, Scots and the Welsh but they all sounded like broken Spanish. Good luck in becoming a marriage councillor Frank and thanks for making us laugh, the UK needs more people with your sense of humour.

 

And finally to the Egyptian salesman who when trying to con us stated that we could trust him because he was not a clefty. I'm not sure what the word clefty means, but it does sound like an apt description.

 

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