Things Go Sideways: Unfortunately

Trip Start Oct 01, 2009
Trip End Nov 07, 2009

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, November 1, 2009

The overnight train left Aswan in the late afternoon. Our group was a little down since folks had been informed that our very excellent guide was being "let go" by the Imaginative Traveller's holding company. She would not be accompanying us on the next leg of the tour into the Sinai and over to Jordan. Given her expertise, knowledge of the Egyptian scene and her ability to 'sort out' stuff in a most efficient manner, we could only hope that her replacement(s) would be just as remarkable.

We has come to understand (through other traveller sources - not our guide) that this 'termination' of staff was part of a re-organization whereby Imaginative Traveller (a three-star type operation) would be merge with its 'sister' company, Gecko (a one or two-star type of operation). Both of these former companies would be sharing sales and operations at their Melbourne, Australia head-quarters. This amalgamation of the two companies had just occurred in October and would become the object of some significant teething problems.

Don't get me wrong. I have travelled throughout parts of the world experiencing differing levels of service from the five-star luxury variety of splendid Caribbean resorts to sleeping on the open decks of fishing boats in the Java Sea to roughing it on island sand spits on the Yukon River in northern Canada. As a traveller a person needs to cope with change and the unexpected. However, what is truly annoying is to be sold a bill of goods on one type of adventure and having a more sub-standard one substituted unilaterally. Just give me the rules of engagement up-front and stop messing me around later.

It would soon become obvious that the Jordan leg was going to be operated by Gecko's Adventures, which planned to use local operators and hotels. In a perfect world, this should have been no problem except that tour participants expected an Imaginative Traveller type of experience. In numerous ways, this was not about to happen. But, such is life. At the time, one just needs to buck up since none of the local contracted employees would have any say in terms of the business and policy decisions taking place in Australia (for sure) and the UK (perhaps). In this kind of situation, everyone on the ground feels some degree of victimization. I feel better now. I will continue.

When we arrived at the main train station in Cairo, our group of 15 were transported to the King Hotel. This is were we had stayed at the start of the trip and where our logistical base operated from. As we decamped at the King Hotel, we were informed that another Imaginative Traveller tour group would be meeting up with us and that the two groups would travel in a loose partnership into the Sinai and across Jordan. We met up with our two 'newly minted' Egyptian guides. Their first action was to 'break up' our group and mix-and-match the two new groups groups. Their second action was to pack half of us into a mini-van and transport persons and gear over to the another hotel, the Salma.

Now I have nothing personally against the Salma Hotel, its staff or the quality of its digs. Apparently it is a place that has been used by Gecko for some time.

However, I do have problems with its location. Whereas, the King Hotel can be a bit noisy and is in a high security corridor (diplomatic residences and the odd embassy), it is very close to numerous food sources, near the Metro and close to several major traffic arteries leading to all sorts of tourist-type sites in Cairo. The King is within easy walking distance from both the Cairo Tower and the Egyptian Museum, two major attractions.

The Salma Hotel, on the contrary, is a long cab ride away from just about everything. Given that nightfall was rapidly approaching about the time that we were discharged and sorted out at the Salma, it became an interesting exercise to look for food sources. The sidewalk vendors abounding close to the King Hotel did not seem to exist. The street markings and lighting were not helpful. I suspect the area around the Salma is quite okay but, given that we would be departing in the early morning, one did not really have a decent opportunity to do the place justice.

It was becoming obvious that the two lads who would be acting as our guides for the rest of our time in Egypt were poorly equipped to be guides. They seemed to lack the degree of training exhibited by our previous guide, lacked the understanding of the complexity to co-ordinate group activities and did not seem to have mastered the logistics required for moving onward. Granted, they were pleasant enough fellows, seemed keen enough, but could have used some direct supervision and mentoring. They were clearly out of their element.

This lack of expertise from our two guides would become obvious as we headed eastward over the next two days. Between not having a good grasp on the history and geography of the Sinai, failing to understand that assigning two men and one women (all single and not necessarily close friends) to the same three bed room in the desert inn, asking everyone to pay a 50 Egyptian pound departure tax (when there was nothing in the pre-trip literature - I believe that the departure tax was perfectly alright but it was the way in which it was done) and 'dumping' us off at the port entrance in Neweiba (so that we could catch the ferry - every person for themselves kind of a line up), these two 'guides' needed a whole lot of assistance from the company employing them.

Anyway, I settled into my room at the Salma Hotel and dreamed thoughts of the Sinai.

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