We arrive at the hotel. There is an old man and a young man. Neither of them acknowledge me. They both instead argue with Ibraham. I don’t need a translation as the body language says it all – ‘you were mean to get here an hour ago’.
The younger one starts to show me to my room. The older one barks an order and the younger one comes back and takes my bag and starts running up the stairs.
I’m knackered, overweight out of shape and taking two steps at once to try and keep pace with him. He smiles, he knows.
“Sorry for making you stay up so late” I proffer. “You are most welcome, what time do you want breakfast?” “Around 9ish?”
And with that he is gone only a slammed door reverberating in a doorframe giving any indication he was ever here.
I head straight for the toilet that I’ve desperately needed since the airport. A few welcome moments later I realise that there is a small window in the bathroom, or to be more precise that there is a small hole where a window should be and that various light attracted insects are coming through it.
Cursing I spend the next few minutes slapping at mosquitoes.
I go back and look at the room properly. It’s quite nice and judging from the smell of the paint recently redecorated. Judging by the tackiness of the paint on the doors and the wet drips on the floor possibly even that day.
But its late and I don’t care.
The First Night
I flop into bed at last.
I hear the mosquito.
I get out of bed.
I can’t find the mosquito.
I get into bed.
The mosquito finds me.
I’m just getting my head down when this screeching bellowing noise stats up. I start to think where I’ve heard it before. It’s a camel. Theres only a bloody stable next door with camels, donkeys and horses. When one starts up, they all start up.
Oh well, head down again.
Suddenly another racket starts. It’s the dawn chorus. It’s about 3am, how is it dawn? I’ve only ever heard it once before like this. A roaring sweeping noise that enters your brain and stays there. Where was it, oh yeah Morocco. There it was swiftly followed by….
The call to prayer starts.
I bury my head in the pillows. I pull my head out and the room is filled with daylight. That was bloody quick. Darkness to daylight in moments. I look for the shutters or the blinds. I find neither.
I spend the rest of the night laying awake, slowly melting into a puddle of sweat and cursing every singe insect and animal.
I look at the clock. There is another hour before my alarm goes off. I close my eyes and then I hear the buzzing. This is loud, low pitched and angry. I open my eyes to see one of the largest hornets that I’ve ever seen. It’s huge and it doesn’t want to leave.
I hit it with a shoe. It gets back up and flies off.
I shepherd it into the bathroom and lock it in. I keep an ear to the door and listen for it eventually it leaves by the window. I give up on sleep and have a shower before heading to the rooftop restaurant in search of something to drink.
The rooftop restaurant isn’t exactly built yet. The structure is there, but there are wires and fixtures hanging from every wall. I wait around for five minutes and take in the soundings. The hotel is surrounded by fields on three sides. In the distance you can see the valley of the kings. On the 4th side is a typically run down street. Other than the birds there isn’t any noise.
I head down to reception to wait for my guide. I’m met by the hotel owner. He asks how I slept, I tell him the truth. He looks mortified. He asks if I enjoyed breakfast, I tell him I haven’t had anything. Now he looks panic stricken. He makes me sit on the reception couch, clears the coffee table and comes back with a table cloth. I tell him my guide will be here in a moment. He tells me he will make something very quickly. He comes back with fresh bread, falafel and beans. It’s good, very good. We start talking about the hotel. He’s only recently bought it, and now he’s fixing it up. He says he wants me to feel welcome here and that he is sorry I slept badly. I tell him about the window and the shutters. He tells me that I’m one of his first customers for the year and that they’ve only got one floor completely decorated so far, but that he’s opened up as he needs to start getting customers to get money in.
My guide arrives and I introduce myself. As I’m doing this, the remainder of my breakfast is bagged and placed in my hand, I’m told to take it with me that I must have breakfast.
I just in the minivan and laugh with my guide as I tell him that he wouldn’t let me leave unless I ate something. As I’m saying this there is a tap on the window and there is the manager with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. He hands it through the window and and says just bring back the glass when I come back.
A pattern emerges
I knew I was going to be a little out in the sticks and I didn’t want the fuss of tying to find places to eat so I paid extra for an all inclusive option. Dinner that night was surprisingly good. Fried rice, a chopped salad, flat bread and stewed beans, tomatoes, onions and mutton.
It’s fortunate that I enjoyed it because along with the breakfast I would be served the exact same dish every day for the duration of my stay.
My waiter is the younger man from the night before. He’s a little more chilled, but still bristling with attitude. He slams down each dish like it has done something to offed him. Latter he would start serving the meals on a ludicrously large golden platter which afterwards would be thrown into a corner making such a clatter that I’m sure its previous use was as a gong.
For the first couple of days I had to go searching for one of the owners in order to get a drink. Eventually I find myself sat with the main owner and we start talking about travel and hotels. He tells me that he has recently opened up and that he plans to make it the best family owned hotel this side of the river. He’s very enthusiastic and I don’t doubt his sincerity. However, his hotel has some pretty serious flaws and I was staying there now, not in a season or two when he was fully established.
