Hey, you know how much? Just 30 Egyptian pounds. You know how much? You need caleshe (horse carriage)? Good price for you. One minute my friend. Excuse me. Gid-day mate – you from Australia? Hola Amigo! You know how much? Hey, remember me on the boat? Special price today – come look. No pressure …
And it goes on – cat calls from a thousand voices. All day. And all night. Til you shut your door.
When people think Egypt they think pyramids, the Nile, ancient temples. The southern city of Luxor – ancient Thebes – has two out three. Not bad. But what Luxor also really excels in … is bullshit.
Shallow, intense sales bullshit that is equal to well, let me think … well, there’s a handful of places that spring to mind but it seems Luxor tops my current list.
I suppose it’s to be expected. After-all tourists – informed and ignorant – have been flocking to Egypt for centuries in awe of her truly amazing antiquities. And if there’s something to sell them, well the locals find a way.
Off course you can buy pyramids, sphinxes, papyrus paintings and all the usual souvenirs. But there’s also sex, catering for older white women. Russians are very keen, according to one local. Drugs too are available: Hashish, grass, even cocaine.
And if you’re gay, you’re catered for also nicely … One night strolling behind the golden-lit Luxor temple on the Nile corniche road, a 12-14-year old comes up to me on his horse carriage and asks the usual “Want caleshe?” No, thanks. I’m going to eat. “I know good restaurant.” No thanks. “You like banana?” What? “I think you like my banana?” No. And as I walk away he shouts out across the road – “Good bum. I have good bum. You like my bum?”
Another evening and a teenager suddenly touching my cock. My hand seized his fleeing arm. Don’t touch me !
Hard-luck straight guys. You will not get any attention – in the street at least – from the women (now, ain’t that a surprise).
If it’s alcohol you want, then it’s there to be bought from a bottle-shop. Once you’ve negotiated a price that isn’t too excessive (prices can be stated at 2 or even 3 times more than the same product in Alexandria or Cairo).
However, the worse alcohol excess is a caleche – horse carriage – driver who rides up alongside just when you’re 20 meters from the bottle-store. He says “Why you not smiling? Don’t be angry” (even if you are smiling it’s simply another come on line to get you engaged). Then he’ll say, you want alcohol and lists inflated prices – like you’re just got off the spaceship. Suddenly he’s whipped off to the bottlestore – just ahead of you to tell the storekeeper to inflate the prices, cos he’s just brought in a new customer ! This exact scenario happened twice, around dusk, on two consecutive evenings.
Yet, the biggest psycho I encountered was totally unexpected.
There I am mid-afternoon, exhausted after getting back from the gorgeous Dendara temple in a micro-bus in the heat of the day and after a long, long journey for such a minor distance. There on a main street when a gigolo-looking young guy in headscarf shouts to me. “Hi, friend. Where you from?” New Zealand. “Where you going?” I’m going back to my hotel? “Can I come?” No. “Why not?” I’m going to sleep. I’m too tired to talk, ok. I walk on past him and he’s shouts “Fuck you! Fuck you !” I just snarl, “Whatever, dickhead !”
Then I stop just beyond him to relieve a stone from my sandal. He approaches. I feel a fight coming. But he’s all nice again. “Hey, listen. I am friendly. I just want to talk.” No. I’m too tired. That’s the end of it and I continue walking. Seconds later he’s swishing pass in a commuter mini-van, door open shouting “Fuck you! Fuck you! ” I just shrug my shoulders and smirk. Unbelievable … What next? My immediate impression was that he’d just been dumped by a western woman, after she realized what a parasitic (violent) jerk he was …
After chatting to a few vendors, initially I felt sorry for them. (And I still do as I write this in Aswan. Hassle here also; have averted 4 pickpocket attempts – watch out for “papyrus sellers”) – cos the vendors who relied on tourism are now really hurting. Very few tourists about compared to the massive swarms back in pre-revolutionary days. I mean I wish I could buy everything, give everything to everyone – but I can’t.
Having said that I believe alot of these guys – yes, there’re always male – would use the same ruses in good times too. Most are harmless, even quite-pleasant. Others however are rabid dogs and should be avoided.
But let me say that I did also meet some decent, sincere folks while in Luxor (but those impressions are not as interesting as the idiots). Actually, it’s my second time in Luxor. And it’s gotten much worse. In fact, I don’t recall any major hassles last time.
It was back in 1995. I was 28 and took a donkey across the West Bank farmlands and over to the desert mountains trails to the Valley of the Kings, with a Danish guy, drinking whisky and coke all the way (during Ramadan) and ended up having a romance in Luxor, with a wonderful, 42-year old Belgium tourist babe.
I like Luxor. Last time, Luxor was romantic for me. But this time I focused more on monuments, solitude, and deflecting kind offers to relieve me of my money. Next time, it will be a different experience again.
TRAVEL ADVICE – some tout-avoiding and over-charging tips for Luxor
The barrage of selling and hustling all day gets annoying and tiresome fast and being nice to everyone that obviously only wants your money is foolish (and if you’re female – then it’s your money and your body). What to do?
If not interested in purchasing or chatting … then best to ignore them and keep walking. But others are quite nice and deserve a smile or a Hello or La Soukran = No, Thank You. Unfortunately as a last resort, some only understand a snarl or a torrent of abuse. I use all methods depending mood or situation.
For (some) independant, solitary travellers a group tour might be the sanest option (until things calm down again).
Avoid walking popular tourist streets during the evening (when every jackass hustler is out and about).
Most Luxor salespeople seem to think all tourists are from same tribe – the endless-money tribe. So whether you’re a rolex-wearing 5-star dude or a scruffy backpacker, the price will always be inflated. Bargain. Accept. Or move on and find a honest vendor (they are here, too).
Some shop owners refuse to give the real price. (Having said this if you don’t care it will usually only mean 1-2 extra pounds on each item). However, supermarkets – with barcode cashiers – are often the only places to get true Egyptian prices. There’s a great supermarket near the train station. A couple of okay bottle stores are in this area, too. Just ignore the taxis guys here.
ALWAYS ASK PRICES FIRST – for any goods and service. Then confirm it again. And check that there’s no extra fees.
Lastly, enjoy the sights. Relax. Remember, touts aren’t the only game in town.