Hurghada, Egypt

A day in the life of an American in Hurghada, Egypt.

Friday is a holy day for Muslims, so today many things were closed for a few hours and lots of men were wearing their white sheet robes and hats.

I could hear something exciting going on a few streets over so I went to investigate. It was the mosque, and there was a huge gathering both inside and outside of the small white building. They were blasting the preaching over loudspeakers from the top of the domed building. Of course I couldn’t understand a word, but it sounded quite angry and very passionate. About every 30 seconds or so, one word did make my ears perk up….

“America.”

Whatever they were shouting about, despite not understanding Arabic, I did understand that somehow America was in the sermon for today. I turned around and there was a tall Arab guy standing directly in front of me. “Where are you from?” he asked without a smile.

“Ireland.”

I’m sure he was a tout, that is their usual opener to get you inside a shop, but it looked like people were getting worked up about something someone (probably George W) has done in my country, so I became unpatriotic for a few seconds and walked off.

When I returned to the hotel, my theory was correct. Three men, brothers, were sitting in reception and asked me to sit down. They knew I was American because I had to show my passport when I checked in. I sat down, trying not to show that I was a little apprehensive, and took a long drag off the shisha pipe they offered me. The sweet smoke was filling the air around the reception desk. Since there is a lack of backpackers here in general, and the fact that they haven’t seen an American since the 1970s, I’m sure I was the talk of the hotel. They were nice guys though, and we talked for a good half hour about our countries and cultural differences. They told me point blank, that Muslim people, including many in Egypt, hate Americans. I have suspected this for some time, maybe its a dead give away when the guy in reception spits when I show my passport? They said that they knew I had no control over my government, but asked me why we wanted to kill Muslims. I have never really wanted to kill a Muslim (other than a handful of pushy stronzos in Luxor) so I told them. I then asked why they liked blowing up Americans sometimes?

We sat in silence.

We parted on good terms, with much handshaking, and promises that we would not kill each other any time soon. I was feeling good, so I grabbed some lunch in a seafood place. I had Calamari, for $4, which is a major splurge here in Egypt. On average, avoiding the “touristy” places, I can eat a very nice meal for around $2. I sat beside of two older tourists from Finland. The way they struck up a conversation was “Are you 1 week or 2”? I guess thats the package tourist equivalent of the backpacker icebreaker “Where are you from?” Followed usually by “Where have you been?” When I told them 1 month, they looked at each other in shock and dismissed me as a rich American traveler. Little did they know that my hotel, $8 a night, hasnt been cleaned since it was built in the 1950s. Something to note, when I asked to used the toilet, the restaurant owner told me to wait one minute, ran the women out of the kitchen, then motioned for me that it was OK. Although we were all fully dressed (them even more than me with their head coverings), I was not allowed to pass through the kitchen where the umarried women were.

On the way to the beach that does not exist (thanks Lonely Planet), I walked up to a fruit cart. I was instantly excited because the guy had actually put prices in Arabic numbers on each type of fruit. This was a chance to show off my mad Arabic skillz, so I grabbed 2 oranges and asked how much. he told me “1 pound Egyptian each”. The squiggly lines on the sign read “25” which means 25 piasters. He had given me a markup of 4x, about average for this place. I called his hand on it, and he laughed. “ok, ok, you can have Egyptian price” he said with a toothless grin.

I was so happy, I spiked one of the oranges on the ground and did a little touchdown victory dance around it!

But…I only had a 1 pound note and he conveniently had no change, so I paid the full price anyway. (sigh) Thats the way it goes here in Egypt – one small victory is usually followed by a heartbreak. 🙂

With sunglasses on and fast, confident steps, I stode past the security guards through the metal detector, and onto the private beach at one of the resorts here. There is no public beach and I was desperate both for a swim and some company. I met up with 3 Russian girls that I had met last night at a belly dancing show. They speak almost no English and my Russian is about the level of a 2 year old’s so we just sat and smiled a lot. They were very friendly and we exchanged emails in case I find myself in Russia one day….which is very possible. They are among a multitude of people that come here with all-inclusive packages and never really leave the resort. Drinks, food, parties, bus rides, everything is included for 10 days. They were astonished to find out that I had come on my own, and I have had the same reaction all over Egypt outside of Dahab. Ahhhh…Dahab, I miss my little backpackers Oasis in a desert of loneliness.

Near the beach, I watched as an older English couple stopped to talk to one of the grubby little 5 year olds running around here. The woman, no doubt with children of her own, was delighted when the little boy smiled with gapped teeth and said “hellooooo”.

“Look honey, indigenous kids, and they speak English?!?!” She told her husband delightfully.

I watched with a grin because I knew what was coming next. Hell, I had already fallen for it several times.

The boy’s smile turned quickly into a scowl and he thrust his dirty little hand into their faces…. “1 POUND!” he demanded angrily.

They both recoiled in surprise as he repreated “GIVE ME 1 POUND!” That was the extent of his English. He has learned young, and will be doing the same thing 20 years from now to all the tourists but with a much more honed skill. They stood up to walk away, feeling stupid for having thought that maybe this was a chance for some sort of cultural interaction. He followed them the rest of the way down the sidewalk screaming “BAKSHEESH, 1 POUND!”. I mean, how dare they think they could look at him without giving him money afterward? Three hours later I was leaving the beach and walking to get my bus ticket…and there were 3 kids following the same couple who now were walking almost at a quick-step, and were shouting “1 POUND, 1 POUND!”.

The hassle here is not as bad as Luxor, but it is still pretty bad. Anyone white is assumed to be rich beyond belief and I have seen it all…every trick you can think of. I plan to write an Egypt scams entry at the end of this trip to help travelers heading here. I find myself walking, head down, headphones on connected to an IPOD that isn’t even on, just to avoid the hagglers….and it doesnt help. One guy grabbed my arm and pulled me physically into a shop that sells power tools. Yes, exactly what I was in the market for, I want to carry a new Bosch circular saw around in my backpack. Thank you. Capitalism is not one of these guy’s strong points. The taxi drivers have it figured out though. By driving up almost onto the curb beside of you, and blasting their horn, they think you will gladly climb inside. The funny thing is, when you tell one no, an identical vehicle is queued up behind it and tries the same maneuver, as if you changed your mind about the ride in the 3 seconds, or you did not like the looks of the first guy. These guys have been breathing too many exhaust fumes I think.

I have met a small handful of genuine, friendly Egyptian people. The guy that owns the internet cafe here, brings me tea for free, without me even asking. We sat and talked about computers for an hour, and he is honest. When I finish typing this, I will give him a nice tip, even though it is not expected. After one month in Thailand, I had already been invited inside local’s homes for real food, and had some amazing interactions. This seems to be a much more difficult country to crack, despite my best efforts to make the transition from moneybag to friend with these guys. I know that it is possible, but there will certainly not be enough time on this trip.

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  1. Здравствуйте Greg! Am I going to have to mail you a Russian/English dictionary? 🙂
    I’m glad Egypt is proving to be a lot of fun and an interesting experience for you.
    Please stay safe, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving (even minus the turkey, I’m assuming)
    I’ll see you in about a month.
    Пока!

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