Thankfully it was not for an extortionate amount of money so please don’t panic. Still, this post will illustrate the tragic depth of deceit some people can go to earn a living, albeit a terribly dishonest living.
This is a text-heavy post so if you haven’t the ten or fifteen minutes available right now, re-visit at your own convenience. Kindly remember that you only have to read this, I had to endure the ‘experience’, then re-live it through memory and then spend hours writing about it.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda
It was on the 4.5 hour flight from Casa to Cairo that I knew I’d already have plenty to write about; how EgyptAir, in this instance, were sub-standard. How I lucked out with the emergency exit seat that provided me as much room as business class! How I tried to pass passport control without a visa. How I had arranged for someone to pick me up at the airport as the bus alternative didn’t bare thinking about, especially at 21.30. The journey is reported to take up to two hours.
But no, these tales have been cut short courtesy of ‘Syed’. We’ll get to him shortly as my experience with him will dominate this post.
Regular viewers will know that my good fortune last year covering those eight months in 2015 was nothing short of unbelievable. However, on this, my very first day in Cairo, all previous minimum misfortune was truly eclipsed and I have my good trusting nature and seemingly incurable naivety to curse for that.
Home sweet home
Just thirty minutes later having thankfully arrived at the hostel/hotel, I could say that my eyes have never been so wide-open during a car ride before. The amount of cars on the road, the driving (if you can call it that), the relentless horns, the traffic (thankfully on the opposite side). I knew almost immediately this was easily the craziest city I had ever been too. Now I understand when others have tried to describe the madness behind other equivalent cities around the world.
Despite plenty of prior online searching, a process I’m very familiar with, I knew Cairo was going to be very different to Morocco (and just about everywhere else so far). Old reviews, bad reviews, for all hostels on offer (of which there were plenty). Everyone one ‘felt’ the same to me after I extensively went through them.
Still though, I was surprised to enter these conditions, but granted, the price was super cheap at around £5 GBP per night.
Do some of you still wish you could experience this wandering, transient lifestyle? That’s a good test for you.
Hold that thought as you haven’t seen the shower area yet.
Anyone been in much worse looking conditions?
What’s with the last picture? Well, considering the rest of this post will unlikely make you chuckle, let’s try here quickly before it gets gloomy.
So I’ve gone 270 days without needing to pull out my emergency ‘luxury’ item. A sleeping bag cover.
Did I mention it was silk? Lol. That and my mosquito spray has come in really handy during my stay here.
Anyway, with my thinking cap on, the objective for the next day was clear and simple. Hope for a good night in the form of no noise outside, no bugs etc… and first thing tomorrow, physically visit other places of accommodation with the view of staying elsewhere. As for the shower, thankfully, I was fully showered from my Ibis room of luxury earlier so I wouldn’t actually need to use it at all.
Yet 24 hours later, I would still be in this hostel and in need of a shower, that very shower. Typically, it proved to be perfectly pleasant experience, despite how it and its surroundings, looked. The learning process continues.
Morning arrives and the day begins
Despite a surprisingly pleasant sleep, I stuck to my plan and off I went in search of other hostels nearby. It was this period that I would meet Syed on the street.
Before I start and end with slippery Syed, I managed to see the outside my accommodation in the day light.
That is a homeless person seeking refuge next to the elevator.
Within a short time of setting off, I had politely dismissed a couple of attempts to talk to me. I was no stranger to making myself less approachable from my experience in Morocco but unfortunately less approachable doesn’t mean completely unapproachable. As such, I am, like many of you, susceptible to being targeted but still, I’d be able to spot a con. Wouldn’t I…?
Somehow Syed got my attention where countless others in the last few weeks have failed. Perhaps his nice shirt and nice shoes made me consciously think I could trust him more? If so, how foolish. I do believe though I was more vulnerable today than normal. I was in search of accommodation and needed to interface with people to look around, negotiate and book a room. Today I was more receptive to stranger interaction and for that, I would learn a lesson.
Several minutes after however he managed to get my attention, he pointed me at the hotel where he had recently finished his night shift of 10pm to 10am. Ouch. At this point, and through conversation, he had said enough for me to look around. In we went, the room was indeed better than what I had now but the price was too high. It was £20 and consider I was paying £5 for albeit, not really a comparable room. After some negotiation and phone calls to the manager, they came down to £15. I was happy to pay this for at least one night. Besides the balcony of the hotel over-looked a main square was worth it alone and I was looking forward to staying here later.
The long con
With time on his hands, and mine also, he said there’s a cafe just around the corner that he frequents almost daily.
‘Have you enjoyed Egyptian hospitality yet my friend?’, he asks me.
‘No, I don’t think so, what exactly do you mean?’ I respond.
‘Cuppa tea, as you English would say, but just to talk as friends, about life and our different cultures. To relax and enjoy the Sun, to enjoy the Egyptian way‘.
With a room arranged, nothing to do right now, and a friendly invite to tea, my cautious, trusting self saw little problem with this so off we went.
During the next 30 minutes, he continued to impress me (not an easy thing to do) and I felt at ease around him in this mad metropolis with no words from him whatsoever in the last couple of hours to make me think otherwise.
He paid for our drinks and explained how if I would have paid, they would have charged me double which is often the way as you will know.
