Having just experienced the hustlers’ hat trick, I contemplated what it means to be an experienced or “seasoned” traveler in the context of handling potential hustles. Obviously, it’s having acquired a certain wisdom of the modus operandi of many countries, but I think it is also being secure and comfortable saying “no” without feelings of being rude.
From early childhood manners are hammered into our little brains. Thus, we are averse being rude to people who at first blush are merely trying to be helpful or friendly. It is this “helpful” and “friendly” tactic that seems to be universally exploited by peddlers. The “Hello, where are you from?” question is thrown out to start a dialogue, knowing that most people will answer for the sake of politeness. Or like the man on the corner of the museum who was only offering helpful advice. Wouldn’t it have appeared rude to have simply disregarded his attempted helpfulness? As evidence, I have had grifters act insulted when I have declined their offer. “Fine.” they say and scowl, “I was just trying to be helpful.” ….Whoa, good thing I wasn’t raised Catholic, or I might have felt guilty.
As you can tell by this blog post, though, I haven’t quite mastered the art of saying “No” or of feeling that I am being rude. But after Cairo, I am a lot further along. I still think it is possible to avoid rudeness. It is simply a matter of acknowledging the helpful advice, then moving on. A simple: “Thanks for the advice,” or even a head nod seems sufficient, and then if they persist, it is they who are being overly pushy and all bets are off.
Back to the day and onward to the museum.
The museum, itself seemed a bit antiquated…..fitting, right? But it was not due to the copious antiquities. Rather, it seemed as though there was not a lot of upkeep. The intermittent descriptive plaques were in old wooden frames typed from a bygone era on now yellowed paper. Some artifacts were behind glass, many not. There were boxes and crates lying about with stickers from famous museums. I was a bit surprised that this famous museum should be in such shape. Later we learned that a brand new museum complex is under construction out by the Giza pyramids. It is scheduled to be completed in 2015. The new museum will replace the existing one. It’s amazing to contemplate the work that will be necessary to pack up and carefully move every single artifact. The little trinkets and doo-dads are one thing, but the massive stone pillars and fragile rotting wooden boats and chariots are quite another.
The span of thousands of years of years of artifacts all originating in Egypt leads to the awe inspiring realization of this country’s rich and highly developed cultural heritage.
The museum also houses two mummy rooms available for an extra $12 per person. I went and had a peek. The most impressive thing about seeing a 4,000 year old corpse is the superior embalming science that existed. These people didn’t have Dow Chemical to work with; it was all naturally derived preservatives.
Back outside the museum, Bobbi and I stopped for a “Barriga” break. (A Barriga break is named after Bobbi’s sister’s family that understands the value of recess- a revitalizing 15 minute break to have an espresso and regroup.) Bobbi and I found a snack shack in the front courtyard of the museum. Bobbi and I opted for all that’s good….a soda pop, chips, and ice cream. There were no prices listed, so when the kid asked for $15, we returned the $5 can of soda and $5 bag of chips and settled on sharing a cup of ice cream. The kid did not offer to sell the soda or chips at a lower price, so who knows, maybe he fetches that much.
After the refreshing Barriga break, we headed for home. Our goal was to take the metro, which would get us within 4 miles of the hotel and then we would walk until we tired, and then hail a cab for the remaining short distance. We found the metro station entrance. It was a stone’s throw from “demonstration central” complete with tents. Things were quiet. The metro ride was 25 cents per person and uneventful. We did not receive too many stares and there were a couple of women on the metro, so Bobbi did not feel uncomfortable. We soon found ourselves back in Giza and 4 miles from the hotel. We asked a tuk tuk (three wheeled motorized carriage)driver if he would go that far, but he declined, or did not understand where we wanted to go. We hit the pavement.
It was nice to be walking and not be in the tourist zone. Nobody tried to sell us anything, and a couple of teenagers said “Hello” and “”Welcome to Egypt” as we passed. Unfortunately, Bobbi and I were struck by the amount of filth all around. While shop venders swept the sidewalks in front of their shops, the vacant lots and the sidewalks in front of the lots were covered in trash and grime. It would have taken a tractor to scoop it up and clean the area. Several times Bobbi and I had to divert into oncoming traffic to avoid the debris and garbage. This was very different from our friend Carolyn’s neighborhood. I apologize if I seem critical, I mean I have seen NYC during a garbage strike, but this looked like a garbage strike that had started a couple of years ago….maybe it did.
