Justin had never been on an extended train ride before. I had been on a few in Europe and vowed that I would never take a long distance local train again. This is because after experiencing an 6 hour ride that was suppose to be 3 from Florence to Rome I was fuming. So, when Nabil, the owner of Hotel Osiris and the planner for the rest of our time in Egypt, told us he could not get us on the desired express sleeper train for the 12 hour overnight ride from Cairo to Aswan I was, to say the least, a little concerned. Turns out because it was the end of Ramadan everyone is Egypt was traveling to their home away from Cairo and we were “lucky” to get our “first class” tickets on train 996. We both asked many times about the quality of the train, how many times it stopped and if the service was normally on time. Nabil assured us it was a quality train, we would arrive on time, and all we needed to do was “Relax”. We trusted him, big mistake.
As the dirty, rusty wagons squeaked into the station we looked at ourselves and knew we were in for an interesting journey. The doors opened the chaos began. Egyptians rushed the doors, all yelling at each other in their native tongue, loading bicycles, tied up cardboard boxes, piles of luggage, and entire families from infants to great grandparents being carried on from their wheelchairs (decathator and all, literally). When the storm of people began to clear we boarded the train and found our seats. Luckily, we were not in one of the 6 person cabins but rather in a smaller 3-person cabin, so no matter who else boarded the train, we had the 2-1 advantage on them.
The “first class” was certainly anything but, before the train even departed we had sanitized our hands a half a dozen times because of how filthy it was, and the seats certainly did not allow for a pleasurable nights sleep. Then there was the public bathroom, I am not even going to go there just use your imagination then double the filth, no joke. Now we waited, waited for the other passenger to board and waited for the train to depart, we soon found that waiting was the theme of this journey. The train scheduled to depart at 10pm did not start moving until 11:15, then it made a stop about every 15 minutes. Around the third stop a young student joined us in our cabin. We were relieved to have a “normal” person, so we dozed off with the help of the mini pharmacy from our packs.
When we regained full consciousness around 8am, we expected to be at our stop in Luxor, thus having only 2 more hours on the train. When we asked one of the “staff” how much longer, we found out that because of all the stops we were still a good 4 hours from Luxor and at least 7 from Aswan. Of course this was all “Allah willing” (which seems to be the theme in Egypt, anything goes wrong they blame is on Allah, meaning god did not want them to be on time. We think its just a excuse for their incompetence). Then the train “waiter” asked us for a tip after telling us the about the 7 hour delay. A tip after telling us our train was a good 7 hours delayed? Ha, might. However, every couple of hours the “staff” would come by and demand a tip, for what we are unsure, but just to get them to leave us alone we would give them an Egyptian pound (25 cents) and tell them to get lost. The hours came and went and for the last hour of the ride every member of the “staff” approach our cabin and say, “10 minute to Aswan, tip.” We were almost ready to kill these people when we got off the train. Finally after 18 and a half hours, it was 4:30pm and we made it to Aswan. We got in a cab, went to our hotel, which was pretty nice, and went straight for the pool trying to laugh off the experience. Well, we did but also agreed from now on, tourist trains, ONLY!