Friday, May 27, 2011

Luxor; the baseness of Egypt.

Ah Luxor! This last step of our visit of the Egyptian oldies will not stay engraved in our memories only for the greatness of the temples of Luxor, Karnak and Ashepsut as well as the Valley of the Kings but especially by the level of baseness the Egyptians are ready to lower themselves to get money out of the tourists pockets. Of course, we’ve seen peoples of debatable honesty everywhere we went in the world but rip-off and manipulation are to Egyptians what manufacturing is to Japanese; large scale, efficient and inlaid in their culture and the social fabric like the roots of a willow in the ground. But before I give you more details I would like to specify that when I talk about Egyptians in this article I’m referring to the people involved in the tourist industry and not of the normal population. There are obviously honest Egyptians in Egypt, about 3 from the last census, but we didn’t meet them!

Luxor it’s obviously the temples of Luxor and Karnak as well as the splendid alley of the sphinxes linking them long time ago. Our hotel room gave on Luxor Temple with the Nil in background and since our visit was scheduled only for the afternoon we got the brilliant idea to go for a walk around the temple and along the River Nil. But the idea of walking peacefully in Luxor after the January revolution and consequently the collapse of the tourist industry was as brilliant as going hiking in the Canadian forest during mosquito season! But here the annoying bugs are the crap vendors and the boat tour operators that felt on us like a horde of Ethiopians on two walking steaks. In all, we managed to cross the record distance of 300 meters and being stopped every 3 meters by people simply not understanding the meaning of the word ``NO!``. Each interaction inevitably ending by an aggressive and firm rejection from us that would ruin the little pleasure we were hoping to have from the walk. After crossing 300 meters in a Herculean effort we gave up and resigned to hire a carriage and to ask him to take us for a one-hour ride away from any hassle. In the afternoon we were able to visit the two temples in the company of a guide without too much hassle.

The next morning was planned for the visit of the Ashepsut temple and the Valley of the Kings. Our guide was theoretically supposed to avoid us the usual hassles from the Egyptians but turned out to be the one trying to sell us stuff or asking more money then agreed upon. But in contrast with the street vendors he knew the meaning of a firm NO and would stop quickly. Despite the burning sun and the swindle try outs of our guide this visit of the West bank of the Nile turned out to be very enriching and we were able to wander around the majestic temple of Ashepsut that you can see on the pictures and in the Valley of the King where cameras were prohibited. The Valley of the Kings is a large complex of tombs with only a section opened to the public at any given time. Every three months or so they rotate the list of tombs the tourists can visit in order to reduce the degradation of the sites. This, of course, excludes the tomb of Tutankhamen opened at all time and for which we needed to spend an extra 100 pounds ($17) to visit. Even though the tomb is not particularly impressive we decided to go anyway to see the young pharaoh’s mommy and to be able to say that we entered the famous tomb, a thing we will probably never have the chance to do in the future.

While in Egypt do like the Egyptians do. Since we arrived in Middle East I wanted to get my hand on one of these long tunics men wear everywhere and seem to be called a jalabee or something like that. You can obviously find them in the tourist shops everywhere but they are of very bad quality and no local resident would ever wear them in public which would be equivalent to go walk in the street wearing a clown costume. With Mustapha’s help, our carriage driver who is as honest as a bank manager or a matrimonial lawyer, we succeeded in getting a custom made one and of very good quality. I wore it all afternoon and it was very amusing to see the faces of the Egyptians for whom a tourist is just a walking wallet wearing jeans or shorts with a baseball hat and a camera around the neck! But the jalabee alone was not enough to be completely like a real Egyptian. I also had to sell my soul to the Devil, eliminate any kind of respect for the other human beings, to learn to rip-off a person in every possible quasi-legal ways, to have no self esteem, to have no remorse harassing a tourist and bluntly lie to him right in his face as much as it is necessary to sell him a stupid crap with Egyptian drawings on it and this for 20 to 30 times the price I paid and finally to be able to sleep at night knowing that I am a thief, a swindler and a liar ready to lower myself as low as a used car dealer to get money from tourists. Finally, as it was to be expected, our ride with our national Mustapha ended up by a violent quarrel as he was asking five times what was agreed in the first place and we were just too happy to leave this town of thieves by the 5 O’clock train in direction of Cairo.