I tell him about the window, and about the lack of curtains. I tell him how insane that there is not even bottled water in the room. He tells me that it is too expensive to put water in the room and I effectively call bullshit on that. He’s not a cheap hotel to stay at, he’s advertising as a 3* and his price is at the high end of the range. I tell him about all the places that I’ve stayed and how he’s missing out so many of the basics that one people start staying there they will leave negative reviews and he’ll lose business because of it. That I’ve stayed in hostels that offer more than he has.
He doesn’t believe a word of it until we get on the net and I show him the prices and services of his immediate completion. Then I show him photos of some of the places that I’ve stayed and thanks to the internet I can even tell him how much it cost to stay there.
I tell him that I’ve paid for all inclusive and that in two days I’ve been given two glasses of orange juice and two glasses of sprite with my evening meal. He doesn’t see that as a problem and tells me that nowhere would give any more than that.
During the course of our conversation I realise that he genuinely has no idea about any of the terms used in the travel business. His attitude is that he offers a clean place to sleep and that he cares about his guests and that is enough. He genuinely doesn’t know what the difference between ‘full board’ ‘half board’ ‘All inclusive’ etc is. He didn’t know or understand what star ratings re or how they are used to determine the facilities. He couldn’t understand why anyone would have an issue with the food areas not being built or the whole hotel having wiring hanging out provided their own room was finished. Yeah, advertise to the backpacker crowd and charge accordingly they won’t mind at all. But he was advertising as a boutique hotel and as a cosy place for people to come and stay – perhaps for a romantic weekend. Simply put he’s operating a Guest House, with the inclusions you’d expect at a hostel but advertising a 3* hotel and what to him are a load of buzzwords and I was the first idiot to come and stay since he’d opened (which made me wonder about the very positive reviews that already existed but that’s another story) .
But the funny thing is that I liked the guy and I do think that wants to offer a good service. We spent a whole afternoon on the net almost like teacher and student researching and learning all the industry terms and by the end of it I think he realised just how badly he was misrepresenting himself and how much I was being short changed.
I went out the next day and when I returned there was an actual window in the window frame and a curtain on the rail covering the door. I was already bitten to shreds but maybe, just maybe I’d now be able to get some sleep.
I also walked into an argument that could be described as biblical.
On the way back to the hotel I asked my guide to stop at a nearby garage. When I came back with a 6l pack of water bottles and a bottle of coke he asked why I’d bought them and I told him how the hotel didn’t have any drinking water.
We spent the rest of the journey chatting about the food they had.
When we arrived, we arranged a time for the next day. I went up to shower and when I finished I came out for dinner. All I could hear was raised voices, neither backing off from each other. My guide and the 2nd owner of the hotel were standing nose to nose having a massive argument right there in the foyer.
Later the brother came storming up to me demanding to know why I’d talked to my guide about the hotel. “Because he asked me” was my response. He then proceeded to say that I was lying about everything and that none of it was true which was something that I was not having.
Now it was my turn to raise my voice.
He didn’t have a leg to stand on really. Everything he said wasn’t a problem there was a photo of. Turns out they weren’t even cooking there. What they were doing was running down the street to another hotel, buying their food and bringing it to me!
But my favourite moment was when I was told that I must be stupid because I had all the water and drinks that I needed in the fridge in my room.
“What bloody fridge?!”
“The fridge. The fridge in the room”
“There isn’t a fridge in the room”
Screaming now “Yes there is!”
“Right, you go into that room and go and get something from the fridge then.”
He stormed off, and my guide just looks at me. I ask him why he felt the need to start a fight. “Oh thats nothing, it is just the way we discuss things. He has taken for your stay and he is not providing what he promised, that makes everyone here look bad and we cannot afford for people to stay away because they night be cheated.”
The brother comes back looking crestfallen. “I could not find the fridge”.
Dinner that night is particularly frosty.
The next day I come back to find a fridge. A huge fridge. A huge extremely noisy fridge.
It contains a 500ml bottle of water and a single 200ml bottle of Coke.
It keeps me awake that night.
The owners kept a low profile after that. In fact I never saw them again.
I left the hotel at 4am. There was no-one in the lobby and the door was locked. I had to search around the lobby until I found a bunch of keys on a hook which I tried one by one in the door until the lock finally disengaged.
I stepped out and realised that I’d have to lock the door from the outside but there was no letterbox and the bunch of keys were too sick to slide under the door.
The last farcical act of my stay was to remove the hotels singular front door key from the keyring, lock the door from the outside and kick it back under the door.
It was my first trip in nearly two years. I was tired and stressed before I arrived and I left exhausted, even more stressed and with a chest infection and a nose caked in blood from the dodgy air conditioning.
It’s not often it happens, but I was glad to be going home.
So why did I choose to stay there in the first place instead of one of the many places in the city? Simple, it promised peace and quiet out of the main city but still within walking distance of everything and it has one feature that none of the others can ever have…
A spectacular view of the Valley of the Kings