A month later, hello.
I took some video of my self and my niece to post, and I ran so ragged that whole weekend it just didn’t get put up. Not having my own computer to hand always puts a kink in the works. It was tough, but we had a great time. She’s an absolute doll. Four days, only one bedtime meltdown: score 8.8. Then right on the heels came Egypt.
Egypt was incredible, but also the most challenging trip we’ve ever done. Obviously I cannot tell here about 15 days. Well, you wouldn’t want me to. So I’m going to leave you a list of my tips for anyone who might consider traveling to Egypt, and I think the story will come out from there.
• A tour is a great choice, even if you’re usually the independent type. You might be able to manage the same price for the trip on your own, but you won’t get it cheaper, and it will cost you in fatigue, headaches, exasperation and many moments of panicked uncertainty, time wasted as you try to navigate the country.
• Be prepared to tip. I had been told of this, but no one really gave me an idea of the enormity of this truth. I would recommend reserving 20% of your budget for tipping. Seriously.
• Research proper pricing for tipping (and anything else) prior to arrival, and prepared for a world of uncertainty and confusion. The travel world is full of admonitions about not overtipping and thus contributing to inflation and skewing the local economy, but none of us want to be cheap and fail to show our appreciation. And once there, it’s impossible to get a grasp on what’s appropriate. Because:
• As a tourist you live on a different economy. You just do. I finally forgave myself for overpaying at every turn against my better judgement when I noticed that – for example – museums will openly charge something like 7LE (Egyptian pounds, or $1.40) for Egyptians and 70LE ($14) for tourists. So fight the best you can, but accept that you’re at a disadvantage and can only do so much towards “not being ripped off”. Paying “too much” is a slippery concept.
• For tour guide tipping, we ultimately fell back on my brother-in-law’s excellent POV. “If there’s anyone I don’t mind possibly over-tipping, it’s the guys who have invested in their education to make a better life and who have made the hugest difference in making my trip enjoyable, educational and easy.
• Be prepared to be intimidated into tipping. People will glom onto you, offering you a service you don’t want or claiming to just be friendly. They may even be someone you “know” (like in one case, a guy who worked on our cruise ship), openly claiming not to be expecting any baksheesh (tip), thus convincing you it would be rude to refuse their “friendliness”. Then they will turn around and demand a tip. Don’t be afraid to be firm and say no, on oh-so-many levels. Nothing is for free; this is especially true in Egypt and it’s easiest if you know this ahead of time.
• Egyptians will say with great surprise, “You mean everything in America is made in China too? No way!” I expected locally made goods because it is plenty cheap to produce there. But apparently they have very little industry infrastructure – which is why they thought America would make all of its own junk.
Speaking of Chinese junk, there are 3 tourist places to buy things:
(1) From hasselers on the “street”- Everywhere and assertive and off-putting. Some places you will be positively surrounded. And suspicion abounds about what they’re actually selling.
(2) No hassle shops – i.e. better papyrus and rugs stores, hotel souvenir shops. You pay a premium for the privilege of no haggling, but often it really feels worth it.
(3) Souks – Not quite as much hassle as street vendors, less suspicion of rip-off (though in fact at least as likely). I’m pretty sure I got hosed for fake spices, of all things. Note: We avoided the Cairo souk because we figured it’d be the worst. In the end it was the least ridiculous starting price/hard selling place we came across.
If you’re like me, you will mostly buy at #2, but at the end of your trip start to regret not buying from #1 (at least certain ones that stick in your mind). The hagglers are a pain in the butt, but you know what? Crushing poverty will make you assertive. Who knew? In hindsight, those people probably need it the most and I will wish I had bought from the sweet guys at Abydos, even if it’s stuff I didn’t need or even particularly want.
Call me abrupt, but this is long, so I’m going to declare “to be continued” (hopfully tomorrow).