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The Anxious Underbelly of 2019 Egypt Journey

March 27th, 2019 · 1 Comment · Egypt, tourism, Travel

Rookie mistake? Shady operators? Inevitable issues?

Doesn’t really matter when it goes bad, does it?

Our last-minute visit to Egypt, which began well enough on Day 1, got a bit better on Day 2. A wet finger in the Red Sea, which is interesting but not Moses-like in impact, lots of sun while catching up on reading, soft-serve frozen yogurt, a quiet hour in an empty gym, pretty good beef bourguignon from the buffet …

Then came Day 3, straight out of the voluminous annals of “travel days that suddenly got quite unpleasant”.

To wit:Let’s just recount some things, and the reader can see one that is most familiar and think, “I hate when that happens.”

When negotiating with the company that runs the tour, one bit of it seemed particularly awkward. We would be spending a huge chunk of today on a bus, which offered all sorts of pitfalls. We saw it ahead of time. We asked about it. We still let it happen.

The good news was … the bus showed up on time (7:15 a.m.) at the hotel, and it was an actual bus. Not one of those minivans expected to be capacious enough for 12 men and a goat. A Mercedes bus, fairly new.

But … but … what was described to us as a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Hurghada to our ship tied up along the Nile River at Luxor … was far darker than its description.

Start with being cooped up in a bus for six-plus hours. Factor in the usual out-of-the-way stop at a larcenous curio shop in the bone-dry, trash-strewn desert hills where someone we know spent $17 for a raffia straw hat that could have been negotiated down probably to, oh, $5. (Bidding started at $44 … but someone has trouble converting multiples of 17). Consider an overactive bladder and a driver who refused to unlock the onboard toilet, perhaps so that his friends at the desert curio shop (“Like a picture of baby goat standing on momma goat?”) could charge for the use of its bathrooms, where a hefty “tip” bought a few squares of paper and a driver who came within a foot or so of running over numerous men, women, dogs and donkeys.

This goes back a long time (OK, it was last week) during phone negotiations with salesmen with laughably fictional names like Sam Watson and Savio Woods who spoke heavily accented English. We asked about today. Five hours was what the guys said. Then adjusted to 4.5 hours. Maybe. We knew in our hearts it would be worse. Of course it would be. We were haggling over travel details via two continents nowhere near each other, so why would we believe anything?

Yes, six hours, which included something like 90 minutes of driving through one of Egypt’s rural poverty belts, where donkey-kart is still a common mode of hauling and 8-year-olds drive tuk-tuks loaded with five people on the flimsy seat and most people seem to live in tiny, mud-daubed cinder-block homes — while our driver leans on the horn and continues his cell-phone conversations while 47 passengers behind him squirm.

So, finally, the Nile, and our ship, and we learn that we will be charged for water here, in a climate where temps can soar this time of year. It’s one thing to batter travelers with steep alcohol prices, but charging for every drop of potable water … seems wrong.

And the Germans haven’t even arrived yet!

It seems 40-some English speakers are on the boat, un-fresh from Hurghada, and about 80 Germans are expected to join us in the next day or two. This surely will lead to more of the “Sun Bed Wars” that have been part of this boat’s history.

Both batches of citizens wants a lot of sun time, but the number of “sun beds” is limited (this ain’t the QE2) and arguments about who can “reserve” a bed, and when and for how long sparks all kinds of contention that can be found in Trip Advisor postings.

Thing about a Nile cruise boat is that, unlike cruising boats of the high seas, there aren’t many places to hide, and the tension spreads around the ship.

Then we have the Egyptologist who may know his stuff but leaves everyone uncomfortable as he handles lots of money while taking orders for “full” drinks packages (about $200 per person) and flogs extra excursions that can’t possible work well — like the three hours to marvelous Abu Simbel, followed by two hours of looking at marvelous Abu Simbel, followed by three hours driving back from Abu Simbel to the river boat. Maybe we really do want to see Abu Simbel, but when it means 75 percent of an eight-hour day is devoted to two more epic bus sessions?

Oh, and we now know how horrible the ride between Luxor and the airport, in Hurghada is, which we (in theory) will be taking one week hence, and we also know that a grotesquely packed 757 with no entertainment package and not a drop of water or handful of unpaid peanuts … will be waiting for us nine days from now, to take us on a five-hour flight to Gatwick, another day in a bargain hotel and then a 6 a.m. flight to Montpellier.

Sheesh. A hare-brained idea indeed.




1 response so far ↓

  • 1 David // Mar 27, 2019 at 6:57 PM

    As a coworker of mine used to say, “You win a few … and you lose all the rest.”

    Hope it gets better than it’s sounding right now.

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