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Egypt Part 4: Cairo to Aswan on the Overnight Train

Updated on June 8, 2011
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Glendon and his wife have led church ministries, conducted empowerment seminars, and travelled to faraway places on business and vacation.

After leaving the museum we made a bee line for the railway station in Central Cairo in order to catch the overnight sleeper train to Aswan.

But I was not willing to say goodbye to the largest metropolis in Africa without a last walk in a shopping bazaar. This was not really the last day in Cairo for the trip, but the last business day for me since I was planning to return from Luxor on Sabbath morning. Ayman left us in the hands of the driver, and we asked to be taken to a fruit market before going to the train station. We stopped at a crowded, colourful, noisy, busy street market. Fruits, clothes, food, lots and lots of herbs and nuts everywhere. An old lady was sitting over a pot with a curd like substance inside. I tried to ask the driver now turned guide what it was. His English was not excellent but I was led to believe that it had a dairy origin.

We saw handbags that we nearly purchased. But we were there to buy fruits so we got some grapes and mangoes. The grapes turned out later to be wonderfully sweet but we were served a liberal cup of it on the train later that evening so I could have spared myself the expense.

Cairo street market.  Photo by Glendon Caballero
Cairo street market. Photo by Glendon Caballero
Fruit stall in a Cairo street market.  Photo by Glendon Caballero
Fruit stall in a Cairo street market. Photo by Glendon Caballero
Cairo market.  Photo by Glendon Caballero.
Cairo market. Photo by Glendon Caballero.

A very interesting episode took place in the market after we had gone deep in the side street and turned around. Dear wife and the driver left me behind at a stall where I stopped to make small talk with three Egyptian beauties vending their wares. By the time the driver rescued me (or them), one was already asking him if I was good for wife. At least that was what he translated. We all had a good laugh. I am not sure wife found it very funny.

The outstanding thing about the wait at the railway station was that our driver insisted on remaining with us until we were placed on the train about two hours later. This kind of service was very special. I knew we had paid for it but it was the first time in all my travels that a hired service provided someone to actually remain in place until you have boarded the transport. Well…it’s kind of automatic when flying but the airline protocol is an enclosed logistical and security system.

In order to proceed to the platform you pass through security checkpoint with machine and all. Once on the platform you see white uniformed policemen just like in the streets.

I engaged total strangers in social and political conversations about the positive side of Egypt. I praised the absence of idlers, beggars, layabouts. Just busy people going about their business. I was impressed. One man said it had something to do with Islam.

What was evident was dust and dirt everywhere. My goodness. The trains were covered with dust. And just opposite the platform was housing that by any standards did not advertise Cairo well.

Vendors sold water and other knick knacks on platform. There was an air of order and discipline. And I suppose the white uniformed police, well armed and alert would add to that!

Waiting for the train to Aswan.  Photo by Glendon Caballero.
Waiting for the train to Aswan. Photo by Glendon Caballero.

At least two trains were army transport. Young smiling soldiers in green fatigue. I enquired and was told that there was an army training centre at Aswan hence the military trains.

The sleeper train to Aswan was late but not too dusty. Inside was clean enough. My first experience of a Pullman car. Took me a while to figure out things. The motion allowed for dining and sleep, with some amount of sensory tolerance.

The supper did not smell or taste good. Only the grapes were palatable. Something in the rice smelled repugnant. And I am easy to feed.

After supper was served the extremely polite porter came along to help with setting up the bunks for sleeping. I took the upper bunk of course, and was too exhausted to try anything but sleep.

We had been duly informed that we would arrive in Aswan after sunrise so I tried my best to sleep. I kept waking up because of the rocking and the sound of the train. And I guess the sheer excitement of travel.

A little after midnight my wife woke me up with an excited pitch saying that we had arrived. I told her it was impossible. She insisted on asking the porter who pointed her to the female toilet; poor fellow thought she was asking for the bathroom!

She had seen a sign saying ASYUT and somehow mistaken it for ASWAN.

Jamaicans or anyone with similar dialect will understand that this is now a standard family joke because the word ‘Asuit’, at least in English, looks like “a see you it”. So for the rest of trip I teased her with “A see u it. A yu see it, a yu see Aswan”.

As morning lightened we could make out the date palms and roads running parallel to the track. I got up and just started to take photo after photo. The speed of the train cause some blurriness but the suggestion of motion will make some of them tolerable so here are pictures as we neared Aswan.

Even before we disembarked someone was on the platform asking for us.  So we were quickly escorted to a waiting car where we met the wonderful Abdul who became our friend and guide for the journey to the historic Dam and beyond.


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