Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taken for a ride. On a train.

There are about 140 opportunities to get scammed every day in Egypt. Navigating our way through it for the past seven weeks has been absolutely exhausting, but we're getting pretty good it. It's irritating when you let your gaurd down and get taken for a ride, but it's downright infuriating when you KNOW your being scammed and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Take for example purchasing train tickets in Luxor. First we asked our tour guide if he could arrange tickets for us. He called his train ticket contact, who said it would be 130 pounds. I inquired how much of that was for the actual ticket, and how much was his commission. 100/30 respectively. The train ticket was a short walk away, so we opted to head over to buy them ourselves.

"Two tickets to Cairo please."

'Sold out.'



"You didn't even ask what day I wanted!"

'Sold out for three days.'

"It's low season, there is nobody here. That's impossible."

Dismissive hand wave.

We asked around and absolutely nobody was willing to help us. So, with our tail between our legs, we called the tour guide's train man back. Miraculously, they weren't sold out for him. We met him a few hours later and coughed up the 120 pounds (of course the guide was trying to skim ten off the top) and got two crisp tickets.

When we arrived at the station the following morning, we were relieved when we were granted access to the platform. Until the friendly "tourist police" strolled over to inspect our tickets. According to this lovely gentleman, ours were "resident tickets" so he could not let us on the train. Of course, he had sympathy for our plight and would "help us out" even though the situation made "big problems for him". In other words, "Pay me a bunch of money or I'm going to make this very unpleasant for you." Our hands were tied.

We called the ticket guy and gave him hell for his questionable involvement. I argued with officer that we understood what's going on, everybody's getting a piece of the pie and we already over-paid for our tickets. But there is a fine line here between pleading your case and getting thrown in an Egyptian prison. So we bit our tongues and thanked the man for his "help" and, insisting we had no more money, managed to get rid of him with a five dollar tip.

SO frustrating. We talked to several other travelers, and it's the same story. The railway system is not run by the government, so there is no regulation whatsoever. Hence, a black market for train tickets has taken over the proper procedures. A tourist will always get turned away trying to buy his own tickets. An officer will always tell you that the ticket you have is unacceptable for some reason and require a bribe to let you on. Welcome to Egypt.

The hassle is absolutely maddening. If you want to force me to pay more, fine. Triple the ticket price for tourists. I don't care. Honestly. Just let me buy a fucking ticket at the counter and let me board the damn train without getting harrased and paying off three middle men along the way. Arrg.

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