Our train ride from Cairo to Aswan was a very interesting experience. We’d booked reserved seats, but when we boarded our carriage there was someone sitting in one of our seats. There was this Egyptian who asked the dude in our seat to move, and when he wouldn’t, all of a sudden, like ten different people were involved in this discussion – plus they were all standing up for us; the foreigners. After much Arabic yapping the seats finally got sorted out. Once we’d all sat down and were beginning to get comfortable Sarah turned to the window and said, “Don’t look now, but there’s a big cockroach that just crawled up the wall and under the window frame.” We asked her if it was necessary to share that information with us. [Hence the birth of the “Things you don’t want to Know” list]
The train pulled away and a few stops later heaps of people got on and started putting all their crap in the overhead bins in our carriage. Sarah’s pack was across the aisle up above and one Egyptian slid it farther down the rack to make room for his 15 boxes he was about to put up there. When he’d moved Sarah’s pack he accidentally squashed another local’s bag. I don’t know what was in the smashed bag, but Wow! All hell broke loose. The man whose bag got smashed stood up and started screaming at the top of his lungs at the first dude. Plus, with Egyptians being the busy bodies that they are, at least twenty people in the surrounding area stood up and began screaming at the two men in Arabic. Rather amusing to those of us who didn’t understand a word of the language – seeing these “eyes” dressed in black head to foot yapping away at the two Egyptians. It turns out the dude who did the bag smashing just came into our carriage to store his 15 huge boxes even though he was sitting elsewhere. The Egyptians were seriously getting majorly physical and it took a few locals to pry the original troublemakers apart.
We were on and overnight train and at all the major stops (more than 30 seconds) street peddlers would walk down the aisle selling their fruit, plastic combs, etc. Plus, if you got more than one salesman in the carriage at the same time it was utter chaos. Egyptian sellers believe that the volume level of their voices sells more goods. The louder the voice the more stuff he might sell. Wrong. More than one salesman in the carriage at once? They’d have a competition to see who could scream the loudest; each trying to outdo the other. This is all well and good when you’re awake, in fact it offers a twisted type of entertainment for those of us who weren’t used to Third World travel yet. The only problem is at three or four in the morning it’s less than amusing and one begins to wish horrible things, like an acute case of laryngitis, might attack someone nearby.
Our train to Aswan took 16 hours and for the last four hours or so the carriage was completely empty except for these two younger Egyptian guys. We were sitting there and these kids asked the tall Egyptian (for the fourth time) if he wanted to buy nuts and the dude pulled out a knife and said in Arabic something to the effect of “Get the hell out of here – I don’t want any nuts.” The kids hightailed it out of there, never to bother us again. We all had a good laugh after that. The two dudes were about our age, one really tall the other shorter, smartly dressed. They weren’t friends; they’d met on the train down. The smaller guy’s name was Tarek (who’d been sitting next to me for the duration of the ride). and the taller one’s name was something like Havall (we’ll call him Keshava for short). Tarek worked for a hotel and was in the water business while Keshava was a student at Cairo University. Neither spoke much English, so it took a lot of pantomime and patience to communicate. We sat with them for a while and by the time we got to Aswan they wanted to help us to make sure we’d get to our hotel. (This is where it gets weird.) Tarek was way mellow, but Keshava wanted to hang around us, etc., which made us put up our guard. We all got a cab into town and after looking at one hotel that was too expensive I went scouting around for a cheaper place with Tarek. I’d handed Rich my day pack when we’d gotten out of the cab so I could put my big pack on, but I forgot to get it back from him. I went off with Tarek and found a hotel while Rich and Sarah waited with Keshava a few blocks away. I went and got them and we all checked into this hotel in the center of the main market. When I returned to lead them to the hotel Keshava was no where to be found (not that I was really looking for him anyway). When we’d gotten all our stuff up into the room I realized that my day pack (containing my plane tickets, camera, and glasses) was missing. Rich said he hadn’t seen it since getting out of the cab. With the realization of having to get all this shit replaced Rich and I ran back through the market to the spot where we’d been dropped off, and we’d left in such a hurry that Rich hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt. The pack wasn’t where we’d been dropped off, so Rich and I tried to piece together what had happened when out of nowhere Keshava appeared telling us to go back to the hotel with him – he said he knew where the pack was. He also said to get back to the hotel because Rich was out in public without a shirt on – I guess that’s a no-no in Egypt.. Weird – he’d disappeared before, then when we’re out in the market looking for my pack he appears and says he knows where it is. We went back to the hotel and once we were in the lobby Keshava went running off into the market. He returned a minute later carrying my pack, which looked like it had been dragged through the scum of the market. My pack had been locked shut, so all the thief could manage to pull out of it was the strap to my camera, which was hanging out of the pack when I received it. Keshava handed me my pack and asked me to open it to make sure all my stuff was still in it. It was. I thanked Keshava (even though he may have been the one to steal the pack in the first place) and tried to give him E£10 (US$3.25) for returning my pack, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with that. We talked for a minute and as I was going into the hotel Keshava called me outside and said if I gave him the E£10 he’d show us around the bazaar in a few hours’ time. Since I’d tried to give him the money earlier I willingly handed him a tenner and told him we’d meet him later.
After talking with Rich and Sarah (immediately after the incident) we still don’t know if Keshava took the pack to try to get money out of us, or if he really did rescue my pack from some other thief. To say the least it made us all a little nervous going out with Keshava later, so we went to the bazaar early with some other people we’d met and left him to his own devices. Keshava was a nice dude, and I still can’t tell if he took the pack or not, but the fact that he refused the money I tried to give him immediately after the pack was returned sways my opinion towards the honesty side. We shall never know his true intentions, but I wish I could – maybe then I wouldn’t be so suspicious so much of the time while traveling. (Written at the end of the second week of travel. The view changed dramatically after India).
Immediately outside the entrance to our hotel was the outer fringe of the market, the street teeming with vegetable sales people, along with a few turkey salesmen down on the corner. Wandered around the bazaar which was jam packed with fruit and vegetable sellers, animals, and various other vendors. A short way down the road was the main bazaar where the fabric, spice, and curio salesmen did their business. We came across a tailor so I paid her E£10 to tailor me a pair of thin cotton pants which would leave me cool yet keep the never ending supplies of flies off my legs. The sun was beginning to go down so we headed down to the Nile and watched the sun set over the water – magnificent. Ate at one of the many floating restaurants on the water then headed back up to our hotel. Here are a few of the things you could order at Emy’s restaurant on the Nile: CAPATCHINO (Cappuccino) for E£1.00 or AXPRESSO (Espresso) for E£2.00. On the way home we stopped and booked ourselves onto a minivan, leaving the next morning for the world famous Abu Simbel temple, four hours south through the desert near the Sudanese border.