I have recently been rereading the late Pete McCarthy's hilarious travel book, The Road to MacCarthy. I have just finished the chapter where his attempts to travel around Tangier are dogged by the determined, though self-appointed, guide, Mohammed. Mohammed is there whenever he leaves the hotel. Mohammed is there if he pops out for a coffee. When he thinks he has given him the slip and let's down his guard, Mohammed pops out from some previously unnoticed side alley and ambushes him. Mohammed is ubiquitous.
I know the feeling. I've been on the receiving end of far too many such "guided tours" to even think that there is a slight sense of exaggeration in the description.
Without doubt though, the country where, for me, the problem reached its very zenith (and correspondingly my moral, its very nadir) was
I don't know if it's a cultural difference, or if it's my lack of tolerance, or if it's just a few extremely overzealous locals but I do know that walking around in
At the pyramids the would-be guides were, at least, a slight distraction from the constant official fleecing of the tourists. Besides the site entry fee they charge an entry fee to each pyramid, a further fee simply for carrying a camera, whether you use it or not (which, as there is nowhere to safely leave a camera, is effectively mandatory, a further camera fee if you wish to carry your camera inside any particular pyramid and a fee to visit the museum. I'm sure there were other fees that I missed. The constant entreaties from unofficial guides, souvenir salesmen, camel and donkey owners and the like are a mild irritation by comparison.
Anyway, as I say, it wasn't just at the tourist sites that there was a problem. When we camped at a site outside
Karnak is a large complex of temples which were once the most important in
It was in the afternoon that things got more than a little annoying.
Back at camp, I decided to take a walk down into the town of
“Mister, you want carriage.”
“No thank you.”
“I make very good price. Where you go ?”
“Nowhere special, just taking a walk.”
“Five pounds anywhere. I give you one hour ride.”
“No thanks I’m enjoying walking.”
“Is very good price.”
“I’m sure it is but I’m going for a walk.”
“Good. Good. You go for walk in my carriage.”
I realise that they are trying to earn a living but I find it wears me down.
Eventually, still dogged by these nuisances I reached town and started to look around.
Even when I was between shops, at a sufficient distance that they felt their entreaties would be better addressed to closer tourists, there was still no break. Here the touts for various shops fell in beside me as I walked and neither ignoring them nor curtly acknowledging them had any discernible effect.
I confess that I was briefly amused at a carpet shop to see a large and intricately woven carpet in the pattern of the cover of the previous year’s Explore brochure, complete with the name and address of the company, but my smile at the sight was a mistake as yet another salesman mistook it for interest providing yet another
“I make you good price”
“I don’t want a carpet.”
dialogue before I could make good my escape. In the end I dodged into an Internet cafe, had a cup of coffee and checked my e-mail before giving up and taking a carriage back to camp. Even then I couldn’t escape. The whole journey was a battle of wills as I tried to convince the driver to take me where I wanted to go instead of on a tour and that I didn’t want a tour tomorrow either. Only by getting out of the moving vehicle as he attempted for the third or fourth time to turn off the correct route and threatening not to pay hi at all did I eventually succeed in making it home. Once back in the camp I vowed that I would be moving from it with the whole group or not at all, and I stuck to it, spending the remaining day reading in my tent or sitting by the pool - though, to be fair, a rather unpleasant bout of stomach trouble was probably as much of an incentive as the unappealing prospect of a repeat of yesterday.
What surprises me about all of this is that my reaction can't be that uncommon. Surely other tourists get as sick of it all as quickly as I did. If the taxi drivers, carriage owners and shopkeepers had adopted a more low key approach I would have spent a couple of hours in town, almost certainly bought a few souvenirs and they'd have been richer and I'd have been happier and this blog would never have been written. I cannot understand why they seem totally unable to grasp that the last way to get an Englishman to buy something is to try, so persistently, to sell it to him. Whether this is a comment on Englishmen or Egyptians I'm really not sure.