I glanced up from my book and I was looking down the muzzle of an assault rifle.
I was sitting in the Ramses station in Cairo, bored out of my skull as I had arrived 3 hours early. I did not want to take any chances in missing the last train out of Cairo tonight. My train was not until 22:00, but I sat with my book, breathing the diesel fumes and watched as many came and went. This particular train had stopped just perfectly so that the armed policeman which seems to be aboard all the trains was directly in line with where I was sitting. He was wearing a helmet and holding his AK style weapon out the window like he was defending a bunker or something. He could not have been more than 19 years old and his helmet was about 3 sizes too big, going down below his ears, which made him look like an Egyptian Darth Vader or something. I did not care if he was my father (heavy breathing), I did not want him pointing his weapon in my general direction so I moved to another bench.
By the time my train had finally arrived, I had managed to learn my numbers in Arabic script, because there are no English numbers on the trains or buses. When my 73 Egyptian pound (not bad considering it was 50 EL to sleep in a hostel) ride to Luxor came, I was well prepared. I walked down the line until I found the squiggly line for car #2, and then seat #23. My advice for anyone wanting the train is to bring winter clothes – I could almost see my breath in there the AC was so strong! I would swear that I saw snow coming from the vents at one point. 🙂 In the first hour, they had me change cars 3 separate times for no obvious reason other than to take a perfectly calm situation and create a goat rodeo out of mid-air. There was a car full of cute Russian girls, but i ended up in different compartments on each side of them, and finally in a car with a French couple. They were friendly, but when we turned the lights out, the wet, slurping sounds of PDA and tonsil-hockey started. Thank God for IPODS. 🙂
The 12 hours to Luxor went very smoothly. I was attacked by touts as soon as I got off the train….I saw them from the windows, circling like sharks and salivating on themselves. When I stepped off onto the platform, they literally came running, not walking, and formed a circle around us. On the train, I met 2 Swedish guys that were living in Cork and London of all places, so we stuck together and I navigated through the madness to a hotel that my buddy Simon had recommended about 2KM southwest of the station. My compass has been invaluable on this trip, as I cannot read the sun here…it is not the same angle as in North America! The hotel is a total backpacker dive, but my room is $2 and I have my own shower – but cold water straight from the Nile of course – woohoo! My part of Luxor is pretty much like a scaled down version of Cairo, dirty and loud, but a short 20 min walk put me into a nice civilized area that borders the Nile. So this is how the non-backpacking half lives? Not bad! There were many sidewalk cafes and expensive shops like “Gucci” and others. Dozens of large Nile cruise ships bobbed up and down on the river, Im sure their passengers were somewhere in the city being bothered for a falucca or horse carriage ride.
Luxor is in “Upper Egypt” south, down the Nile, and is built around a temple which glows with an eerie orange light at night and has a ghostly feel. It is also home to the sprawling Karnak temple, Valley of the Kings (and other valleys), and a multitude of other important ruin sites. It is also known as the hassle capital of Egypt because this town exists for pretty much just one reason, tourism. There are very few, if any, non-tourist businesses here.
I did stumble into the Oasis Cafe, which is a little expensive, but wow! Perfect spicy lentil soup, Jazz music, and its clean…not a single fly! It was run by a very friendly Sudanese woman, which spoke nearly perfect English, and we talked for quite a while. Its outside of most normal backpacker budgets, but coffee is 7 LE and the atmosphere is worth it just to excape the madness outside. I have really been enjoying the strong Turkish coffee they have here, which is baked in an oven and has the consistency of mud, but wow is it good! The cafe sits near the main souq area, so I did a whirlwind shopping trip for some gifts. I managed to haggle the price of a bag I wanted down literally 300%, so if you come, NEVER take the first 5 prices.
And now for the news:
I have made an important decision that has been a long time coming. I have decided that, with only 12 days remaining of vagabonding in Egypt, that I am going to take the soft road and chill on the Red Sea for 1 week. It has been a lifechanging, but sometimes challenging, year of travel, and so I think a week of beach holiday would be the perfect ending. My mental energy is running low, and so while I should be staring in awe at these 4000 year old ruins, I am more or less just checking them off my list and moving on….not good in my opinion. Sure, I will not get much more Arab culture, and may never get another opportunity to try fried goat’s brains, but I can use the rest and a week to meditate on everything that has happened to me this year. There are still many places I have not seen in Egypt, and it is safe to say that I would fail any backpacker’s test on what I did while here, but I think I have had more than enough already. It would be nice to return home for Christmas in one piece. My only adventure will be some serious diving in the Red Sea next week, which if it goes like the last dive did, should be hair raising enough for the end of my year. 🙂 My fever is gone and my infected hands are finally starting to heal up, so its time to get back into the water!