This post is part of a L’appel Du Vide feature, Misadventure Mondays. In each segment, I’ll ask one of my favorite travel bloggers to share one of their Travel Misadventures. This Monday, Katie from Katie Going Global shares with us her story of getting scammed in Cairo, Egypt.
Tell me a little about yourself and your current trip:
I am a thirty-something former attorney from Chicago who quit her job in university alumni relations & development to spend a year traveling and volunteering. My focus is on the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union – so far, I have run a marathon in Estonia, tutored English and lived with local families in Russia, traveled the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and studied Russian in Ukraine. Next up is volunteering in Armenia.
Describe your travel style:
I like to get off the beaten path, but with a little bit of comfort. I prefer hotels to hostels and suitcases over backpacks (although I am carrying a backpack and staying in plenty of hostels on my current trip). I like to travel solo, but sometimes in groups for the social aspect. Small group tours that include plenty of free time are the best!
What’s been your best/worst travel misadventure? Tell me about where you were, who you were with, and what happened.
The one that stands out the most to me is the time I got scammed in Egypt. I was exploring an area of Cairo known as “Islamic Cairo,” roughly following a walking tour in one of my guidebooks. It mentioned that the minaret in the Madrassa-Khanqah of Sultan Barquq was open for climbing and that it provided great views of the city. I went inside the madrassa and asked a man inside if I could take pictures. He said yes, but a few seconds later, another man appeared who got quite angry with me and demanded that I pay him 20 pounds (just over $3). In hindsight, I know I should’ve just left at this point, but I didn’t. I forked over the 20 pounds, which seemed to satisfy him, and then I tried to ask the other man about going up the minaret – at which point, the angry man reappeared and told me to come with him.
The next thing I knew, the angry man led me out of the madrassa and up the street. I tried to tell him I wanted to go up the minaret of where we had just been, not some other minaret, but he just interrupted to tell me about some Turkish House that was 5 stars and had good coffee. I said again I wanted to go up the minaret and he just said “ok, come, come.” I followed him to a small mosque, the Mosque of Al-Akmar, at which point he demanded “20 pounds now, 20 later” to climb the minaret of that tiny mosque. Again, I should’ve just walked away, but instead I gave him 20 pounds, followed him into the mosque, and then up an incredibly narrow, dirty and dusty spiral staircase up to the top of the minaret.
I paid him the second 20 pounds and then took out my camera to take a couple photos, at which point he started saying “photo 10 pounds.” I thought he wanted 10 pounds for him to take a picture of me, so I told him no, I could take my own photos (and no way in hell was I handing my camera over to him!). But he kept insisting and I soon realized that he wanted to charge me 10 pounds to take any photos up at the top! Of course, for all I knew he would grab my camera if I didn’t pay him, so I handed over another 10 pounds, bringing my grand total for this adventure to 70 pounds (just over $11). When we came down from the minaret, he again tried to get me to go to the Turkish House and I just refused, saying I had to meet friends, and I quickly went on my way, feeling incredibly foolish over the whole thing.
What were the negative or positive outcomes of your misadventure?
While the incident could have left me with a negative impression of Egypt, it ended up turning around quite quickly. At the very next madrassa I entered, a man graciously showed me around, trying to explain things in half-broken English and refusing when I offered a tip afterwards. Then, as I tried to change a large bill buying a bottle of water in the market, the shop owner went to at least 3 other shops nearby until he found change for me. Those experiences totally counteracted the bad one and by the time I was back at the hotel, I was able to just laugh off the fact that I got scammed.
What did you learn from this misadventure that you can share with other travelers?
First, trust your gut – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Second, don’t be afraid to change your mind, back out or admit you were wrong. I was stubborn and refused to walk even though I knew I should have. Finally, don’t let one bad incident affect that way you view a whole country. The vast majority of people I met in Egypt were wonderfully helpful and friendly – it would be a shame for me to characterize all of the country as scam-artists based on my one experience.
What’s the one other lesson you’ve learned on your trip that you wish you had known before you left?
That people everywhere are basically good. I knew this before, but my current trip has reinforced it. A woman in Vladivostok grabbed my arm and personally led me to the bus stop when I was lost. A man outside of Irkutsk drove me into the city from an open air museum outside of town for no charge. A man I met on the train going to Kazan didn’t just help me find my bus, he rode it with me to make sure I got off at the right stop. I asked someone for directions in Kiev and he ended up giving me a small tour the surrounding park.
Thanks Katie for sharing!
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