Dave Gets Duped (Again!)

Trip Start Feb 28, 2013
Trip End Mar 22, 2013

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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Monday, March 4, 2013

4 March 2013
Cairo to Aswan, 940 km by train (14.5hrs)
Stay: Hotel Hathor 125 Le ($18.50)

SEAT61-How to Get Around the Daytime Tourist Restriction on the Cairo to Aswan Train

Because the ticket office and Tourist Information refused to acknowledge the existence of daytime train, Dave checked out the invaluable world-train website "seat61.com". It recommended booking on-line for the 8am non-tourist train. It got us a reservation but will it be honored once on board?

On the Train without a Hitch

We set the alarm at 6 and at 7 am with our box breakfast in hand, we walked the few blocks to the Ataba metro stop. And at 7:45, we waited at platform #8 of the Cairo Train Station.  Soon, the train arrived and we settled into our comfortable 1st class airplane type seats in an air-conditioned car. At 8:02 am the train departed. An hour later, the conductor came by to check tickets. Our copy of the online seat confirmation was satisfactory and he scribbled his initials on our paper without batting an eye. Whew, we had worried for nothing.

The tracks follow the Nile but we caught a glimpse of the river only occasionally. Fertile agriculture land speckled with palm trees lined much of the way. Near cities, a tall walls blocked our view. We wondered if the walls were hiding slum areas. Occasionally, a food and drink cart was rolled through offering Red Bull, tea, water and sandwiches,

Met Fellow Passengers on the Train

We talked with a distinguished looking gent who was a Michigan State alum. He teaches hotel management at a University here. He reminisced fondly about the easy carefree life he had in America in his youth.

Later in the trip, an animal vet broke the ice with us. He was a big Jon Stewart fan and claimed to watch the Daily Show often as do most of his friends.It was good to get a young person's view of the Egypt political situation from him. He is skeptical of the Egyptian political process (they are all in it for the money). The upcoming elections are a sham. Politicians all vote the way they are assigned to vote by the party leaders.  He does not hold out any hope for positive change in Egypt in his lifetime. What can they do? His cheerful demeanor masked his discontent quite well.

The train arrived in Aswan late at almost 11PM. The town square by the station was alive despite the hour. In the desert, the cool of the evening is welcomed with gusto…

Any Independent Travelers in Aswan?

We called ahead for a hotel reservation but the desk clerk didn’t speak English and Dave didn’t speak Arabic. We were worried about arriving so late without a reservation. But there was no need to worry because there are no tourists. We even wondered if there were any other guests in the hotel.

5 March 2013 First Day in Aswan
Hotel Hathor, 125Le ($18.50, double with small breakfast included)
4 hour Taxi tour 70Le 

Summary of Day’s Events:
-High Dam
-Nubian village tourist trap
-Refusing the Isis Temple rip-off
-Unfinished Obelisk
-Muslim Cemetery - not allowed inside
-Nubian lunch in town, great falafels

Tackled by a Taxi Driver
Immediately when we set foot out of the hotel we got tackled by a driver who suggested he take us to the High Dam, a Nubian village, the Philae Temple and the unfinished obelisk. He had a nice car with air-conditioning and we agreed on price we could live with for four hours of his time, a no brainer really, so off we went.

High Dam on Lake Nasser 

The first stop was the Aswan High Dam. We saw the nice panorama. The 30Le ($4.50) per person was not worth it for just a short view of the panorama. And oddly, there was a sign forbidding photography which was ignored by all.

Nubian Village Tourist Trap
We were driven to a Nubian village. But it was very touristy with a long row of homes which doubled as gift shops. That was a huge turnoff. We looked at one nice house then told the driver we wanted a more authentic untouched Nubian village. He said he would take is to another one.

Refusing the Isis Temple rip-off

We arrived at the dock to go to Philea Island where to temple of Isis was moved to save it from the rising water of lake Nasser. It is supposed to be nice site. But we couldn't get the boatman to take us for less than 80Le ($12) each! Locals pay 10Le. That is just for the boat ride to the small island. Temple entrance is additional. We expected to see dozens of other temples in Egypt so we refused to pay the foreigner tax this time.

Unfinished Obelisk

Next - Unfinished obelisk 30Le each entry. This is a granite rock quarry 1.5 km from town. We had our guidebook which told us about the massive 42 meter long obelisk still attached to the bedrock. It would have been the biggest Egyptian obelisk ever! Nearing completion of the job, they noticed a crack and realized the project was botched then abandoned. The LP said to keep an eye out for petroglyphs of birds and dolphins. We spotted the crane shaped birds but what might have been the dolphins looked like smudges that could have been anything. Without a guide or guidebook we would not have known anything about what we saw because there were no pamphlets or information boards at the site.

