When we’re travelling things relax a little, and one of those is bed times and mornings. Unless we have important connections to make we literally go to sleep whenever we want and get up when we wake up. This has meant that generally we’ve gone to sleep around midnight and the awoke around 9am, but there has been has no emphasis on urgency. And with that in mind I didn’t take too much care in finding out the time of the train from Aswan to Luxor, and didn’t anticipate just how much hassle getting there would actually entail.
We got up, and slowly made our way to the train station in Aswan, getting there for around 10.30am. Expecting just to hop on a train and be on our way I couldn’t have been more wrong. No one would sell me a ticket, and kept telling me that the next train was at 3.45pm, I spoke to the ticket office and they said that there are only certain trains foreigners may take. I asked when the next local train was and he said 1.30pm, but refused to sell me a ticket and assured me we’d be kicked off if we boarded.
With that in mind we made our way to the bus station some 3km out of town. Same story, there were only certain buses we could catch with the next being at 4.30pm. We naturally attracted a lot of attention and some bloke came over and showed us to the minibuses, which go when full. I asked the price and he screwed me, it was so obvious as he was asking his mates just how much they could get out of me. The price was LE£60 for us both, I later found out it should have been about LE£40. So we boarded the minibus and as my shit luck would have it the only seats available were the back ones, there was about a centimetre of space, but the journey would only take 3hrs. Then it turns out I was sat behind a tour guide who had just taken a cruise down from Luxor and was now returning, his hard sell began before the mini bus was even half full. Then, just as I was toying up getting off and heading back to the train station the fattest woman in Egypt sticks her nugget through the door and starts shouting at me. The tour guide told me back seats are reserved for women, I explained there was no way at all she was fitting on the back seat, and in any case, I already had the seat so it was just life. Her bell end husband, a skinny guy (obviously since the food in the house was certainly not going his way) started shouting at me too. I had just had enough, I got off the minibus, and then the driver started shouting at me saying we had a deal, I owed him for the fare. I pointed to the woman and said blame her and we made a bee line for the main road, jumping in the first taxi that came along headed back to the train station.
There is a park near the station and so we spent a few hours just relaxing and passing time. And actually it went pretty quick, and within no time it was 12.45 and we made our way to the station. We sneaked past the guard who probably couldn’t have cared less if he tried and hopped on the train to Luxor. With no doors, smashed windows and grubby seats it was a shit hole of a train. Kids were sat smoking and arguing, parents were fighting and it became clear why the Egyptian government and tourism board did not want foreigners on these trains. All the same, the guard came and charged us a total of just LE£22 (two quid) for the 4 hour jolly to Luxor. And honestly, it wasn’t that bad, Jack sat attracting a gang of kids all watching him play his psp, and I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography. The occasional glimpse through the window of the massively overcrowded train showed a beautiful, yet poverty stricken part of Egypt trundle by at around 30km/h.
En route I had realised it would probably be getting dark on arrival to Luxor and so text Jacks mum asking if she would phone ahead to our hotel and ask them to meet us off the train. She told me it was all sorted and so we relaxed a little.
Once off the train I was surprised at how small Luxor looked, I think I expected a huge city, but its not like that at all, it is no where near the scale of Cairo, and more like Aswan, as Luxor too straddles the Nile having an East and a West Bank.
We were on the East bank, which is where all the hotels and restaurants, train station etc is. And within no time we was jumping into the car of the guy who’d come to collect us.
“Listen my friend, tonight the hotel is fully booked, but we have another place for you outside the hotel” instantly I told him to stop the car, he refused assuring me everything would be ok. I tried opening the doors and they were locked, he told me they lock automatically when it’s moving. I told him it was bull shit since the car was older than the pyramids of Giza. When we inevitably got stuck in traffic things got really aggressive, there was two of them in the car, the driver and the guy saying “my friend it is my duty to look after, we Egyptians, we like foreigners, please relax” so when it got stuck in traffic I wound the window down and was shouting police from the window and started to fit Jack through the window. Attracting a lot of attention the guy got out and ran round opening the door letting us out.
We jumped in a taxi and I told him to drive where all the hotels are, I would look for one that looked decent. We found one, actually a really nice place for just LE£90 (9 quid) and I was on the wifi working out just what had happened. I got in touch with the original hotel, a highly revered backpacker place owned by a Belgian woman called Maria. She explained that the hotel had nothing to do with the bollocks at the train station and that Jacks mum must have just phoned some random chancers in Luxor Looking for some commission. As I came to look at a map and get a grip of the city I realised they were driving away from the city, to a part where there are seemingly no hotels and so who knows what was coming for us. Probably some uber expensive hotel in the middle of no where that would mean we had little choice. In any case, Maria said she would personally come and collect us from our new place in the morning.
The hotel we found was right amongst the ex pat, sex tourism part of Luxor. Every hotel and restaurant is pretty much British, ran by British, for the British. Seriously, a whole block of really good, and in some cases fine places. As we were walking looking for somewhere to eat I found a place called the regal lounge, it was like something out of colonial Singapore and full of middle aged couples looking for fun and women looking for sex. But the beer was cheap, the food was cheap and there was a pub quiz.
Jack and I joined a couple from Birmingham who had retired and were now travelling the world, and we came third 🙂 we ate fish and chips and for a while it felt good to be amongst British people. The ex pat community is fantastic, very friendly and full of information, though I have to say, the prices some of the people were telling they had paid, I knew they had been scammed, but since it was cheaper than the UK they were happy nonetheless. As the night wore on Midnight approached and a middle aged woman called Janet took a real liking to Jack, she was acting like his grandma and I could tell she loved kids. She explained that her only son had got married and moved to Australia, she was divorced and so rather than be lonely at home, would float around ex pat communities around the Middle East. It was really nice to be talking to someone, and I felt really sad for her. It reaffirmed the importance of family, and yet I would never discourage my own children from doing the same as her son. I thinks it’s easy to become insular in the UK, but the world is so amazing, and given an opportunity to leave, I would support any one of them.
Anyway the night drew to a close when she became insistent we would have a comfy “and more fun” night at her place. We decided it was time to call it a night.
And so as me and Jack walked back along al-Madina hand in hand to our hotel, the street bustling after midnight, everywhere still open we grabbed a bottle of Sprite, a Kit Kat and and I laughed at how the day had gone. It hadn’t been a bad day, it had been interesting to say the least. But nonetheless, as we climbed into our beds and said goodnight to each other. I was glad it was over, and I think secretly – Jack was too.