We were sitting on our patio at Nile Compound chatting with our American neighbours. (These were the only real-life Trump supporters I’ve ever met and seemed completely normal, no horns or anything.) They were telling us about their technique for getting through the souvenir pedlars at tourist sites in Luxor, involving a head-down-no-eye-contact approach. I’m familiar with this technique having been the recipient of it as a photographer on cruise ships but I get it. The “bazaar” as it’s called is the area of the entrance to a tourist site that is lined on both sides by people who will try all manner of tricks to sell their wares. I took to calling it the “gauntlet”.
The first time I entered a Luxor bazaar was at Valley of Kings. Being the only tourists in the bazaar we didn’t have our usual option of darting through the crowd unmolested. After a few steps I was handed a stone figurine which the seller wouldn’t take back. I put the figurine down at a random stall and found it back in my hands seconds later. Meanwhile other vendor were crowding around, shouting. One put a gawd awful hat on my head. Richard bought a guide book the Valley of Kings and one for a place we didn’t even visit. I ended up buying the figurine having unintentionally bargained down to 1/5th of the original price while trying to return it.
We put our heads down and scooted through the rest of the bazaar. We spent the next few hours in the quiet of the desert or exploring tombs. On the way out we needed to pass through the same marketplace. It was empty of tourists, full of vendors. I squared my shoulders and reluctantly headed towards the vendors shouting greetings.
“Once more unto the breach,” I muttered to myself.
This time there was a new trick. Free stuff. Trinkets mostly. I would try to give them back. “No money, no money, it’s a gift” they would say. I was given a necklace and Oscar a scarab, a pendant and a stone pyramid. By George it worked. I felt obligated to enter the stall and at least look. My perception changed. I discovered if I answered “Alexandria” when they asked where I was from, the tone changed. The bazaar felt less like battle and more like fun.
By Hatshepsut’s temple I was a bargaining pro-star. Meaning I was actually buying things I wanted instead of whatever was thrust into my hands. All manner of souvenirs lined the stalls including basalt figurines, alabaster carvings, gemstone pyramids, scarves, hats, clothes and Egyptian cotton.
There was a pattern of sorts. Vendors would cheerfully start the negotiations at an absurdly high price, I would go absurdly low and after a jovial bartering session we would both be happy. Me, because I’d got them down to a fraction of the original price, and them because they’d still made a tidy profit. A few times I was given a gift of a scarf or some carved stone after the bargain was struck and the price paid.
Knowing that tourism in Egypt was in a bad way I was happy to spread some of our meagre wealth around.
The common refrain we heard was “we love tourists.” One gentlemen pleaded with me to tell my friends that Egypt is safe. “There is no problem here,” he stated emphatically. I agreed, saying I live in Egypt and have never felt unsafe. The most negative experience I had was probably the post office, but post office suck all over the world. In Canada I’ve been frustrated with the 47 types of ID you need if you don’t happen to have your driver’s license on you, and paying extortionate rates for parking while not managing to actually pick up the bloody package. See! I’m get riled up just thinking about it.
So, my friends, here is my attempt to keep my promise and tell you about Egypt.
1. In my opinion, Egypt is probably as safe as anywhere in Europe. Nowhere is really “safe,” but I for one refuse to let terrorists make me live in fear. I will be smart and use common sense, but I will not cower. As for the revolutions, I’m far from an expert but things seem to have stabilized. There were protests scheduled for November 11 but it looks like no one turned up. I can think of a few western nations more likely to have a revolution than Egypt.
2. This is great time to visit Egypt. The last time I went to Karnak, it was full of tourists shuffling along at a glacial pace like a horde of zombies wearing pleated shorts, knee high socks and fanny packs. This time we strolled around at will, enjoyed the relative silence and were able to soak in the beauty and majesty of the place in our own time.
3. For the most part, Egyptians are friendly towards westerners. Many Egyptian know some English and love to practise, and if you can muster a few words of Arabic it is much appreciated. If Egyptians have ever been are slagging me off, I was unaware. Personally I’m ashamed when I read news reports that Muslim women are afraid to wear a hijab in my home continent, and I walk around Egypt unveiled with no issues. You can expect more tolerance here.
3. Cell coverage and data is great. Send emails. Avoid the post office.