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Baksheesh Culture

19 May 2010 | Ismailia, Egypt
Ismailia, Egypt.
18th May 2010
Photo: Tourist police at Giza, Cairo buildings moving closer and closer to the pyramids.

"I am not happy, Alan" the parting comment from our pilot as he stepped off Tuatara at Ismailia.

As we already knew, no amount of baksheesh is enough for the Suez canal pilots.

We had obviously had a more successful day than he had had. We were happy after a smooth transit from Suez to Ismailia. He expected more in his baksheesh envelop and sat in the cockpit trying to extract more from us. We reluctantly gave him a little more money, 20 LE to add to the $ 10US in the envelope, of course silly us he wanted the extra in US $ as well. We held firm and after we started to ignore him and tidy up our mooring lines, he eventually gave up, shook our hands and disappeared off with the other pilots, presumably to have a collective moan about stingy yachties.

A week ago ourselves along with four other yachts transited the first half of the canal, Suez to Ismailia. We had agreed amongst ourselves that $ 10 US was the amount to give our pilots along with some cigarettes and maybe a tshirt or cap. The measurers told us all that there was no requirement to give anything to our pilots but of course the pressure from the pilots started not long after we entered the canal. Our guy hung out to about morning tea when he asked for some cigarettes, so Alan gave him one packet. Malaysian cigarettes, not the sort after Marlborough, he put them to one side, we silently noted his displeasure. After a short time the need for a smoke got the better of him and he lit up using our matches, no lighter another disappointment. He should have realized then that these Kiwis were not going to be overly generous.

 "Do you have any perfume or cream for my wife?" I found one tube of lotion and put in a bag for him.

"Only one?"

After that comment I should have taken it back as I would have done with an ungrateful child. At that stage he was still steering us, passing huge south bound ships just metres away, I didn't want to upset him!!

Over a beer we discussed our pilot experience and we found we had all ended up paying about $ US15 and we had all been given similar not happy comments, but we were happy and that's what counted. Ismailia marina is a nice place, any place that has a working washing machine has to be good. Wednesday morning was spent washing clothes and the sand off Tuatara that we had been blasted with in the sand storm during the last 15 or so miles of the Gulf of Suez. Fine sand was everywhere, Alan even climbed up the mast to give it a wash down, a brown waterfall of four months of sand washed down over the decks.
By Thursday afternoon we had enough of boat work and decided to take a few days off and visit Cairo.

In 30 years Cairo has got bigger a little more modern and if possible dirtier, another country disappearing under its own uncollected rubbish. More people than ever wanting baksheesh for doing very little or nothing at all. "Hello my friend" outside every shop and on every street corner, didn't know we knew so many people in Cairo!! On the positive side the parks of Cairo are green and luscious. One of my memories of Cairo from our 1977 visit was the dust bowls that were marked as parks on our city map. The traffic is hectic and crossing the road is a nerve wracking exercise, the locals scoot around cars crossing four lanes of traffic with seeming ease. A vivid memory I have of our last visit was of looking out our hotel window early one morning and watching a horse drawn cart heaped with cauliflowers trotting down an empty street. These days the streets are never empty of traffic with just a few donkey and horse carts left to brave the traffic. The banks of the Nile are still producing a vast array of produce, horse drawn carts were this time selling watermelons and rock melons on street corners.

We went to Cairo with Lisbeth and Lars from Hilda, it was their first visit to the pyramids and they were a little under whelmed. I don't blame them, Cairo is now encroaching on the Pyramid environs and a road runs around the base of the biggest pyramid, tour buses swish passed as you try to take photos, touts for camel rides pester anyone still on foot. I am pleased we visited so many years ago while the pyramids still seemed to be in the desert. After Giza we went south to Saqqara, to the Step Pyramid the oldest pyramid and some say the oldest stone structure in the world. The museum here was impressive, informative as well as cool respite from the 40deg heat. A Frenchman, Monsieur Lauer went there for eight months to do some excavations and stayed 75 years, dying a few years ago at 99. He helped discover and understand the Step Pyramid and surrounding tombs. The guide we had said there is enough tombs and buried treasures to keep archeologists busy for the next 500 years. I don't understand why they have to keep digging and disturbing these tombs surely they have enough material to study but then I am not an archeologist. I am sure that some of the Pharaohs would be turning in their tombs if they saw the state of their country now .... that is if they had been allowed to stay snug in their underground tombs.

We came back to Ismailia yesterday to cheaper restaurants, nicer people and during the 15 minute walk back to Tuatara not one "hello my friend" was heard. Parts of Egypt are not so bad after all, that is if you ignore the rubbish, dust, flies and the baksheesh culture. A pair of rose tinted glasses maybe a good accessory to pack for those intending to visit and enjoy Egypt. For those intending to sail through the Red Sea, spend your time in, Yemen, Eritrea and Sudan, enjoy their beautiful waters and pleasant people. Egypt is unavoidable just don't stay too long!! Inshallah.

Vessel Name: Tuatara
Vessel Make/Model: Alan Wright 51
Hailing Port: Opua NZ
Crew: Alan and Jean Ward

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Who: Alan and Jean Ward
Port: Opua NZ