Luxor can still be difficult to navigate, even for a seasoned resident

Returning to Luxor after an extended absence since December 2020 feels like reconnecting with an old friend.  The other day, I set out for a trip to the West Bank, with the intention of visiting a particular stone carver.  What followed was a series of events that caught me by surprise, reminding me that even in a place I’ve called home since 2003, there’s always room for an unexpected twist.

To be clear – I’ve been living in the heart of Egypt’s history, Luxor, for nearly two decades.  The shenanigans of taxi drivers, the art of navigating local transport – I’ve mastered these challenges over the years.  But as fate would have it, this West Bank journey had more in store than I could have anticipated.  Or maybe I was just too sure of myself!

Crossing the Nile

In Luxor, the absence of buses to the West Bank is an immediate drawback.  If you’re like me, situated on the East Bank, the journey requires a Nile-crossing and the age-old taxi negotiation ritual.  Now, I’ve haggled with taxis more times than I can count, but this time, the rules seemed to shift.  The result?  An unexpected and enraging taxi experience that took me by surprise.  An experience that reaffirms the idea that no matter how well we know a place, there’s always a new narrative waiting to unfold, often when we least expect it.  This is my story.

Catching a cab is not like b

I took one of the motorboats across the Nile – I understand they now have a fixed price due to the ferry’s relocation upstream on the East Bank.  As I stepped off the boat, I hailed the first taxi driver who approached me and simply said, “Nobles Tombs, please.” He agreed without hesitation, and off we went.

But here’s where things took an unexpected turn.  As we neared the outskirts of the village, his confidence seemed to waver.  He turned to me and asked, “Where are the Nobles Tombs?”  I won’t dive into every detail, but let’s just say the situation took us to a crossroads near the Valley of the Kings instead of the Nobles Tombs.  He looked at me and inquired which direction to take.  It was then that I realized something – we had actually passed the Nobles Tombs right across from the Ramesseum earlier, but I wasn’t paying attention.

Taxi Driver: Lost?

I found myself staring at him, a mix of disbelief and shock in my gaze.  This was a taxi driver on the West Bank – someone who navigates these paths every day – and he didn’t know about one of the top tourist attractions.  He was working the usual “con” and I had been unprepared, I could feel my blood start to boil!

The disbelief in my eyes mirrored my thoughts as I stared at him.  Here I was, a Luxor resident, stuck with a conniving taxi driver, in the very landscape I called home.  It was a moment that underscored the idea that even in the familiar, life can throw you a curveball.

I quickly reached for my phone and dialed up one of my guides. I needed his help to communicate with the driver in Arabic, as he seemed to conveniently misunderstand both my Arabic and English.  Can you believe it?  He actually told my guide that he couldn’t grasp the concept of “Nobles Tombs” in English.  Seriously?

Turning the tables

He made a U-turn with the taxi, and as we approached the gate of the Nobles Tombs, I signaled for him to stop.  I calmly informed him that he could take me back to the spot where he had picked me up.  You might wonder why I did this.  It was because I knew that if he was not to take me into the Nobles Tombs parking area, the price he’d demand at the journey’s end could be nothing short of astronomical.  Now it was his turn to look surprised!

Once we were back along the Nile’s banks, I stepped out of the taxi and requested his license.  When he declined, I took his photograph.  That upset and startled him.

Call the cops!

At that point, I let him know that I intended to call over the tourist police, who happened to be close by.  The three policemen listened to my story, in my rusty Arabic, which they had no problem understanding.  They knew the story anyway, it wasn’t new to them.  My story was met with staunch denial from the taxi driver, and he demanded payment for the ride that had barely happened.  In the ensuing argument I kept to one point “should I be obliged to pay for a service that had not been delivered?”  The taxi driver, more used to reaching a compromise with “difficult” customers, was now the one getting hot under the collar.  It was quite the standoff.

Eventually, the most senior police officer inquired if I wished to formally file a complaint.  I replied that the ball was in the driver’s court.  If he persisted in demanding payment for a service he had not delivered and for his attempt to deceive me, I would initiate the paperwork.  On the other hand, if he acknowledged that I owed him nothing for a trip unfulfilled, I’d let the matter rest.

Problem solved – or was it?

Ultimately, after a moment of contemplation, the, now raging taxi driver, agreed to let the matter drop.

Undeterred, I agreed to try again with another taxi driver, who was hovering nearby, to take me back to the Nobles Tombs to finish what I’d set out to do.  Unfortunately, this time, the situation had a frustrating déjà vu.  The second taxi driver, who should have learned from listening to the first incident with the police, demanded twice the reasonable fare.  I was done arguing the toss for one day.  I dropped what I knew to be the correct fare on the passenger seat, and walked away.

Let’s just go home!

The journey back to the East Bank via motorboat was also far from pleasant.  This time, I encountered a different motorboat operator who denied the existence of the set fare, and who, once again, believed I should cough up more cash simply because I was a foreigner.  Again, I held my ground and, quietly but firmly, declined to comply with the unjustified request.

It’s disheartening to realize that navigating Luxor, especially the West Bank, independently, instead of getting easier for foreigners, is growing progressively more challenging as the years go by.   Nonetheless, the realization of our significance in offering West Bank tours to our guests and alleviating them from the inconvenience I experienced today was a positive aspect and timely reminder.