Sometimes you have to relearn life lessons over and over before they stick with you. Yesterday, with my good friend David Roberts (who was nice enough to come join me for about a week on my trip), we both relearned one of the classics.
Always, always ask how much something is before ordering/buying/getting in and so on.
Dave’s trip to Egypt was a whirlwind tour. Fly into Luxor. We hit the sights there for a couple days. Overnight train to Cairo. Hit the sights here for a couple days. Then he flies home to the wife and kids. . . and moves back to the States in less than a month. Lots on his plate.
Luxor was really, really good. More on that in another blog. The train was quite nice. And Cairo has been more than expected also. Egypt, so far, has been a huge hit with the both of us. I’m a big fan — and didn’t expect to be.
So, the train arrived two days ago around 6:30 a.m. We went and found our hostel. Checked in. Rested for a few hours. Then went and hit the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum.
The Pyramids are big. There is no other way to describe them. Yes, you’ve seen pictures. No, you have no good idea of how big they are, until you are standing there. Big. That’s all that can be said. Just looking at them, everyone — everyone — sits there and thinks the same thing: “how fricking much time/effort/stone/people went into these monstrosities?!”
And my pictures are pretty poor. Really heavy smog the morning we went. Sorry.
You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the Egyptian Museum, but it was much better than what I’d read in various guidebooks. Most comment on how little English signage there is on the exhibits, but seriously, how much do you want? There are little cards on most of the exhibits that give you 3-4 sentences on the object. It wasn’t like we were there studying up for some Egyptology exam. And the exhibits were great.
At the Pyramids, you’d look up and say “big.” At the museum, you look around and say “old.” Really old.
Yes, I’m using all my big words today in this blog.
Now on to the life lesson. On Dave’s last day, we decided to walk over to the Islamic section of town. We wanted to wander around, take pictures, eat a bit of local food and perhaps have some coffee or tea. Its a really nice part of Cairo. We got a smidge lost trying to find it and milled about aimlessly in some series of small alleys, which was a market section of town, but eventually we found what we were looking for.
After walking around a bit, we found a little street vendor for some food. Both Dave and I are always up for some street food (plus, I’d just gotten over my 72 hour bad stomach/adjustment to local food and water, so I was immune to anything possibly bad happening). We walked up to one of the guys cooking some sort of bean-type food and asked for “food.”
We got three or four bowls of stuff, plus a bunch of bread. It was obviously a place that only locals ate. When we walked up, the guy said “no Coke” before we said anything. He’d assumed we just wanted to buy a Coke out of his refrigerator and seemed quite surprised that we actually wanted food.
Good, filling meal. Cost = 2 Egyptian pounds total. That’s less than fifty cents.
Then we got up and wandered around some more. We ended up walking by another guy cooking some falafel around the corner. We were pretty stuffed, but the guy got Dave to stop and try a free sample of the falafel. He loved it. I tried it. It was the best I’ve ever had. Dave said the same thing.
The guy asked if we wanted to get some. Absolutely. I tried to order a half dozen of the falafel balls. And then everything went downhill.
The guy waved us off and essentially said, don’t worry. I will bring you food. He set up a table specially for us, right across from his little shop, in the alley. He then proceeded to bring out a feast of food — considering we’d eaten, there was no way at all we were going to be able to finish it.
The major problem was that we never asked how much it was. Maybe we were still thinking about the two pound meal. Maybe the heat had gotten to the both of us. Maybe we were just on one of those traveler’s highs, because people had been so friendly the last couple days. Maybe we were smitten by the falafel.
I don’t know, but you never, never, ever get anything without asking the cost. We should have known better.
I have written about crime and safety in travel — this was entirely different — just a flat out scam, more like the Zanzibar ferry scam experience. I had heard about Cairo scams before… I should have known better than to fall for a Cairo scam.
In the end, we ate about a third of the food, somehow. He wanted 110 Egyptian pounds for it. More than the dinner we had in a nice place the night before. And don’t even let me think about how much more than the meal we just ate. We got him down to 90, which was at least triple what a moderately reasonable price would have been, paid it and walked away pissed off at ourselves.
If you see this guy in Cairo — keep walking. Arrrggggggg.
And I’ve explained this before, but its a strange concept, so I’ll do it again. Its not the money. 90 pounds split between Dave and I was about $8 U.S. dollars each. Its just that we got ripped off. Totally because we were stupid. It can ruin your mood for hours or even days.
Thirty minutes later, it all turned. I saw a kid on the street selling underwear. I needed some more boxer shorts (don’t ask). I asked him how much they were and he said ten pounds. I asked if I could have two for fifteen. He asked Dave and I were we were from. We told him we were both from America. He lit right up and asked us some questions about the U.S. He was justifiably proud of his English, which was really good.
Then he told me that I could have the two pair for just 10 pounds — although I was offering 15.
After I bought them — he wanted his picture taken with Dave and I. Not on his camera. He didn’t have one. On mine. Just to have his picture taken with us.
Faith in life restored.
Regarding your comment 'Always ask HOW MUCH" my husband and I were in Key West couple weeks ago; ate breakfast where were were staying…yes it was served on Veranda overlooking ocean and atmosphere was very relaxing…BUT we were not expecting to pay $75 for scrambled eggs, bacon, and soggy toast! We learned the same lesson! OUCH! that still hurts!
As I was reading I was afraid the vendor was going to ask to be paid for taking the picture with you! Sometimes in countries where there are so many aggressive vendors, you think someone is going to charge you for breathing.To Anonymous: You should have called the cops because that is robbery! $75 for breakfast is completely ridiculous.
