In my time I’ve had some sketchy arrivals. The kind where you wonder what the hell your about to let yourself in for. I don’t think that I’ve had too many sketchier arrivals than here in Luxor.
I came off the plane into a lovely cool 27℃. I don’t usually describe anything over 20℃ as cool but after the stuffiness of a cramped 5 hour flight, 27℃ was remarkably refreshing.
I was met at the airport by a gentleman holding a sign with my name on it. Given that I’d booked transport to my hotel, this wasn’t unusual at all. What was unusual was that this was on the tarmac before the arrivals hall. Even before customs or the bag collection. He introduced himself as Abraham then started asking where the other one was.
What other one?
As I try to figure out if Abraham is picking up two passengers, or if he thinks that I’m travelling with another person my arm starts being tugged by a man with a clipboard who smiles at me and asks if I need a visa.
Having read about rouge visa agents who try to charge a fee on top of the actual cost of the visa before a traveller gets to the official counter; I ask if he works for the airport. He flashes me a card, and shows me a roll of visa stickers. He peels one off and asks for my passport.
I ask Abraham if he’s legit to which he replies – ‘this man has what you need’. I take this as a yes, put the sticker in my passport and get out the $25 that I know the visa costs.
“Don’t pay me here, pay me on the other side” he says. The last time I heard words like that it ended up with an attempted mugging in Morocco.
We head off for immigration with the herd. Or rather I start to head off with the head. Abraham grabs me, pulls me out the line and frogmarches me to the front of the queue and then pushes me next in line.
“See, so much faster” he beams.
The customs officer takes my passport, stamps the sticker and through I go to baggage reclaim. We’ve been on the ground less then 5 minutes and I’m already wondering whats going to happen next.
What happens next is that my friend with the visas comes back. “Twenty English for visa please”. I hand him 25 dollars. “No English please” he hands it back. “The visa has $25 printed on it” I say. “Yes this is true, $25 or the English equivalent… I like English money.” I hand the $25 back – “I don’t have English money, I brought $25 because that is what your government website tells you to bring to buy a visa. It also says that if someone says any different then you should get a policeman”. He stops trying to push the money back at me, pockets it and says “I will take this American money” turns around and walks off. Abraham comes back, “your business with this man is concluded, yes’?
We collect my bags and walk towards customs. I head for the green channel when Abraham shouts out “this man is with me. The customs guys turn around wave at me and we walk outside.
Immediately a dozen people descend upon me with offers of ‘assistance with my baggage’. One is very insistent and trying to tug my bag out of my hands. I’m about to become rather insistent that he buggers off when he says he’s with Abraham and he is my driver.
“Isn’t Abraham the driver?”
“No, he just collects at the airport”.
We climb into a four door saloon and pull out onto deserted streets and that is when my imagination starts to kick in. Pretty much the first thing I see is an army checkpoint. An armoured personnel carrier sits tucked under the awning of a garage. Soldiers sit polishing automatic weapons whilst another mans a machine gun mounted to the APV. It’s the first time I can recall seeing something like this.
We drive at haste along the bank of the Nile. In the distance I can see the Valley of the Kings lit up white and looming over the city like an unnatural cloud.
“You want to book a tour with me? See the Valley, sleep on a boat?”
I say thanks, but that I already booked guides when I booked my hotel and flights.
“What? Who did you book this with?” The same website I used to arrange the airport pickup” I respond. “Impossible, I do not have a note of this” He starts rapidly flicking through a bundle of paper. “See, see I do not have note. You have a ticket?” I get out my phone and show him the e-mail from the company confirming my guide will meet me at the hotel in the morning. “Impossible, impossible…” he repeats sadly. He sounds really pissed off about it. “You come with me, I ‘m cheaper” I tell him I’ve already paid.
He turns and speaks to the driver. He sounds angry and gesticulates wildly. We continue in silence for a moment before we turn off the main road and onto a narrow unlit street with no buildings surrounding us.
The car pulls up at the side of the road and stops.
At this point my mind starts racing. Every warning I’ve ever read or been given by other travellers starts running through my mind. Shit, shit, shit theres two of them and one of them at least is really pissed off. Somethings going to happen. Just stay cool, just stay cool….
“Your hotel, it is on the other side of the river. There is a boat, but we will take the bridge. We have to drive outside the city to use the bridge this will take some time”
Oh thank fuck for that. I guess I can start breathing again now.
We drove on in silence for the remainder of the journey. The roads were long, straight and with no lighting. Other cars could occasionally be seen heading straight for us, and indeed us straight for them. We’d play this apparent game of chicken until the last moment when both cars would slide off to the ‘right’ side of the road only long enough for each other to pass before taking the centre ground once more. The roads were punctuated frequently by large speed humps. Reducing is to a near 0mph speed to cross them. Every time we slowed I half expected us to stop completely and be asked if ‘I was sure I didn’t want a tour’.
I finally arrived at my hotel at gone 2am. I had been a long day. I wish I could have said that the hotel was a sight for sore eyes but that wasn’t to be either. I didn’t sleep a wink all night for various reasons.
I’m dog tired, hot, sticky and about to go and see something potentially amazing. Let’s hope its worth the journey.