Karnak, Luxor, Egypt

2. Dancing with the Touts

January and February 2006 – Egypt

Hello. It didn’t take long after landing in Cairo to realize we weren’t going to get much relaxation. This is the most hasslesom country we’ve ever been to. Almost the whole of Egypt seems to be involved in the hassle industry: taxi drivers, hotel touts, shop touts, restaurant touts, caleche touts, felucca touts, even toilet touts. I’m not kidding: “my toilet is the best, best toilet paper, very clean. That toilet over there, very bad, very bad people.”

The worst touts were the feluccas that ply their trade in Aswan and Luxor. Saying no all day started getting dull and I didn’t feel I was doing my part in the whole banter thing – some of the touts could be very amusing – so I’d resort to lying or taking the piss. “No thanks, I’m an aircraft carrier captain, your trip would be a bit of a busman’s holiday for me.” “Felucca? No, my foot’s fine. Sorry, thought you said Verruca.”

We could see from the faces of other tourists how wearisome they found their evening riverside stroll but using this method proved quite effective, even enjoyable and the touts, confused, started to leave us alone for a bit.

Not everyone liked it though; a few were offended. Some thought I was an arsehole and to be honest they were right. It was either that or placid victim and most touts put up with me in the same good humour that I took them.

Along with the offense I could cause, I would explode in temper once or twice a day – either someone had gone too far with their cheek or many small annoyances had built up through the day. The most notable temper tantrum was the f*ck me up the arse dance.

In an unsubtle attempt to convey through body language what I thought of a particularly ridiculous price for the local ferry to Elephantine Island – 20 times the official rate for locals, five times for foreigners, as displayed on the sign in front of me – I mimed pulling down my trousers to suggest I didn’t appreciate their attempt at a shafting. It was made more silly when two of the touts joined in and the three of us hopped and jumped loudly down the promenade looking like three big angry chickens. We got the official price.

Luxor, Egypt

One of the crew didn’t like that he didn’t get his kickback and made throat slitting motions towards me along with the suggestion he was going to dump me in the river. He was a little bit mad and his friends were trying to shut him up. The response was to smile, point at the river and mime: “yep, that’s me in a minute, dead and dumped in the river” and repeat, in response to his continued gestures, until we reached the opposite bank. Thankfully the journey was over in a couple of minutes.

On disembarking the small boat, we took a few steps and a man ran off the boat behind me. For a brief moment I genuinely thought he was going to knife me in the back. But it wasn’t my wannabe murderer, it was just another passenger in a hurry.

Reading this you are probably thinking that we hated Egypt and the Egyptians. Not true. Quite the opposite, we loved the place and the people. During our time there the country seduced us both so much that we both agree Egypt is our favourite country in the world. We rarely agree on anything.

So did we take a Felluca ride? No, we thought we’d go for the cruise ship option instead.

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