I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed some of the most unique shopping experiences on the planet. From the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to Shibuya in Tokyo, I’ve loved every minute whether I pulled out my credit card or not. While I’ve seen floating markets on klongs in Thailand and lakes in Mexico, nothing could have prepared me for the shopping experience I was about to have while cruising down the Nile on Uniworld’s River Tosca.
We were halfway through the cruise and almost to Aswan. I was lying down and enjoying the sun when the first unknown flying object sailed over the rails of the top deck of the ship, flew past my head and landed with a thud onto a day bed next to me. Unrolling the cloth bundle out of the plastic bag that held it, I discovered a golden sphinx staring back at me: it was a gaudy ‘bling bling’ tee shirt with the word ‘Egypt’ written on it. Everyone on deck was staring in bewilderment when suddenly another cloth bomb landed, and then a third.
All the passengers quickly made our way to the side of the boat to discover that four small motorboats had attached themselves to our river cruise ship, two on either side. The boats were loaded with local Egyptians taking the opportunity to sell their wares before we even docked on dry land.
“Tonight is the fancy dress…” they shouted while holding up galabiyas, “…you need this to look like an Egyptian!”
Our floating industrialists were right of course: it was indeed the first “fancy dress” night. They were hedging their bets that most of the tourists aboard hadn’t thought to buy anything yet. The bet paid off, and the fun began. Plastic bag bags filled with the cloth robes that are so common in Egypt began pelting the sun deck like hail. The scene was so comical it bordered on surreal, a modern day capitalist version of pirates hurling cannon balls at a much bigger vessel to claim their booty. All of us were soon leaning over the edge of the ship’s railing shouting down our requests at the waterborne salesmen.
“It’s too small” a portly tourist would say.
“Throw it back, I have another, King Size for you!” the merchant would reply.
I watched the weary trader as he scrambled left and right, rocking the small boat almost to the tipping point as he tried to grab the poor pitches of returned merchandise from the western tourist. Larger items began landing on deck as well: Rugs, blankets, scarves and countless souvenirs were deftly thrown aboard. Some landed in their intended spot with others landing on the balcony and overhangs that blanketed the ship’s top deck.
As the sun began to set, plastic bags rained down on the salesmen from the River Tosca full of cash and coins, their purchased contents replaced with payment to complete the exchange. Untying from our boat, the tiny vessels silently slipped back into the water, while the peddlers onboard waved and cheered goodbye.
If You Go: