Monday, October 5, 2009

Abducted by a Crazy Camel Driver!!

Some would say I go to extreme lengths in my efforts to gain real life experiences for my books, but being abducted by a money-hungry camel driver was not something I’d ever planned to do. Now that I’m safely back from my trip, I can laugh about it, but at the time I was not in a laughing mood. Irate is a better word. Spitting angry, perhaps. Me and the camel both.

One of the destinations on our cruise was Alexandria, Egypt, so we signed up for a trip to the pyramids of Giza. You know. THE pyramids. And the sphinx. And indeed, they were awesome. Not so awesome were the people that awaited us at each stop. Aggressive, in-your-face local men and boys who would go to any length to part us from our money.

On our way to Giza, our Egyptian tour guide had warned us not to let anyone take our cameras, claiming to want to snap our photos, as they were wont to hold the cameras hostage until a sum of money was handed over. We were also told not to ride the camels across the parking lot because a) we would be taking a real camel ride across the sand dunes later; and, b) they would gouge us.

Immediately upon stepping off the bus, our entire group was surrounded by camel drivers, their sons, and their Very Large Camels, hawking rides and offering to take our photos, as the guide had warned. As my husband was arguing with a particularly annoying boy, who kept grabbing for his camera, a big burly guy behind me took my sun hat off my head and put it on his. I spun to face him, and he said, “Want to take your picture on a camel?” as he lifted me off my feet and set me on his kneeling camel. Alarmed, I yelled, “Get me off!” and was about to swing a leg over when the big brute wrapped his turban around my head and shouted at me, “Lean back, lean back!” The camel began to rise, hind end first, so I had no choice but to grab onto the pommel and lean back, all the while shouting at him to let me down. Like that would work.

Then his son led the camel away from the group of tourists, separating me from the crowd – a tummy-churning moment, let me tell you – although the ride was quite pleasant. My husband was still arguing about the camera and insisting he would take the photos, which he did, as you can see above, and didn’t seem to notice my distress. My hero!

Because the ploy to grab our camera didn’t work, the camel driver decided to hold me hostage instead. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with me, and I began to yell at him. He wanted 50 Euros ($75) to let me down, which, now that I think about it, was quite a bargain, but at the time seemed outrageous.

After bartering with the burly dude failed, my quick-thinking husband told him I had all the money, so he’d have to put me down so I could pay. The ruse worked, the camel sank to his knees, and I climbed off, a bit shaken but none the worse for wearing a greasy turban. Once off, the man held out his thick hand and demanded money, at which point I began to call for the Tourist Police, who were standing all around the area watching as tourists were fleeced. After that, I called for the real police, who were sitting in their cars watching as tourists were fleeced. They had quite a system going. But the camel driver apparently didn’t like all the attention, so he settled for 5 Euros. Thus my net worth fell to a little over $7.50. Talk abut humiliation. But we sure got a great shot of me on the camel in front of a pyramid!

I’m not sure how I’ll ever work that adventure into a Flower Shop mystery, but somewhere, somehow, it’ll show up in one of my books. Next week, I’ll tell you about my surprise visitor in Athens, Greece, 5000 miles from home.

Have you ever had a frightening tourist experience? Been fleeced at a tourist trap? Been to the pyramids? Ridden a camel?


Dru said...

One of my desires is to visit Egypt and visit the Pyramids. I have no desire to ride a camel.

Heather Webber said...

Oh my gosh, Kate! I'd have been FREAKING out. You're right, it's funny now, but...whoa. Glad you're home safe and sound. And yes, those are GREAT pics!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

We did the Egypt trip but I avoided riding the camels because I find them scary! My worst tourist experience was when I chased a pickpocket who'd lifted my husband's wallet in Madrid. I had him by his belt screaming at the top of my lungs (the tourist/real police are as useless there as in Egypt). I don't know who was more scared but eventually he threw down the wallet and I let go. Luckily, he hadn't had the chance to empty it out yet.

Kate Collins said...

Jane, I take my (sun)hat off to you! That took courage. At the time, I'm sure your indignation kicked in and you didn't even think about the dangers.... until later. How funny that the thief was afraid of you!

As a postscript, after this photo stop, we were put in Range Rover jeeps (the promise of A/C turned out to be open windows) and driven across the dunes to our awaiting camel caravan. There we all climbed on for a 1/2 hour trip across the desert to a country club (of sorts). The camel ride was actually very easy, like a slow horse ride. That wasn't distressing. It was the demand for money everywhere we went in Egypt that was stressful. And it was dirty. Filth everywhere. When we returned to the ship, we were not allowed to touch anything without first being sprayed with sanitizers, and were not allowed to touch anything in the dining areas, not even in the buffet areas, for the duration of the cruise. Apparently, in the past, people have suffered severe GI problems after their stays in Egypt. Sad, isn't it?

Lindy said...

I've been where you were, Kate! I was the only female on an embassy support flight, and during crew rest, I went to the pyramids and wanted to ride a camel (have to do things like that once in your life, right?). I negotiated a price with the camel jockey, but I was angry that I had to ride behind him rather than by myself. Well, we are bouncing along at a nice walking pace, when all of a sudden the jockey gets the camel to trot... faster and faster! Then he tells me the fee is going to be twice the amount I negotiated. I was REALLY mad (and frightened) by this time, so I yelled at him to stop the camel. He went faster. So I said "Look, I'm paying you what I said I would pay, and if you don't stop this camel right now, I am getting off the hard way. Trust me, I'm not going to land on the bottom!" I'm not a delicate little thing, and I guess he didn't like the idea my landing on top of him, so he slowed down, we went back to where we started, and I paid him the original price.

rebecca e. bailey said...

Wow! You definitely thought on your feet--Abby would've been proud! But I'm glad you're home, safe in Northwest Indiana, where nothing dangerous ever happens--ah, well, maybe that's an excuse to stay home and read books!

Hank said...

Kate, Im sure you can work that into a story somehow. I burst out laughing at Very Large Camels.

Now without further ado--I'm drawing the WINNERS of a signed copy of PRIME TIME-and a special treat, too! (Very cool tote bags that just arrived! Appropriate, huh?)

The winners (my husband drew the names!) are:
Kathleen Ryan

Just email me directly at
hryan at whdh dot com

and give me your address!

Thank you all, so much ,for chatting with me at the Cozy Chicks! (It's so cozy here...I love it!)
xoxo Hank

Linda said...

Wow Kate, what a story! I have always wanted to go on one of the cruises that visits Egypt. That's interesting though about not being able to touch the buffet/dining areas. How did that work? Did you have to eat in your stateroom for the duration of the cruise?

The pics of you on the camel are great!

Kate Collins said...

Lindy, I would have panicked had the camel trotted! Luckily, our ride was gentle. Those camel jockeys are just way too aggressive.

Linda, we were able to enter the buffet area, but after our hands were sprayed with sanitizing liquid, we were handed our plates and utensils, then we would have to point to the food we wanted and it would be put on our plates. We couldn't even use the coffee maker. They set up a table in front of it and had a staffer there to get whatever we wanted -- coffee, tea, espresso, etc. The dining rooms operated as usual. I was very impressed with NCL. They really did a great job of keeping things sanitized.

Linda said...

That is so interesting about the buffet/food/coffee/etc. I've never experienced anything like that on a cruise before, but then again, I have not yet been to Egypt. Now when we eventually get there someday, I'll be more prepared.

Maggie Sefton said...

Back in 1986, my husband had a conference in Seville, so we did 2+ weeks in Spain. Drove all over--Granada, Marbella, and even down south to Tarifa on the coast to take a day trip to Morocco. Hydrafoil ferry trip was fast and there were really good, experienced local Moroccan guides who took tourists in groups to tour the city and the casbah, which was fascinating. A dense rabbit warren of tiny streets where you go single file and that's why you want to have the local guys as guides because one walks in front and the other walks in back to make sure no one is robbed or grabbed. Apparently women were still "kidnapped" in the casbah in those days. No lie. Anyway, I remember seeing the little boys come up to you in swarms asking for money or trying to sell stuff, but we just ignored them and nothing bad happened. Maybe the Moroccans are more mellow than the Egyptians, or maybe it was just a more mellow time in 1986. Husband did get to ride camel (I didn't want to) and photo + one with python wrapped around his neck. But the cafes and rug merchants were best. We only ate where our local guides took us and no one got sick. No tourist fleecing, neither.

As for scary times---well, in 1989 when husband and I were in Barcelona for two weeks, he was Fulbright fellow and teaching during day and I wandered the city by myself having a glorious time. Barcelona is a great and gorgeous city. Plus my Spanish is fairly good. French is better, though. But, I have habit of wandering and one time I was in a more isolated area of Barcelona and suddenly realized this guy was following me from a distance. And he and I were the only ones areound since it was early afternoon nap time. So--I walked "with purpose" and turned around frequently and "eyeballed" him, letting him know I KNEW he was there and he wasn't about to grab me without my knowing it. If he was going to try anything, he'd have a fight on his hands. By the time I reached the edge of the more populous section of Barbelona again, he suddenly turned a corner and disappeared. Moral: Be assertive. It works, folks.