Journal: Friday 29 September 2000
We took our seats on the Aswan train leaving Cairo at 12.30am. We had bought first class tickets which cost an incredible LE60 (LE40 for me with my International Student Card discount). That’s only about £6.00 in English for a ten hour journey of 660km! The spotlessly clean carriage was occupied mostly by Western tourists, but there were also one or two Egyptian businessmen, while most of the Egyptian families were travelling in the second or third class coaches. I was very impressed by the train. The seats were wide, comfortable and spacious, with reclining backs and they could even be swivelled around to face the opposite direction. It felt like business class on an aircraft. There were overhead video screens for entertainment, but I was thankful that nothing was playing as we hoped to get some sleep during the long journey south through the Nile Valley. Jenny and I both managed to doze after a while but the train was regularly speeding up then slowing down or stopping at stations along the route. There were plain clothes security men in our carriage, rather obvious in their grey suits with gun holsters bulging beneath their jackets. About once an hour a trolley containing food was pushed by and we could buy drinks and snacks or even airline-style meals on trays. After a few hours I visited the toilet at the end of the carriage, which made me decide it was not a good idea to eat or drink too much, as the floor was already swimming under about 15cm of dirty-looking water. However, this is my only criticism of my first long-distance train journey in Egypt.
It’s a pity it was dark because the journey by day would have been much more interesting. The train speeded past a variety of countryside and through towns I had never visited, but by 6.00am the sun was already rising and we were able to look out of the windows and watch people going out into the fields with their animals to start their morning’s work. When we got to el-Balyana I recognised where we were because I have done this part of the journey by train before to Abydos and the terrain became more familiar. At Sohag a young man called Moutaz got on the train. He is a tour guide who Jenny had met before in Luxor and we passed the final few hours in interesting conversation with him, arriving at Luxor railway station at 10.30am.
Our arrival time was actually 9.30am because the clocks had gone back an hour overnight from EST (which we hadn’t realised) but luckily the taxi we had arranged to take us to our West Bank apartment was waiting for us. Jenny and I both felt very tired but happy to be back in Luxor at last – a much more familiar place where I feel comfortable because I know how things work here.
We crossed over the bridge to the West Bank and to the apartment at Kom Lolla which would be our home for the next 17 days. The owner was waiting for us with the key and showed us around. It’s very basic but large and airy and we both felt that we would be happy here. The double front door leads into a huge, high-ceilinged, open hall, with a table and chairs, a refrigerator and an old-fashioned boiler for washing clothes. There is a small kitchen with an ancient dubious-looking bottle-gas cooker and deep sink and a bathroom with shower that looked, well… adequate. Jenny and I chose our bedrooms from the three available, flung open the windows that looked out over a canal and agricultural fields towards the distant river and decided to get a few hours sleep. It seems so quiet and peaceful here after the chaotic city-life of Cairo.
I woke up mid-afternoon to find that the apartment was full of mosquitoes. It hadn’t been such a good idea to leave the windows open, because the protective mesh screens that cover them are full of holes and the canal is obviously a breeding-ground for insects. We unpacked and showered and decided to get the ferry over to Luxor to change money and pick up some supplies. One of my priorities was a can of mosquito-killer and the other, a new pillow from the government shop because I hate the rock-hard bolster that is provided. I imagine it’s like sleeping on an ancient Egyptian head-rest. Even Luxor town seemed quiet and we didn’t see many tourists around, but maybe that was just because we’d come from the bustling metropolis. We had dinner at the Amoun restaurant and lingered with coffee into the evening over my favourite occupation – people-watching. It’s great to be ‘home’ in Luxor and before long all the problems of Cairo were fading into distant memory.