As I write this it is 7.30pm and finally the temperature has dropped to a nightly 30 degrees. Fire ants are trying to make a meal of my leg and I am secretly sipping away at a can of local beer warmed to perfection. I am surrounded by palm trees and luxury. The kids are playing in a huge pool illuminated in the darkness by under water strobe lights adding ambience and tranquility. If I look to my left I see a beautifully kept garden leading out to the river Nile twinkling in the moonlight. And to my right I see one the best and most luxurious hotels in Upper Egypt. This isn’t how we normally travel, we tend to have rare opportunistic nights and touches of luxury occasionally, but I capitalised on an opportunity and bought us paradise on a shoe string.
Upon check in I asked how many guests were staying at the hotel and was told occupancy was around 5% and that is good when compared to other hotels in Luxor. Bekkie told me she was the only guest at her hotel, and I was talking to a friend I’ve met who spent two nights at the Sheraton, he explained there was just 5 guests at the entire resort. He had paid just £25 per night, only slightly less than the £35 I have paid for tonight.
I doubt there is anywhere else on earth right now where you can get a 5 star hotel perched on the banks of one of the most famous rivers in the world for the price of a travelodge by a motorway in the UK.
As we boarded the flight from the UK an English guy asked me how we was getting home as the next flight was in two months. And it’s true, there are no flights to Luxor from the UK now. Thomas Cook et al have all bailed supposedly due to the security situation. I honestly believe they were struggling to sell seats and so cut their losses without a second thought. But it’s absolutely true, we must be one of just a handful of tourists in Luxor and no more are coming. My advice? Get a flight to Hurghada for as cheap as you will ever pay on Easy Jet. Then take a SuperJet bus down to Luxor and stay in 5 star luxury from just £25 per night for a double with breakfast included. It’s absolutely crazy, but completely do-able.
That said, with the increased prices of the temples and sites on the West Bank the prices can still rack up. Taxis are desperate and so haggling starts at a much higher price settling on a lower price than usual. Average cost around town is about £5LE (50 pence) and for longer journeys up to about 7km about £15LE (£1.50)
Horse and carriages are relentless and get very nasty, very quickly. For years they have been milking tourists for every penny they can and now they can’t even afford to feed their horses. I am not joking when I say that we see perhaps one other tourist per day around town. Yesterday I had a guy follow us for about half a mile constantly sniping away at me, and then today a guy got off his horse and came over to me telling me I was empty inside. Bear in mind I had just given two little kids a toy from McDonald’s and made their day. But the very fact that I wouldn’t let this bloke rip the piss out of me enraged him with such anger he felt the need to get off his horse and hiss at me. I don’t get angry when travelling, opting to take the higher ground by smiling and speaking the local language where I can. For instance in Arabic the key phrases are:
Laa Shukran = No thank you
Ma-fish faruce = I have no money
The thing is, horse and carriage scams have been going since before the Pyramids were even invented. They are nasty, intimidating scams that go a little like this:
Horse and carriage rider asks if you want to ride on his Ferrari (despite the fact the horse looks decrepit and kaput) he offers you an absolutely ridiculous price like £5LE for one hour. Once you fall for that you get on and the serious intimidation and hard sell begins, you will end up at markets and all sorts of other places that you have absolutely no intention of visiting. When the ride finally comes to an end it turns out the £5LE was actually £500LE or some other ridiculous amount. The guy kicks off, this attracts all his mates and you supposedly just hand over anything and everything whilst he smiles through sly, dirty teeth and kicks his horse in celebration.
Seriously, ask anyone that has travelled to Luxor what their number one tip would be and they will guaranteed reply “don’t take a horse and carriage” they are scumbags.
Anyway, the start to the blog has been a bit lame I think, mainly because we have literally not done anything. We have been getting up, having a local breakfast and then mooching about the Nile enjoying peace. In the hot afternoons we have chilled out on the roof of Maria’s place playing UNO, listening to music and relaxing. If I smoked weed it’d have been a real gangsters paradise.
But Egypt now draws to a close and probably this is the perfect time to wrap the country up. In the next few days we head east to Doha, before taking a hefty 12 hour long haul flight to Manila in the Philippines where we get a few hours rest before heading on land down to the Visayas via Mindoro. For me that is when the real trip will start. But Egypt has been an excellent taster and relaxing start to the summer. I don’t expect anywhere to be this hot and so it’s been a real baptism of fire with temperatures reaching fifty degrees almost every day we have been here. I have laughed reading Facebook and my friends back in the UK talking about shutting schools as they Instagram their car temperature being 27 degrees. We have forgot what clouds look like and the air con has been working overtime in our rooms as we have tried to drive the nightly temperature down to something a little more comfortable.
I genuinely feel like we are probably the last wave of tourists to head to Luxor for some time, but hopefully not too long. That said and as I have already alluded to, the city is in trouble but the so is the whole country. For a country that markets itself as a tourists paradise (and it really is) and for a nation that has absolutely nothing going for it other than tourism times are understandably hard. But if you reflect for a moment, see past the violence and troubles and ponder. Egypt has some of the best diving in the world, it has history to match anywhere else on earth, year round sun and gorgeous beaches. And as tourists flock to just the Red Sea resorts bypassing the real Egypt you have to hope the country will find its feet and regain the prestige it once held so firmly. After all, Egyptians are simply standing up for what the believe in, and though no one can agree with how they are going about it, you have to admire their passion and their desire for a future.
For me it is no surprise, back in 2011 Muslims made a wall around Christians as they pray, this is a country as rich in culture as it is in diversity.
And I genuinely feel sorrow and pity as I look around and see we are still the only people in this beautiful resort.
I look to the Nile that glistens more than ever with a slight breeze in the moonlight, there is a small fishing boat chugging along, a sure reminder that life continues. The river Nile is an artery of life from Central Africa finishing its 4000 mile journey in Egypt. Running through some of the most poverty stricken countries on earth it has provided life since time began.
Earlier today we reflected on its absolute beauty, the kids asked to throw a coin in and make a wish and I agreed. They all wished for perhaps their own selfish wants, but I couldn’t help but wonder what a local might wish for.
But then I could probably guess.
See you in the Philippines.