Älkää käyttäkö Badawiya Expedition -matkanjärjestäjää

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Tässä viestini maailmalle Badawiyasta ja heidän aavikkosafareistaan. (en jaksanut kääntää sori, joten available in English only) Lopussa tietoa Egyptin todellisesta hintatasosta ja neuvoa retken varaamiseen Egyptissä (jos jaksaa sinne asti selata :))

Don’t take a tour from the Egyptian Badawiya Expedition travel agency! They seriously overcharge (you pay two-thirds for air) and tell you lies to justify it. They claim they “tailor every program upon your requests” which is not true. We bought two tours from Badawiya while we were in Farafra oasis in November 2012: an overnight tour to the White Desert and a two-night-two-day tour to the Great Sand Sea, both starting from Farafra. The tours were very pricy but we thought quality must come with hard currency in cash. (The exchange rate quoted here is the rate in Dec 2012: 1 € = 8 EGP, in Feb 2013 it’s 9.)
The White Desert tour lasted from 3 pm to 10 am next morning (14 hours) and cost 50 € (400 EGP) per person. There is probably a better option in town (Sunrise safari tour company); their White Desert tour lasts 24 hours so you will see much more. We were quoted the same price (400 EGP per person) for their tour, if we understood correctly (no one at el-Waha hotel really speaks English). Just make sure that you get the English-speaking guide (not the guy from el-Waha hotel) if you want one. You want to stay in the White Desert longer than Badawiya takes you. We were nevertheless so happy with the tour that we decided to take another.
So after we came back from the White Desert, we asked for a 2-night&2-day Great Sand Sea tour with start in Farafra and drop-off in Mut at Dakhla oasis. I negotiated with a girl named Amira in their Cairo office on the phone. We were told we can leave in two days because it takes one day to get the permission and we agreed - roughly - what is included. We were going to have a Great Sand Sea safari between Farafra and Mut (the distance between the towns is 300 km and the Great Sand Sea area lies between and next to these towns), two nights camping, all food and drinks, guide and one night at Badawiya’s Farafra hotel. We paid 300 € for two persons for the whole set. Let’s put it into right perspective. It equals an average Egyptian worker’s salary in six months. Or 4 nights in the five-star Hilton Sharm Dreams Resort in Sharm-el-Sheikh (a negotiated walk-in price for a double room with breakfast for one night in Dec 2012: 70 €). I will return to the income and general price level later.
This 300 € was a lot of money for us as well and the biggest expense on our 5-week trip to Egypt. We paid it even though we didn’t get any detailed information about the tour before-hand. The desert and sand dunes were the highlight of our trip and we didn’t think anything could go wrong there. Big money, big adventure. We were wrong. Out of all our safari time (48 hours) we got to spend 3 hours in total in the Great Sand Sea!  We asked our guide, Jahjah (Yahyah?), several times about the programme and expressed our wish to be at the dunes. He never answered, just smiled mystically. He did repeat “It’s up to you” on several occasions but nothing really was up to us. He was our guide also in the White Desert and we knew he doesn’t talk much. There was another man driving in this tour but he never spoke to us so we don’t even know his name.
Slowly we understood that this “safari” is considered a mere transportation from Farafra to Mut (that costs by public transport 15 EGP (2 €), or 20+ for foreigners, by the way). We drove almost all the way on the asphalt road. Besides the 3-hour stay at the sand sea, there were a couple short stops next to the road. We camped the first night close to the road and the second in Dakhla oasis close to inhabitation. The highlight was the one-hour walk we had on the dunes, in the Great Sand Sea, where one could see only sand and sky. It was exactly what we were looking for. Had we known it’s our only time, we would have insisted on staying there longer. But nothing was told us (where we are, for how long etc.). The second day I hinted Jahjah:  “we are going to spend this entire day at the Great Sand Sea, right?” Again no answer. We hit the asphalt road again and were taken to al-Qasr mudbrick town (already within Dakhla oasis) where a guide waited for us (he wasn’t happy with 20 EGP baksheesh we gave for his 20 minutes but couldn’t say anything in English). During our tour in the mudbrick town, Jahjah had kindly bought me local fragrance bags I wanted. I had given him 50 EGP (for 5 bags) and expected some change. I didn’t get any. I also didn’t ask, as it was a test: I wanted to know. (One fragrance bag costs 2-3 EGP.) We asked if we could spend the last sunlight hours left on the dunes in a place where we can only see dunes. Jahjah agreed. But we had passed the Great Sand Sea area already around noon (as we drove to al-Qasr) and instead, we were driven to the edge of a local, small dune area that we could walk from one end to another in an hour. There were villages on both sides. We camped there and were dropped off next morning at the servee square in close-by Mut (at least this went as we wanted).
