Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Story of Sayid

So, the story of Sayid:

We were in Aswan, Egypt; home to about a million sailboats. These simple wooden sailboats -- called "feluccas" -- carry people down the Nile River, toward Luxor.

We had two desires:

One, to visit Abu Simbel, a stunning Ancient Egyptian monument to Ramses II, carved in rock. Two, to take a felucca ride down the Nile to Luxor.

Abu Simbel is located far south, about 30 miles from Egypt's border with Sudan, in an area that's marred with dangers (or so they say). In order to visit Abu Simbel, we had to depart Aswan at 3 a.m. flanked by an armed police convoy.

To arrange this, we had to enlist the services of someone who could reserve us a seat in a microbus traveling with the convoy.

Enter: Sayid. He, like all the other trip organizers in Aswan, stood by the banks of the Nile waiting for tourist business. He promised us a trip to Abu Simbel, followed by a 2-night, 3-day felucca ride, for a price that was far lower than any of his competitors. (We had asked around, and knew that the prices could sometimes vary by a factor of 10).

We thought we had everything in the bag, but when we went shopping with Sayid for food for the falucca tour, the situation began to unravel. With him accompanying us, the prices of food seemed to triple.

We were a bit confused -- after all, food was included in the cost of the falucca ride, so everything we were paying at the store would be deducted from the final price we paid to Sayid. If this was a scam, we reasoned, it worked AGAINST Sayid's favor.

Later that same evening, Sayid told us that the trip to Abu Simbel was cancelled. He claimed the microbus that we were supposed to take had been in an accident. An unlikely story, but it was already 10 pm and we were scheduled to leave at 3 am. It was too late to book a different tour.

We shrugged and went to bed, figuring everything would get delayed by a day.

At 3 am, there was a knock on our door. The microbus driver had shown up. Sayid had lied about the bus crash. Our trip to Abu Simbel hadn't been cancelled after all. But why had he lied? We hadn't paid him in advance. Cancelling the trip meant cancelling his business. We wondered if Sayid was a very stupid scammer.

Deciding we could no longer trust him, we met him the following day and told him we wanted to book our felucca ride with someone else. Standing at the Nile's edge, on Sayid's motorboat, we asked Sayid for our food back. He claimed it was stored on a different boat, and that we'd have to go to a different dock to retrieve it.

He drove us in his motorboat to another dock, where we sat for an hour, waiting. Then he unlocked a compartment underneath where we'd been sitting. The food had been there all along.

He demanded 40 Egyptian pounds from us, for the motorboat ride. We screamed at him for wasting our time and demanded he return us to our original dock.

With much hassle, we booked another tour for the following day. Our felucca ride was better than we had imagined: scenic sunset views on the sapphire blue Nile; the hilarious company of British and Australian travelers who soon became our new friends. We fell asleep under a starry sky, docked on the Nile River banks.

We were shocked, however, when the first morning after camping out on the boat, we opened our eyes and saw Sayid looming over us like a character from a B-grade horror movie. He was stalking us.

We had to restrain our felucca driver from punching him out. Apparently, Sayid has quite a nasty reputation among felucca drivers. Even his own family, we hear, despises him.

The 'Story of Sayid' became a bit of a running joke on the Felucca, and while we half expected him to show up again, lurking in the papyrus, it was all smooth sailing thereafter.