Nestled on a small Aswan island, Agilika Eco-Lodge employs an unusual and refreshing concept; you determine how much you will be paying for your stay. Ahmed Samy speaks to the man behind unique idea, Timur El-Hadidi, about its founding, his philosophy, and the challenges he's faced along the way.
Located on a small island in Aswan lies a serenely beautiful Eco-lodge which runs on an idea that seems far fetched and much too well-intentioned for today's world; you decide how much you are willing to pay for your stay there. This concept, though idealistic, may in a way be exactly what the world today and the people living in it need. Owned by Timur El-Hadidi and located on an island named Heissa, the magical Agilika Lodge is actually named after the island Agilika that used to be home to the famous Philae temple before it was moved. It’s a Nubian word meaning 'don’t forget me' which seems to be something we have done to the Nubians and their beautiful culture on our land. So I spoke to El-Hadidi about the unusual but refreshing concept behind the lodge.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea first started in 2010; I went to a festival in Aswan titled Characters of Egypt organised by Waleed Ramadan. It’s a music festival on the island Heissa where he invites all the tribes of Egypt to play traditional music together. There was a boat taking guests to and from the island; it was there that I met Felix, a Nubian who lived in Aswan and was manning one of the boats. As time passed, we became friends and he told me about his dream, which was this piece of land that he wanted to turn into an Eco-lodge. I didn’t take him seriously at first, but one day he decided to show me the land. It blew my mind, that incredible location, which was adjacent from Philae Temple.
We left but he never stopped calling, for a whole year. Later on my father passed and I wanted to invest the inheritance in a charitable way and what better way than to help some of the most unfortunate people in Egypt, the Nubians. My wife and I decided to go down to Aswan and build the Eco-lodge. It was very challenging because there are no big boats to transport any of our supplies; we had to transport every brick, every bag of cement using the little motorized Felucca boats. Another challenge was our contractor getting arrested at a check point - he had his 8-year-old son, and out of nowhere they decided to take him at the stop, and test his urine for drugs, and he had been wrongly arrested. We met many challenges - the list is endless - however now we have 31 beds in 10 rooms, a restaurant, and shared restrooms.
What’s your philosophy behind it?
We’re trying to run the place in a different manner; there are no prices, and we’re trying to raise the consciousness of people by letting them set their own price. They can also contribute and do some work, like design, painting, electricity, plumbing, etc. Someone can donate a boat - whatever you contribute is welcome and makes your stay free. If not, you determine your own price.
Is it working well? What are the challenges you’re facing?
The season starts from September to May - in the summer it’s just too hot. So in the winter it’s great, and it works well, sometimes people just to stop for juice or tea after a day at Philae, but the concept of not having prices really sets people off. They can’t seem to grasp the concept. So sometimes we have to set a decent fair price for a cup of tea as opposed to the tourism market, which is set out to rob tourists of their money.
What’s next in store for you?
I would love to open a platform for Eco-lodges in Egypt, so I can empower these places, set standards and unify them. Create an umbrella for all these businesses and make them work in a single, unified, powerful way. And create alternative travel platforms for tourists visiting Egypt seeking something different.
Where do you see Agilika Lodge in 5 years?
The dream is to have the Nubians manage it to themselves, to run the Eco-lodge in a natural, easy, and efficient way. I want them to regain their culture, confidence and happiness; I forbid anything foreign to be sold there; the food, and soft drinks are just traditional Nubian food and drinks like in their villages. I want the guests and Nubians to enjoy their heritage without the capitalist influence of modern culture. That would be my ultimate dream.