We were very disappointed with the tour and expressed it to Badawiya. They were not eager to handle our complaint. My first e-mail to the owner Mr. Saad Ali didn’t get us anywhere. I got a reply that his inbox is full. The second try to their info-address was ignored but Amira accidentally answered to my other mail and so I got into contact with them about this issue. We didn’t seem to get far though, so we decided to spend our last day in Egypt by going to their office in Cairo (it took a GPS and several hours to find the well-hidden office). They offered us a 10 % discount on the next tour we take from them. (This “offer” surely never gets used.) We said it’s not good because we’re not coming to Egypt again. We also proved that we know the local prices (so they couldn’t start with any cost issues). Amira then called the owner and asked me to mail them a detailed report of our tour with my bank connection. She would talk with the owner and see how much refund we would get. We did what asked. We suggested a refund of 100-150 € and we would have been happy with that. (In Farafra we were actually told, we can get the money back if we’re not satisfied with the tour.) After some weeks and reminders we were told there is no refund because the tour went as normal (as one can see on their 5-day safari tour description page, can one?) and because they had paid 200 € for the permission to go to the area!
This is where they were caught up red-handed. I couldn’t believe it and started investigating the matter. I asked another travel agency for help. I explained them our whereabouts at the desert, sent a picture of the old metal stuff that was on the furthest point in the desert where we stopped, and quoted the place names where Badawiya had told us we had been. The result was (as I thought) that we had been there “100 % sure” without permission. One doesn’t need a permission to go that close to the road (we drove about max 6 km into the desert off the asphalt road). Our permission was not controlled and there were no control posts or any other people. Furthermore, if a permission had been needed, it would have taken a month to issue (if you go to Gilf Kebir or elsewhere close to border areas). It also came out that we hadn’t been to the places (Ghroud Karawen sand dunes and Deir el Hagar) Badawiya told us. I heard those places are far from each other and they don’t “make any sense” with the place where we had actually been. Yes, Badawiya is good at making up stories - and charging for them (or other-way round). Well, by claiming that a permission cost 200 € they actually gave away that this was how much air was in the price.
Now let’s look at the relevant, true local prices to find out if this is true. One liter petrol costs 2 EGP (0,25 €) per liter. We drove let’s say 350 km by a jeep that took maybe 15 liters petrol per 100 km, this makes 105 EGP (13 €). We got 2 times lunch, dinner and breakfast (local food). Good local restaurants charge 5 EGP for breakfast, 15 for lunch and 25 for dinner. Our meals were cooked on camp fire and were of course simple but tasted excellent and included almost everything that you get at restaurant. Let’s count by the restaurant price, we get for all meals for two 180 EGP (22,50 €). A 1,5 liter water bottle costs 2 EGP, we also had different kinds of teas. Let’s put 20 EGP (2,50 €) for drinks. Then we had a guide and a driver. An average Egyptian worker earns 400 EGP (50 €) a month (source: documentary film Another Night on Planet, 2012) and a doctor earns double, 100 € a month (sources: newspaper Egypt Independent, Nov 2012, and a hospital doctor in Nuweiba). Let’s say our guides earn better than average but not as much as a doctor: 600 EGP a month, 150 a week, 30 a day. They worked for 48 hours (equals to 6 days, though I’m not sure if Egyptians calculate it like this but at least it’s not too little) which makes 360 EGP (45 €) for both of them.  The Badawiya hotel night in Farafra costs according to the price list at the reception 30 € (240 EGP) a night (double room) for foreigners. We get this way total costs of 905 EGP (113 €). Indeed, the 200 € went for the airy permission.
Of course, this is nothing special in the way Egyptians deal with tourists. It is in their national psyche to overcharge foreigners. There seems to be no difference between the service providers, no matter how fancy it looks outside, it’s the same inside? There should be a reasonable limit to overcharge, though. If you charge a price that would be considered high also in a western country, the service should be of same, high standard. The customer should be given what he ordered and what he pays for and cut off the possible widespread bull****. If the times are hard, as in Egypt now, the locals seem to think the solution is to charge the one client there is as much as one would normally charge five clients. This may bring profit in the short term but is bad for your reputation and business in the long run.
Finally some good advice how to book a tour in Egypt. A tour booked from abroad is the most expensive tour. You should travel independently and have lots of time.  Remember that there’s no guarantee that what has been agreed will be kept. Another point to keep in mind; once you hand over any cash, you will never see it again. Also never expect too much. Here we go: 1) Know the local price level (get a local friend who has nothing to do with tourism), 2) calculate the costs of the tour, 3) decide the max amount what you are willing to pay (don’t say it loud), 4) walk to the tour office, 5) demand to know the exact itinerary with a map (this is a tough one as reading maps is rare), i.e. where you will be taken and for how long, 6) find out the actual distances (here you need a map or a GPS because distances are as much Hebrew as maps), 7) ask for the price and 8) say it’s too expensive. 9) Ask what other costs there will be during the tour. 10) Ask separately about every possible detail whether it’s included in the price that comes to your mind (take nothing for granted, not even a cup of tea, a helmet or a scarf for quad biking). 11) Haggle for your life. 12) Walk away. 13) Repeat steps 4-12 in other tour offices. 11) Start a new round and bargain hard or make your final decision right away (you probably prefer this by then). When you’re satisfied with the tour, you’re good to go!


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