Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Going from Dahab to Luxor Egypt via Bus - Local Transportation - Getting Around Egypt

The central square of Luxor, near the Luxor Temple.
After spending around a week and a half in Dahab, we decided that we would like to see Luxor before leaving Egypt.  We purchased a ticket through King Safari Dahab Tours, as we did not want to bother with getting a taxi to and from the bus station in order to purchase a ticket.  The bus station is not in the same area of Dahab as the hotels are.  In fact, it is in a separate and more quiet residential area that is separated from the tourist area.  There is an extra commission for getting the ticket through a tour agency, but they also gave us a ride to the bus station right before the bus left.

The bus only had a few people on it when it left the station.  There were a couple of other tourists with us, a pair of Asian girls, and they were the only other tourists we had ridden a bus with in Egypt on our entire journey.  The ride itself was pretty nice.  I was very sad to leave Sinai and had gotten pretty attached to spending time in Dahab.  At first I was not sure of what I thought of it, but as the days went on, it began to feel like a type of home in many ways.  After visiting the Blue Hole a couple of times, we did not want to leave, but we realized that it was time to move on if we wanted to see Luxor, which we did.

The bus route took us south to Sharm el Sheikh, where the bus filled with more passengers, and then north to El Tor.  It was around El Tor that the sun was setting.  It was a spectacular sight over the water to the west.  Far in the distance the flames from refineries danced with the reds of the sun's descent.  Shortly after we were both asleep and awoke a couple hours later to a military personnel telling us to get off the bus.  Dazedly,we gathered ourselves and realized that nobody else was on the bus.

As we stepped outside, we saw that everyone was gathering their luggage and putting it in a line.  We took our bags from under the bus and put them near the front.  At this point a dog was used to sniff the bags for contraband.  The guards took an extra look in our bags and checked our passports before we continued across (under) the Suez canal and towards the city of Suez.

It took a while to get through Suez, as it was quite busy at this time of night.  Even though it was midnight, the city was well alive (more so than when we passed through in the middle of the day on the way to Sinai).  We stopped at the bus station to pick up some more passengers, which filled up the bus.  There we used the restrooms, which had seen much better days.  In Egypt, most bus stations and other places charge 2 LE for the restroom.  This usually pays for an attendant to clean them (which is done at some places better than others).  Here, there was no charge, thus you can imagine what the restrooms may have looked like.

As we passed through Suez, we witnessed huge lines at the gas stations due to restrictions and shortages on gas.  This is one reason why many Egyptians are quite upset.  Leaving Suez, we made our way south on the side opposite of Sinai along the Red Sea.  This is where we both fell asleep again, to wake up the next day outside of Hurghada, a popular tourist resort town on the Red Sea.

After Hurghada, we made our way through the Red Sea mountains towards Luxor.  This is where the journey really slowed down.  The route through the mountains is windy and some parts of the road are not paved.  There is a lot of traffic as well.  We made a stop at a rest area here for a few minutes before heading to the town of Qena, which is on the Nile, north of Luxor.  We spent much time in Qena, as the bus had to be refueled.  Many passengers disembarked here and we made our way through the backstreets of the city, which was much larger than I expected it to be.  After about an hour here we were off to Luxor.

Along the Nile
It took another hour or so to get to Luxor.  Our bus left Dahab at 4:00 pm and arrived in Luxor at 11:00 am.   It was a journey of about 19 hours.

I will talk more about Luxor in a future post, but for now I will say that it was by far the hassle capital of Egypt.  Immediately, before even getting off the bus, a hotel tout got on the bus and tried to get us to go to a specific hotel.  We told him we already had a place booked and he tried to still get us to go to his.  We said no thanks and he helped us get a taxi upon exiting the bus.  We were probably overcharged for the ride, and I am sure the tout got some of it, but we were just happy to be in Luxor after such a long bus ride.  The bus let us off in the main city, even though the guide book states that the bus leaves you near the airport.  We paid 20 LE for the taxi, but it really should have been no more than 10 LE.  