Muslim Cemetery - not allowed inside

A beautiful cemetery with domed top crypts is across from the obelisk. We asked our driver to let us off at the upper gate. He said it would be better to go to the main gate. Better for him maybe because once we got to the main gate we were told only Muslims could enter. We could pay baksheesh to get in from here. This made us suspect our driver may have been behind the extortion at Philea Island boatman too! We had not gotten to the non-touristic Nubian village yet. We were disenchanted with our driver and told him to take us to our hotel. We were happy to get rid of him. The obelisk site was worth it and the view from the car was nice. But the other stops were a waste of time.

Nubian lunch in town, great falafels

Our driver did give us a tip on a great little restaurant called El Shrwesh where we tried many little tasty dishes the most notable were the falafels. Usually falafels are not our favorite but here they were dynamite! Then we got the overpriced bill and had to negotiate. Who wants to negotiate in a restaurant? He easily knocked 15 percent off. No tip for him after this even though his food was good.

Where are the Felucca Captains?

In the afternoon we made our way to Aswan Moon restaurant what, according to our (sometimes) reliable Lonely Planet, is a great place to meet felucca captains. Aswan Moon is an atmospheric restaurant with shaded terrace overlooking the Nile. We were not totally surprised that we were the only costumers. We sat down anyway and ordered a frothy iced hibiscus tea. We asked the waiter where all the felucca captains were. He said that because the lack of tourists they don't frequent the place anymore. He called a captain for us and soon we were introduced to Shaggy. Like many men in town, he wore the galabeya, the long robe. I liked him immediately but Dave can't shake his newly established suspicion of every Egyptian he meets.

Shaggy proudly showed us his beautiful felucca which was moored right in front of the restaurant. We sat down on the shaded deck of  "the Rendezvous" on a padded surface and discussed what Shaggy’s felucca trip down the Nile to Edfu would entail. Dave took detailed notes and we asked many questions, from food served to stops we make. We asked if we can stop at Darwar camel market and Nubian village. Shaggy remained friendly and agreed to all our wishes. He called Ramadan, his nephew who would be the captain of our boat. "And", he said after we remained noncommittal "I am the only one who sets up a real toilet for you". That was the clincher for me. I felt good about him. Dave needed more time. He needed to speak with more captains. Shaggy was understanding and told us to give him a call when we decided. Dave stopped to talk to the captain of the Love Boat. He wasn't like the TV Love Boat Captain Stubing at all and we didn't want to be on his Love Boat.

Dave was Duped

Dave was duped by a slight of hand fast change expert. It was after dinner by the bus station when a pleading horse carriage taxi driver begged to take us on a city tour. We were really not interested. But after he sobbingly told us he needed just a little money for feed for his horse, just 5 pounds he said. Okay, 80 cents to help the poor guy out. We got a longer tour of the town than we expected, along the water front, by the Nubian market. past the Sudanese market, by the Mosque and back to the water front past the Christian cotton shops. You mean Egyptian cotton, we corrected. No, he said and insisted that all the owners are Christians ;)

We finished the ride on a poorly lit street. The driver joked "now we ride the carriage into the garage"...we laughed... Dave began to give him 10 Egyptian pounds, double what he asked. No, he complained, my price was 5 British pounds you are English right? I balked at his deception and told Dave to give him just the 5 Egyptian pounds and stomped off. Dave handed over a 5 pound note. The tricky driver handed back a 50 and said Dave gave it to him by mistake. Dave said 'thank you' and gave him different 5 pound note. Now he handed back a 25! "Wow", Dave thought to himself, "another stupid mistake and our good driver was honest about it." I am Muslim and Muslims are honest, he repeated like a broken record. Dave ended by giving him another different 5 pound note again, plus 10 as a goodwill tip, while muttering, what’s going on with me? I didn't even know I had a 25 pound note....

It had been dark and Dave continued to mull the events in his mind. 20 minutes later, it dawned on him that he had traded good bills for bad! He checked his wallet and the 50 and 25 notes. Sure enough, they were Piestras, not pounds. Piestras are 100th of a pound and only the numbers look similar but are smaller. In the stark daylight, anyone would have noticed. Now in the dark, he felt like a fool. He had been tricked out of 25 pounds or just under $4US, a cheap education we rationalized! Muslim honesty, HA!

Scammed four times in our first five days. Welcome to Egypt!

Booked a Ride to Abu Simbel, Three Hours South

We asked at our hotel desk about transport to Abu Simbel, three hours south. They set us up for round trip in a nice tourist class van for 75Le each. But that meant a 3am wake-up, 3:30 pick-up to join a 4am police escorted caravan to Abu Simbel to see the magnificent Temple of Ramsis II. They would give us our breakfast to go.
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