Bobbi and I walked for a couple of miles and we were getting hot and tired. The hour was six o’clock. We had to be at the hotel by 8:00 pm for our ride to the airport. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:00 pm. We still had a couple of miles to cover. We figured a cab would have us back in ten minutes to the hotel. We figured wrong.
We hailed a taxi. The driver was a middle age fellow who only spoke Arabic. We told him to take us to the Sphinx, as our hotel was directly in front of the Sphinx. He nodded his head and repeated the word as though he understood. Off we went. Bobbi and I sat back and relaxed….. then the driver turned right. My mental map showed that we should have turned left. I sat forward and repeated to the driver “Sphinx!” He nodded and said “Yes!, Yes!, Sphinx.” I gave him the benefit of the doubt for two reasons. First, perhaps I was turned around. This might have been possible, though we had been walking into the setting sun and West was the correct direction. Second, I thought that maybe the driver knew a better way to get there. I also figured that maybe he was taking us for a bit of a ride since the hotel was so close. Bobbi and I were getting a little anxious as the driver betrayed no signs of turning around and we kept telling him “Sphinx!” “Sphinx!” Bobbi considered that perhaps the driver thought we wanted to go to the Sphinx hotel located by the Nile. This would not have been good….the driver motored on.
Finally, when the cabbie hit the on-ramp for the highway we knew we were in trouble. We wanted to tell him to stop so that we could jump out, but where would that leave us?! It would have left us two miles further away and in a location devoid of taxi’s. And it was getting dark. As The cabbie was now at highway speeds and we were moving faster and further from our needed destination. We kept haranguing the cabbie. He was frustrated and told us “I speak Arabic.” he Finally pulled off the highway and stopped and we were able to communicate that he was going to find somebody who could interpret for us.
He found two men and rattled off the situation to them. They looked at me and I said “Sphinx .” And I held up four fingers and said “Pyramids.” (There are four pyramids located behind the Sphinx.) The two men spoke a little English to me and said something along the lines that they understood and the driver understood and everything was OK. Splendid, I thought and we all piled back into the cab. Except, the driver did not get back on the freeway. Instead he drove into the heart of Giza and straight into rush hour traffic….tick, tock…..tick, tock. Bobbi and I realized that the best thing for us to do was to wait for him to arrive at the destination where he thought we wanted to go, and then we could grab another cab.
We arrived at Sphinx Square. It is a rather touristy area of Giza. The driver was proud of himself. I was fuming. I told him NO! NO! NO! and I said, once again, because I was approaching insanity: “Sphinx ” and I pointed to the triangle hazard button on his dashboard and held up four fingers. He looked astonished and I think he finally understood. But I wasn’t waiting and Bobbi was already gone. I threw down half the cab fare and climbed out cursing the night.
Bobbi and I walked into an upscale restaurant. There were a couple of valets and the host. We were able to convey to them that we needed to borrow a cell phone and call our hotel. We figured Sammy could tell the host what was up; who would then hail us a cab and explain to the driver where we needed to go…..Sammy was our lifeline….this bothered me and served as a reality check that Bobbi and I still have a ways to go before we are truly self-sufficient travelers.
Anyway, we got a hold of Sammy and things got straightened out. We thanked the restaurant employees for their help. The kid with the phone said,” 5 bucks for the use of the phone.” …. Fair enough….squeeze a little more. When I then turned to the host to offer him a tip for his help, he declined and shook his head with a frown. We climbed into another cab.
Our cabbie was good. Our cabbie drove fast. We made it to the hotel by 7:30pm. The fare should have been 20-30 Egyptian pounds. It was then that I noticed the cab was not metered….the day was not yet over. The young cabbie turned in his seat and said “100 pounds.” Bobbi climbed out. I told the cabbie 50 pounds and handed him a 50 pound note. The cabbie shook his head and said, “No!” and then swirled his finger like a siren and said “Police,” meaning that he was going to call the police on me. I shot back, “Go ahead!” and I climbed out of the cab and walked off. He honked his horn and yelled, but he never came after us.
Our oasis, the Pyramids View Inn, welcomed us home. Our driver was waiting for us and offered to get us some Koshary for dinner. (He insisted on buying us dinner). Sammy greeted us and offered us a room to shower and change….what a saint. 20 minutes later we were showered, fed, and headed to the airport. By 10 pm we were clinking beer glasses at the airport……what a day…..what a trip.