We went to the Fontana hotel, which has air conditioning and full bathtubs, which is rare with budget hotels in Egypt.  We met the owner's son when we arrived and he told us about the city and about the hotel.  He said that he had just finished studying in Cairo but was sent home due to the revolution that was to happen on the 30th of June.  We told him that we would be in Cairo on this date.  We drank tea and then went to our room.  At first we were told it would be 95 LE, per night, for the room with the bath, but later he realized that he was mistaken and it was 75 LE.  Even with that said, on Hostelworld, the room is quoted at 60 LE with bathroom and 50 LE for a room with shared bath.  All rooms have A/C.  So, keep that in mind if you stay at the Fontana, in Luxor.

Later, after showering and resting for a while, we made our way back downstairs and were offered a tour of The Valley of the Kings, The Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Hatsheput, and the Hebu Temple.  The price that we were quoted was 380 LE per person, which was quite high.  We told him that we were students with ISIC cards, and he said 280 would be the price.  We still thought this was high, and we told him we would think about it.   We discussed it, and eventually we said 200 LE would work.  We should have went lower, as the guide book states that the cost is between 140-200 LE for students.  Obviously we got it at the high end.  We asked him where some good food was and he pointed us to a Koshary restaurant a few blocks away.  We made our way to the restaurant and both got a bowl of Koshary for 10 LE total (one small and one medium).

Luxor alleyways
After getting Koshary, we went back to our room to rest and later on headed back out to see the Temple and Luxor market around sunset.  This is where we began to realize the hassle that Luxor entails.  Earlier I wrote about the Pyramids of Giza and the touts and camel guides that constantly harass tourists.  The entire downtown area of Luxor is like this, and possibly worse.

The Fontana hotel is in an area called Television street, which is where many of the local businesses and apartment buildings are located.  This area is pretty much hassle free, even though it is loaded with people.  It is when you get to the train station, where the road makes a junction towards the Luxor Temple and the tourist bazaar that the hassle begins.  We went to see if we could get a train ticket and were unable to for Friday, as the trains were all sold out.  In Luxor, there are only four trains a day heading towards Cairo that tourists can ride.  These trains have armed guards on them.  We were told the next train we could take would be on a Saturday.  We wanted to be in Cairo before the weekend, so we figured that we would maybe take a bus.  After leaving the train station, we made our way to Luxor temple.  

The Luxor train station
Upon getting close to the temple we were approached by a man that operated a caleche, which is a horse drawn carriage.  These men are as stubborn as the camel touts at Giza.  They will not take "no" for an answer.  Many will follow you and block your way from crossing the street for as long as possible.  There are dozens of these caleche operators near the Temple, and with few tourists, we were the target of pretty much every single one of them.

When one would eventually leave, another would take his place.  Sometimes two would be asking us at the same time.  One of the drivers was a young boy, perhaps 10 years of age.  We spent nearly 20 minutes with one man who wanted to take us to a Egyptian market that was around for "one day only."  As we spent more days in Luxor, we would realize that this market was around for "just one day" every day, just as we suspected.

Luxor Temple
When one says "no" to the caleche drivers, the operator will say "do you know how much?"  They then quote about 5-10 LE.  If you say "no" again, they continue to tell you how much it is or lower it a bit.  It is quite an annoyance, but one that the Luxor visitor must get used to.  If you walk along the Nile, you get approached by both the caleche driver and the felucca boatmen.  The felucca is an Egyptian sailboat that travels along the Nile.  Being harassed by everyone is quite annoying to be honest.

We eventually ate some dinner at a falafel stand and got some juice, which came out to be around 10-15 LE total for two sandwiches and two glasses of juice.  We then went into the Luxor bazaar, which was pretty empty of tourists.  That made us a huge target.  At first, we were not bothered too much, but upon reaching the end and turning back, many shop owners converged on us.  We will write a post about the market itself later, so I will leave it at that for now.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel, as it was getting late.  Overall, it was a very long and eventful day. 

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