After an over night train ride, the night after having an overnight plane ride, I wouldn’t generally think my wits are at their most fine tuned. Thankfully after arriving in Luxor and checking into a hotel I find I can still notice a red herring when I see one.
Arriving just after sun up, I wander out of the station like a bleary eyed turtle, shuffling along the dusty morning streets, slowly being swept alive and rousing to the smells of fresh bread and coffee. I’m bound for a room close by and am silently praying to the Egyptian gods that it is open. Success. I’m greeted by a sleepy eyed, young man with yellow stained teeth, who quotes me a price for a nice room and a price for a not-as-nice room. Chatting pleasantly we head up the stairs to check them out, the expensive room (₤35) is nice – and bright with a big double bed, air conditioning, a little balcony and clean bathroom. The ₤20 room has crackled paint, two shabby single beds and tiles falling off the bathroom walls – we both know which I’m going to choose.
He seems like a nice boy and tries to convince me to come join him for a tea – a welcome drink. Insisting I leave my heavy bags in the room he makes a point of locking the door and giving me the key. We trot back down the stairs to get the paperwork in order but I am desperate for a shower. Thanking him for his offer I politely decline and head back to my room.
Sliding the key in the lock I turn it right to click it open but its not budging. Maybe its left. No? I take it out and try again several times. It goes in ok, the room number is right but its not opening. Frustration arising I contemplate heading back down the stairs but I know this is the key and this is the door. I re-try for a final time and re-push and finally it opens. Strange. The first thing I notice is the balcony shutter door is ajar. I am 99.9% sure this was not the case before and it’s not like hurricane Katrina is blowing a gale outside. My bags are there, locked and seemingly unbothered. I sit on the bed and contemplate what to do. Adding it up in my mind it is a scam but do I stay or find another hotel? I feel uncomfortable and annoyed.
This is a new one for me. Invite you for a ‘welcome drink’ as soon as you arrive while rifling through your stuff and then claiming that ‘maybe it got taken on your travel here’? I save my final decision for his reaction. Maybe it’s just in my head. I strut back down the three flights of stairs recounting to him what just happened, vocalising my suspicions that someone was in the room, that I am not happy and short of saying I work for Lonely Planet (I don’t) allude to the fact that I’ll make this little scam public knowledge lest he do something pronto about it. He persists that it is not true and offers me another room, with locks on all the doors (and balcony this time) and breakfast thrown in for free. I’m not convinced of his honesty as he seems a little worried and a little sheepish.
In this situation all you can do is weigh up the pro’s and con’s and go with your instinct. I was tired and hungry. I felt irritated but not unsafe. I rationalise they are not going to try anything a second time lest I go trumpeting it around to all and sundry, its clean, semi-cheap and in a local neighbourhood with a nice rooftop courtyard. My mind bounces back and forth but I decide to stay. Under different circumstances with more energy I may swing the other way but it turns out to be an agreeable decision. At the end of long, hot days spent wandering around the markets and ruins and the exhausting efforts of fending off the relentless and tenacious touts, it’s a nice relief to farewell the main area and escape to my little local neighbourhood terrace. Under the stars, on faded cushions, smoking sweet smelling sheesha to the sounds of the call to prayer echoing around the city, I manage to forgive Egypt it scams and challenges as just another part of its unique personality.