He asks me if I’ve eaten, I had not. He invites me to have lunch with him, even meet his family. At that point, I recall thinking that was a but much but during the next 15 minutes or so, he would seemingly change my mind. We would soon catch the crazy metro and then a taxi to his home village. He paid for both fares. I offer but he replies:
‘You are my guest, I invite you here so you do not have to pay. Please, I know you mean well but this is an insult to me‘.
Yes, I know, this all sounds very cliché and believe me, I’m struggling to write clearly as I feel frustration and anger towards myself taking over.
We get to his home and I see the poor village area surrounding it but yet a happy environment though with young kids laughing and playing all around.
At this point, all was still OK and I honestly felt no dishonestly in him whatsoever. In fact, I felt privileged to be able to see all of this which the average tourist, just wouldn’t. And what a feast it was. Check this out with two rounds of black tea to follow.
During a pleasant, relaxing lunch, he casually refers to the proximity of the nearby pyramids.
“It would be a shame for you to miss them as you’re unlikely to return here again“, he says. “I know the people around here, we could get a driver for 200 EP (20 euros), bypass the tourists“. “We could even catch the sun set”.
To top the day off for less than £20 for a guided tour so-to-speak, let’s do it,
It wasn’t long after this that I began to realise that his intentions were disingenuous. First, the very short Jeep ride was in the worst Jeep I had honestly ever seen and lets just say, the driver didn’t care too much about passenger care on the rocky surface. I really thought I was going to come out of this unable to move.
Upon exiting the Jeep and a short wander, it was evident there were no tourists here. In fact, I’m strongly guessing that people don’t come here at all. Despite being alone so-to-speak and being in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t hide how pissed off I was and he could tell. Less than 10 minutes later, I said:
“I’m not too interested in the sunset, I’d rather return back if you don’t mind?“.
This surprised him and he was semi-persistent about us staying on but I was too annoyed to let him take me elsewhere so back we went and returned to the family house (which I know doubt it was) where he arranges for a local, no doubt someone he knows well, to take us both back to the metro station. During the 20 minute taxi ride, it was time for him to do his thing.
Now, clearly it’s unrealistic for me to recall every sentence exchange that occurred during those last ten minutes of the drive, but certainly I can remember the start.
“My friend, do you need an ATM?“.
“No, I got the money out earlier, remember? Two hundred, yeah? (Egyptian pounds folks so don’t panic).
“No my friend, that was for the car that took us to the pyramids. We need to pay for the tickets also“.
“The journey was less than ten minutes and what do you mean tickets?“.
“For the access to the pyramids grounds. All of today was my pleasure my friend but we have to pay the man as he drove us and paid for the tickets“.
Needless to say we spent the remainder of the journey having unintelligent exchanges to little avail. Though I will say never with any aggression from either side. For him, that is generally not the Muslim (or his, or mine) way and for me, well I’d come to expect this to happen in this last hour but I didn’t for a minute think he’d request the amount he did.
‘My friend, if I organize this through the hotel, you would pay 1000 EP (100 euros). For us, as I did this for you as a friend, I think 800 is a fair price“.
Why this experience felt like the worst thing in the world
I let my guard down which in turn meant I had let myself down.
I had been so ‘on guard’ in Morocco, how on earth could this have happened to me on my first day in Egypt. You know, I was labelled ‘suspicious’ by two travel friends during my three weeks in Morocco for not being trusting of the locals. I can only laugh at this now but at the time remember thinking to myself one day you’ll be scammed (and they most probably will).
Worst of all, I’d spend almost an entire day with this guy and that meant plenty of conversation and a few laughs. The level of dishonestly and deceit, well of course I’ve never witnessed anything like this before and that makes me sick.
Why I now know it wasn’t
Once I returned back into down-town Cairo, I went back to the hotel where it all started. I went there to explain that I wouldn’t be staying here tonight because my money had been someone used up courtesy of Syed. By chance, the owner was there so I explained all.
He tells me Syed doesn’t work at (or for) the hotel. Rather he “works” for himself.
I was livid and a little sickened.
‘Why didn’t anyone point this out to me whilst I was in here?‘ I asked, firmly.
“It wasn’t anyone’s business”, the manager responds. “These people work for themselves and they bring us people off the street which is good for us and that’s all the involvement we have“.
“How much did you pay?”, he asks.
“That’s nothing, that’s ok” he says completely casual about the matter. “I hear of people paying £100“.
I admit that when the rage of me discovering that the bastard liar didn’t work there, I felt a fraction better knowing I had paid ‘only‘ £25 more than I should thought I was ever going to have to. Still, whether it’s a pound or twenty five of them, a con is a con and I’ll never forget it.
Anyhow, needless to say at this point, my view of the Egyptian people is heavily tarnished and my trust radar is on a ‘talk to nobody” setting. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Although, I am now officially another statistic, with this amount of detail provided, at least you can ensure you will not be one.
Oh, as I’d inserted my metro ticket into the gate, crossed past the barrier to look back at him with one final stare of profound disappointment over disgust.
“I’m sorry“, he said.
You know what folks, a part of me believes that, despite the lies and the deceit. Then again, with that kind of belief intrinsic to me, you can understand why someone like me might always be prone to the long con.