So……you are in Cairo!!! I'm moving there on Sep 1st:)How do you like it so far? Yes you can get ripped off sometimes but I still love that place! How long are you staying?
Guilia – many thanks for the comment. I'm not in Egypt right now. This post was from when I was there last year. Loved it though!
This post gave me (good) chills. Especially so ‘cuz I too recently returned from a visit to Egypt. (Blessedly) no nasty ripoffs to report in Cairo or elsewhere (Luxor, Aswan, and my absolute favorite: dear, pristine Nuweiba), but I must say… More so than any other country I’ve explored solo, I found that hoping for a smidge of an authentic interaction with the Egyptian locals was a feeble hope at best. Just so darn difficult to crack the pervasive “every tourist is a walking wallet” mentality.
Ah but, (as always when we roam) I too enjoyed some truly magical moments on a few rare occasions:
1. A nameless scarf vendor in the Khan el Kalilli market who led me through a dizzying maze of back streets to a tiny falafel shop that (miraculously!) was open during Ramadan, who… then insisted on BUYING ME lunch!
2. Dear Mish-mish in Aswan who (albeit all the while, bewildered) helped me find a geocache on Elephantine Island, and then showed me the finest of Nubian hospitality by inviting me to his home for tea.
3. (Alas) another nameless chap – the dear taxi driver that not only whisked me in the dark of night to the bus depot in central Cairo, but personally saw to it that I got a ticket, and was safely tucked on the overnight bus to Taba on the Egyptian Sinai. Clearly over-the-top conscientiousness and kindness from a taxi driver.
In short – thanks for showing both sides of the coin. No surprise that there are both creeps and truly kind souls verily all over the globe.
Great post. I’m headed out next month for at least a year and its post like this that I find super helpful.
Great post, thank you. At least you overpaid for a really good meal, rather than something awful. It’s happened to me a few times… London’s a bit of a trouble spot for that, but then again, so is France. I’ve really come to appreciate the street food and “hole-in-the-walls” for eating while traveling, usually better quality food and always much better prices.
I am a huge street food fan myself. It is such a great way to usually get the best of what a country is offering.
I would def fall into this trap, and I haven’t quite figured out how to fend off people forcing their wares on me yet. Eeek.
Well, it was a reasonably inexpensive lesson, but still annoying. Be careful though — there are a lot worse things out there like this (as some of the comments indicate).
what a great story – and the lessons we learn – glad you shared these!
In my opinion this guy actually did you a favour. $8 a head, hurt your ego far more than your pocket. It seems that the food was good. You forgot to find out how much it was going to cost beforehand, something you won’t do in a hurry again. The to top it all off you get material for a blog post. I think you came out of this very well.
So did we, as we were treated to another of your well written posts and got a reminder about how not to get ripped off. Anonymous was not so lucky with a $75 breakfast in Key West.
Funny, my brother wrote a guest post at A Traveler’s Library entitled “Don’t pay the camel driver until you get to the pyramid.” Also a ripped-off in Cairo story. https://atravelerslibrary.com/2011/02/18/movies-and-egypt/
I do like the way you told this story, and ended with a positive counterpoint.
Thanks, Vera! And I’ll go check out your post now.
O heck, I love things going wrong. Without that stuff, there isn’t nearly as much good stuff to write about!
Great post, some really nice images. Those are some really unfortunate situations :s
Awwww, mine wasn’t that bad. Some of the stuff people talked about in the comments were a heck of a lot worse. I still love Cairo. Can’t wait to go back in a few weeks.
Terrific post, Michael. I truly sympathize, its like you say, its not the cost, it’s the fact that you realized you got fooled and you should have known better. Glad to hear that you then had a positive human interaction to restore your faith.
And that you got some new boxer shorts. Which you apparently needed.
I know what you mean. It’s not the money, but the scam. A few days ago in Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech, a scammer wanted 5 Euro for a donut (it was cold and crappy). We gave 1, which is way to much already (considering a glass of delicious fresh orange juice is only about 0.4 Euro. The snake charmer wanted 30 Euro for photos with the snakes (of course in the beginning when we were asking for the price, they said don’t worry about money, it’s a part of their hospitality to tourists). We paid with many dirham coins with total value of about 1 Euro in the end.
Glad to know that you really liked Egypt…it’s one of those places that I’ve always thought might be terrible despite the amazing sights. As for the food, well, I don’t think anything comes for free so I would always have asked. But I can see how people are pushy and it’s easy to get duped.
I can definitely understand your annoyance on this one. We got caught off guard by a ‘gladiator’ at the Colosseum in Rome who offered to be in our pictures (on our camera) and then fast talked my friend Thomas into giving him 20 euro!! It was really stupid on our part (Thomas for giving it and me for not saying anything… like ‘are you out of your f**king mind sir?’).
Anyway, although it was a small amount for you it still is annoying to know that you are being ripped off, especially knowing it’s because you are a foreigner. I’m glad that you had a good experience immediately after to ease the irritation.
We have so been there. Sometimes you just get swept up in the moment, or sometimes you just let your brain go to sleep. But you are not alone, we have gone through many a time when we looked back and thought to ourselves what were we thinking? It’s true, 8 bucks isn’t a lot, but when your traveling it is. We are always on a tight budget, so to splurge on a meal when we didn’t have the intention of splurging sort of ruins the budget for the day.
Had a similar experience in Morocco recently. I want to counter that by saying the VAST majority of people I met there were friendly, honest, and warm. Sometimes, though, the contrast of dealing with the schmucks helps you appreciate the genuine folks, just like your story.
Love this post. Reminds me of my time in Cairo last year; how I loved everything about the city but the scams and constant gimme-gimmes. In the end, though, that’s what made the trip memorable.