Wednesday, October 1, 2008

In Ancient Hieroglyphics, Cairo is spelt: S-C-A-M.

Justin and I had read that Egypt and particularly Cairo was notorious for its scams and street touts. We didn’t think much of this because we considered ourselves experienced travelers. However, from the moment we got off the plane, where we were unable to find a working ATM, which was needed to purchase our visas, to the fact that no one in customs really cared that we were aimlessly walking around customs, just barely off the tarmac, we realized we were in for a rough few days.
In our guide book there are a number of scams listed, the first one being the hotel scam and of course this was the first one that was thrown at us. Finally, after getting our passport stamped were immediately met by some fat guy with a ridiculous ID card (which looked like it could be made in Mrs. Dormers art class) waiting, and pretending to be some type of government official, asking us where we were staying. We told him “Hotel Osiris” where we had already spoken to the owners and arranged transportation from the airport, in hopes of evading this type of problem. After this he was quick to respond with “Which Osiris, there are two and one is closed, do you have a voucher.” This typical line is right out of our guide book and often used by these types of people because there is only one Osiris, and it is up and running just fine. This guy was trying to make us second-guess ourselves and go with him to a far less hotel where he could get a commission for bringing us to. We caught onto this right away and after about a five-minute argument we walked away and found our driver who was waiting with a sign with our names on it just like home.
We followed him to his cab that felt like a 70’s nightclub inside, complete with a furry dash board, all types of ordainments hanging from the ceiling, an array of red lights, black lights, and strobe lights, but our favorite, about 50 different mirrors where you could see every angle of the road perfectly. Driving from the airport we noticed a good amount of cars on the road, which we though was funny considering it was 1:30am on a Wednesday night. They were all driving like it was a NASCAR race, honking, and swerving lanes as if there were no lane lines at all. We arrived at our hotel shortly after 2am where the owner, Nabil, was waiting for us. He gave us a quick tour around the place and showed us to our room. The beds were comfortable and had great air conditioning. We got a good nights rest in preparation to tackle Cairo in the morning.
After waking up rather late and enjoying a wonderful breakfast high above the skyline, we found out we would not be able to see the pyramids our first day, do to our late start. So we decided to explore Cairo and the Egyptian Museum instead.
We were warned of the numerous street touts and scams by the young guy at the front desk and were told not to talk to anyone because all they would want was money. We had already again read this in our guidebook and were well aware of these scams that could cause us a great inconvenience. Cairo in daylight was unlike anything either of us has ever seen. Imagine the hottest day, mid August, midtown, New York City. Double the amount of people and cars, triple the smog, and add about 15 degrees to the temperature and you get downtown Cairo on a regular basis. We soon concluded that Cairo was the closest thing to hell you can get on earth.
As we sweltered in the sun and could literally see and feel the dirt collecting on our clothes and skin, we walked down the street to the museum were we were approached by the normal papyrus sellers and people asking to be our guides. We avoided all and made our way to the museum where we wondered until we met a man named “Moses” who offered to show us around the museum (for a price of course). One thing that we found particularly shocking was the fact that you had to bribe the museum guards in order to see certain exhibits. For instance, to get to King Tutankhamen’s room you had to walk up a set of stairs that was blocked by guards, and to get by the guards you had to give a few Egyptian pounds. Call me crazy but isn’t that suppose to be included in the entrance fee and shouldn’t any person in a uniform be fired for taking bribes? Nope, not in Egypt just another normal part of life that which we unfortunately got more accustomed to.
As we left the museum we looked for a place to eat. After wondering the streets for a solid half hour we found nothing. During this time a young man approached us with perfect English, greeting us to Egypt and asking if we were looking for anything particular. We said nothing particular and he pointed us to an area where there were more shops and things to look at because apparently we were walking into a bad area of town (as if the whole town wasn’t bad enough). This interaction introduced us to Cairo’s famous “art of scamming,” and the beginning of scam number 2.
After a short conversation that went relatively well this mystery man disappeared. We continued down the way he pointed us. No later then 3 minutes from his “vanishing act,” he reappeared in front of us and struck up conversation again, “My friends from New York we meet again, let me take you to the good shopping area,” it all became apparent now and we thought, oh great here we go scam number 2, but, lets go along with it, maybe we will get a laugh. On the way, this con man offered to show us his shop and car that was parked out front of it. He said,
“This is my shop, come in for some tea, no money, just “Egyptian hospitality.” Sure buddy, we enter and he shows us a ticket stub from New York “My brother lives in New York, here look I love it very much,” then comes a picture of Muhammad Ali “This is my father with Muhammad Ali, American yes? When he come to my shop, he sat right there, my father imports these fragrances to United States for Bath and Body Works, you hear?”
After this story and more meaningless conversation we had heard enough. We tried to leave but he didn’t let us and got hostile about us not accepting his tea. So we sat down, signed his visitor’s book and drank the tea as he began trying to sell us perfumes, which we refused and got up and leave. He then gets even more hostile and blocked the door, demanding we pay for our tea. We gave him a couple of pounds for the tea and got on our way cursing him as we left his shop. This was only the first of many similar schemes where people approached you and pretend to be your friend just to get you into their shop. We saw half a dozen similar scams that day and later that night a different guy gave us the exact same story, pointed to the exact same car, and to the exact same shop we laughed at him and told us how the rest of the scheme would work out and he didn’t know what to say. We felt accomplished that we got one back on these thieves.
Besides from the scams you could not find anything in Cairo, not even a place to eat, a decent internet café, or a nice enough place to sit and enjoy a sheesha (which Egypt is famous for) As we returned to our hotel completely exhausted with upset stomachs (because we were forced to eat KFC and Pizza Hut for our meals) we watched the dirt rinse off in the shower and got excited about seeing the pyramids the next morning.

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