Ok, here’s the story of how we got swindled by an Egyptian.
I have to give a little history first. So, Jay did Couchsurfing for many years in his 20s when he was traveling around Europe and in the US. If you don’t know what Couchsurfing is, it’s an online community that connects people staying in different countries and cities. People offer their homes to interested travels, show people around their home towns, or just offer advice on what to do in their cities. Jay recently got back into couch surfing for this trip. We have met some amazing tour guides through Couchsurfing on our trip so far who have shown us the best parts of their cities.
Jay had been talking to a Luxor local named Saber for several weeks now about what to do when we arrived. Saber gave us many suggestions and even offered for us to stay on his Felucca boat. He did not own the boat, but worked on it and this was how he made a living. Let me just say now that Saber is a wonderful couch surfing host and very nice person. This story is not about Saber.
This story is about an Egyptian street vendor that took advantage of some tourists. Jay and I had arranged to meet Saber on the pathway above the Nile where his Felucca boat was docked. We arrived at 6 o’clock pm and started looking around for him (Jay only knew him through pictures and I didn’t know him at all). We saw a guy who had been waiting on the side of the pathway walking toward us who looked as if he recognized us (Saber had seen pictures of us as well). He shook our hands and Jay asked, “Are you Saber?” The guy replied, “Yes, Saber.” Just to clarify, Jay asked him if he was the guy Jay had been texting for the past couple of months. Jay even showed him the text messages from WhatsApp. The guy, I’ll call him Fake Saber, said yes, he was the one who had been texting. It did seem a little weird, and I could tell Jay wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation, but we felt awkward asking this guy for proof of identification. So we made small talk and felt out the situation.
After awhile, Fake Saber wanted to show us his horse, named Lady Gaga, and carriage. We saw his horse and Fake Saber gave us some sodas and acted like he was trying to make us feel welcome. At this point, Jay asked if we could see his boat because that was the whole point of our meeting up with him in the first place. Fake Saber said yes, but that it was docked further up the river. So he said we could take his horse and carriage up the road to see the boat, free of charge.
On the ride, Fake Saber started talking to us about the difference between the tourist market and the local market. He said he wanted to show us the local market before seeing the boat. So he made a turn with the horse and headed the other way down the road. I started thinking something was off because the guy wasn’t able to control the horse very well, but I figured he was trying to impress us by riding a little faster and showing us how the horse understood English commands. Bad assumption.
Then, there was another red flag. On the ride, Jay got a text from the real Saber asking if we were ok. Jay asked Fake Saber why he just got a message from him. Fake Saber quickly responded with, “Oh, we just passed the cell tower so the text just went through. I sent that earlier.” And since the WiFi had been spotty here, we figured that was true. He was clever and had an answer for everything. So, ignorantly, we continued on with the ride.
Then, instead of showing us the local market, the guy pulled up to a store. We instantly knew what was happening from the experience we had earlier with the alabaster store. He was trying to get our money by having us buy things at his friend’s store. Jay was furious. He told Fake Saber that our experiences here with the vendors had been terrible and that Fake Saber was no different. He only wanted our money. Jay continued that he thought he had met a local friend that was going to show him his boat, but he was now very disappointed.
Fake Saber saw how angry Jay was and apologized and then said he would take us back to see the boat. He ended up calling someone on the phone about the Felucca ride which I thought was weird because he worked on the boat. Then he took us to the part of the dock where tourists buy Felluca rides which was also weird because he supposedly had his own boat docked on the river. At this point, I was suspicious of this guy, and I could tell that Jay was too.
We got off the carriage and didn’t go down to the dock because something was off. Jay tried calling the real Saber’s number to see if Fake Saber’s phone rang, but it didn’t. Nothing was adding up, so Jay told Fake Saber that things didn’t seem right and that we were done with him and we walked away.
When we got up to the road again, another guy came up to us wanting us to pay for the carriage ride. We told him we weren’t going to pay for the carriage ride since we were told it was free of charge and he would have to take it up with Fake Saber.
As we were standing on the sidewalk arguing with the guy about paying for the carriage ride, the real Saber showed up and announced that he was Saber, the person we were meeting. The pieces all came together right then. Fake Saber had pretended to be the person we were meeting just to get our money. He had listened to our conversation about meeting up with Saber and took advantage of us. He took another vendor’s horse and carriage, pretending that they were his, and told the owner that he had tourists that would pay for the ride when we got back. When we didn’t pay, the owner came after us.
The real Saber helped us to get rid of the guy hassling us for money and saved us from the whole situation. He even told us that he saw us riding in the carriage earlier and had taken a picture of us and the driver just in case he needed to come looking for us. That “are you ok?” text message was Saber wondering what we were doing in the carriage. He sent us the picture after the fact and we were grateful he was looking out for us as tourists.
We did make sure to verify that this was indeed the real Saber by texting him and seeing that the text went through. Then we went down to see his boat which was, again, the purpose of this entire meet up. He made us tea and we had a short motor boat ride on the Nile. It was very pleasant and the real Saber was one of the nicest people we have met in Luxor. We even arranged to pay him for a boat ride the next day.
After the fact, we were able to laugh about the whole experience and had a good story to tell, but we felt very dumb and taken advantage of. In the end, we were glad to be safe and to have learned from the experience.
After speaking with Saber about the experience, he apologized and said that this guy was not like all Egyptians and gave the country a bad name. He told us that after the Revolution, tourism, which is their main source of income, dropped off dramatically. The riots and unrest in the country prevented tourists from wanting to come. Additionally, with the new leadership, prices had gone up while salaries stayed the same. Saber’s explanation helped us understand that the constant haggling, hustling, lying and cheating was out of desperation for money. Although, it didn’t make the situation better, it helped us to understand what was happening in the country to result in its people having to resort to desperate measures.