Egypt - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 79

Train to Aswan

Friday 30th May

Cairo was a very welcoming, if intensely hectic city and we leave it now on the first-class, overnight train down to Aswan for the start of our six-day tour of the country's most precious jewels.

In the meantime, however, let me catch up on the day’s events that started with an uncharacteristically late start to the morning when I heard Sandy yell out to me “Chris! It’s ten o’clock already!” We must have both rested relatively well to sleep in that late. Since Sandy cannot tolerate moving air and I could only get to sleep with the high-speed fan blowing air across my body, we each slept in separate beds. Mustafa had put us into the back room that has three beds in it and two of them are at opposite ends of the spacious room so we were both able to sleep well without one of us bothering the other. We sleep in separate beds like this from time to time for practical reasons and last night was a classic example.

Since we were to be checking out today, it was all hands to the backpacks again, as collected everything from around the room. It usually takes us less than about three minutes after arriving at a hostel or hotel room to completely turn out our backpacks and to make a general mess of the place. Our room always looks like a bomb has hit it but there is order in the chaos and we always know where everything is at any given time. We also have our packing routing down pat now and everything that we have with us has its place in one our four backpacks. Each and every compartment of space accommodates a piece of clothing, shoe or other piece of travel gear that is just the right size, shape and weight. This is why it’s such an adjustment when we pick something up along the way as it sometimes means reordering and restructuring the contents of our bags. Generally speaking, we haven’t picked things up along the way by design. Things that we have purchased along the way have been sent home through the post office but Cairo has proven to be the odd exception. We are now toting a large tube full of the papyrus artwork that we purchased yesterday and we will probably keep this tube with us until we reach Europe. If the opportunity arises to send it through the post, so be it but it’s not big enough to be a major concern in and of itself.

Having packed our things away with the usual efficiency, we stored everything in the common room and went out into Cairo to take on the Egyptian Museum. We’ve wanted to tackle this a couple of times already but something else always seemed to get in the way. Today was most likely our last chance to do so since we may not return to Cairo. Our tour through the country terminates at the end of our cruise up the Nile to Luxor, where we will likely arrange transportation over to Hurghada before catching the ferry over to Sharm El Sheik.

I had an interesting time trying to communicate with the guy at the front desk this morning. We are rapidly approaching the date of our originally planned flight out of Amman but it is our intention to push this date forward by a few days so I wanted to call the airline this morning to make the change.  We can push the date forward by almost a whole month without incurring any penalties – although I still have my doubts as to what we will happen when we actually try to make this change. All the staff at the hostel have been wonderful but few of them speak more than a few words of English. It took almost half an hour trying to get my point across to the young man this morning that I needed him to find the phone number for Emirates Airlines at the Airport. It was only after the full combination of verbiage, body language in the form of charades and drawing little pictures on pieces of paper that I finally managed to make myself understood but, alas, the offices were closed today so all the effort was in vein. Still, it was an amusing interlude and the experience can only have widened my communication and personal skills that little bit farther 🙂

The Egyptian Museum is just up the road from our hostel but since it was already late in the morning, we decided to grab brunch at the KFC on the way – gotta love those fast-food franchises. Today must have been some kind of holiday or something since the roads were relatively bare and most of the shops were closed. Whatever it was must also be the explanation of why the airline offices were also closed. Luckily for us, however, the KFC was open and we enjoyed the full attention of the staff there that were obviously bored and looking for someone to pamper with service. We didn’t complain.

The procedure to get into the museum was also far less of a hassle than our guidebook would have us believe but this too must be as a result of the reduced numbers of people out and about today. Interestingly, there was quite a showing of strength on the part of the military police in the area immediately surrounding the museum. Military personnel, clad in bullet-proof vests and toting rifles, manned several locations up and down the streets and there were even some standing behind bullet-proof screens. Additional security measures such as these have been put into effect in recent times as a result of world events. The people and tourists here don’t seem to be put off by any of it, though. Life still goes on as it must and we don’t bat an eyelid to any of it. There are large numbers of police and traffic guards dressed in white uniforms all over the place here anyway and they all carry semi-automatic guns around their shoulders so people are quite used to living with it all.

The Egyptian Museum is an amazing place and takes second place only to the pyramids of Giza as the utmost must-see location in Cairo, if not Egypt as a whole. It houses a truly phenomenal array of artefacts that any museum could possibly boast and the sheer volume of it all makes any attempt at trying to see everything an exercise in complete futility. The adage here is that if you spent one minute at every artefact, you would need seven years to see everything (or something like that).

Sandy was in her element and was enthusiastically photographing anything that wasn’t moving. It took just an hour or so before I, on the other hand, became totally and completely bored and I ended up sitting down somewhere trying to preserve energy in the heat. Only a few rooms in the huge building are air-conditioned and the temperature inside is only marginally cooler than outside. With a touch of traveller’s diarrhoea also bothering me since last night, I wasn’t too much in the mood for the endless corridors and rooms of the museum. I’m never very happy in a museum at the best of times and you can only hold interest in so many stone coffins covered in hieroglyphics.

Sandy decided she would fork out the extra E£10 to go into the mummy chamber (without camera – they are strictly forbidden in there) so I waited outside for her. All in all, Sandy thoroughly enjoyed her visit to the museum – and I was also present.

We finally left the museum sometime around four in the afternoon and subsequently spent a good couple of hours at our favourite Internet café. We treated ourselves to a banana split and whiled away some time pouring over yet more e-mail. I had a great exchange of e-mails with Paul David and we managed to exchange several of them with each other over the course of an hour or so. Most of the time, a simple e-mail conversation is usually spread out over several days or weeks due to the time it takes for people to reply and the various infrequent visits we make to an Internet café somewhere. Since both he and I were sat in one place for the same period of time, this was a rare treat and we had a comforting tête-à-tête with each other. It also brought home the realisation that we are now much closer to the end of our trip than the beginning and I find myself slowly thinking more and more about what we will do when we arrive back home.

Back to the hostel, then for the very last time, to pick up our bags and to be whisked off to the train station to catch our southbound train to Aswan. A nice gesture on the part of the hostel was that the guy behind the desk actually took us by taxi all the way to the station and right up to the door of the train to make sure we made it OK. Mustafa was not there but he called us in the taxi on his employee’s cell phone to make sure that everything was OK and to also confirm that we had his cell phone number to call if there were any problems - another nice touch.

Our train compartment is comfortable, if a little small with two pull-down beds which we will make use of shortly. Dinner was served pretty much immediately after departure and was actually quite nice – much better than the average airline meal. Breakfast tomorrow morning is at seven thirty, which is about an hour before our arrival in Aswan. Someone holding a sign with our names should be there waiting for us. Our tout has begun.