“No problem,” Mohammed said when I asked if he could help me explain to the folks at the train station about a possible barter.
When we got there, he went off to pray and I waited in the park by the station. I watched as people gathered and lay in the grass, talking on phones, talking to each other, kids running around. It was a great village vibe in a large city.
Mohammed returned and after a few words with the station manager I was refused the barter.
“In Egypt you cannot do anything without money,” he explained as we walked back to his car.
“There’s always someone out there that is happy to help from the heart rather than the pocket,” I said, unphased by the decline. The only reason I was trying to barter a train ride was because hitchin’ in this desert heat might actually kill me.
Sudan was hard enough but there was no way I was putting my body and mind through that experience again.
“If you can drop me on the highway to Luxor in the morning, that’d be great,” I said.
“No problem,” Mohammed agreed and we set a time for 08:30 to meet by his car.
I pulled in an early night and in the morning Mohammed, true to his word, dropped me off just past the railway line on the road to Luxor. We hugged and shook hands firmly. He’s a good guy with a good heart who made my stay in Aswan a very comfortable one. Regardless of the hundred-plus guys on the Nile trying to get me to take a boat ride, carriage ride, buy hash or other ‘good times’. It seems that the word ‘no’ doesn’t apply to them. They’d yell from across the road, cross it and ask me in the following order:
“Want to take a boat? One hour, sunset. Wanna get high? Wanna smoke hash? Want to buy some jewellery? Take horse and carriage.”
I get the want and need but there are less invasive ways of doing it.
On the road the sun was baking. Luckily, I had some shade which evaporated like the sweat I was collecting as the sun rose higher. One vehicle stopped. The guy, who spoke fluent English, simply couldn’t understand my way of penniless travel.
“I’m sorry,” he kept saying. “But you won’t succeed.”
Yeah, that’s what Robin William’s classmates wrote in his yearbook.
After another half hour a car pulled over. The driver tried to give me 50 Egyptian pounds ($5 USD) but I refused. In the little English he spoke I managed to figure out that he was going about 30 K’s up the road.
“Can you take me with you?” I asked.
“OK,” he said.
I threw in my bags and we hit the road.
Youserri is a civil engineer with a small farm in Balana, our destination.
“My son, Mohammed, civil engineer,” he told me of his family. “My daughter study business in college.”
We talked about how the US is a dictatorship and of the lies they spread, abusing the word of democracy in the name of capital gain, destroying entire countries to fill up their bank accounts.
“You eat?” he asked.
“No, not yet,” I said and he split his falafel sandwich in two.
Food tastes better when shared; something I’ve learned on my travels. It’s something that the Gypsy Queen would always say.
He invited me to his farm where I helped him feed his small flock of sheep and then sew some bags together in preparation for the 4,000 chicks he was expecting to receive in two days. He fed me lunch of cheese, bread and some yogurt dip, all the while sipping on tea.
Once the work was done, he took me to the train station and got me a ticket to Luxor. “Only ten pounds,” he said. One US dollar, which he covered with a 50 pound note and refused to take the change.
The train was perhaps the oldest in Egypt. Rickety, no fans, no air conditioning. Nothing but people and cigarette smoke.
Egyptian’s have taken smoking to a national sporting level. If it were an Olympic event, they’d take the gold. I get strange looks when I decline the cancer sticks offered to me. Indeed, on this train I was the novelty, being the only foreigner. And non-smoker.
I sat by some students and struck up a conversation with them, asking“Do you think the revolution was a good thing?”
“The idea of it was,” said one.
“What was the idea?”
“To overthrow Mubarak’s regime,” he continued. “When the revolution happened, a new government was supposed to come in, a more liberal and democratic form of leadership. But once Mubarak was taken down, the Muslim Brotherhood took over and things went from bad to worse for the Egyptian people. The current president is Mubarak’s protégé but he will not dare pardon him.”
“So Mubarak’s in jail?”
“If you can call a palace a jail, then yes.”
Hussnei Mubarak was in power of Egypt for almost 30 years. He came to hold the reins when, as vice-president, his boss, Anwar Saddat, was assassinated in 1981 after signing the historic peace treaty with it’s neighbour to the north, Israel. During that time his personal fortune grew into billions at the expense of his own people until he was toppled by the very people he cheated in the infamous Arab Spring of 2011.
But now the military was the ruling power.
“Any soldier can arrest you for nothing and you will simply disappear,” continued the student. “No one will know what happened to you.”
The students were Christians so I asked them if they lived in peace with the Muslims as has been in most places I’ve visited.
“Not really,” jived in another student. “Christians make up 20% of the population and there is always issues between us and the Muslims.”
After almost three and a half hours on the train where some kid had bought for me a soft drink, we finally pulled into Luxor just as the sun was setting behind the Luxor temple.
“We want to invite you to dinner,” said one of the students. “Have you had kosheri?”
“No, what’s that?”
“It’s rice, pasta and beans all mixed together.”
“Let’s do it,” I grinned.
We got the food from a restaurant and headed off to eat by the Nile, the Luxor pillars, remnants of Amenhotep’s peristyle court behind us. We parted ways afterwards and I headed off to find a hotel to barter with as my couchsurfing host’s phone was off (I’d been trying to contact him for three hours).
The Winter Palace was a huge, extremely luxurious hotel who declined my barters but Mohammed, the front desk manager, shook my hand firmly.
“I respect what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s quite the adventure.”
He helped me out with a map of Luxor and marked potential hotels on them.
“Do you need money?” he asked me before I left.
I grinned. “No, mate. I’m good.”
I headed off, ignoring the calaches (horse ‘n’ buggy) call to give me a ride. I went through two hotels before the third one, Oasis, offered me a bed in exchange for an article.
“You’re only staying one night?” Ahmed, the owner, practically screamed in my ear over the phone. “Have you been to Luxor before?”
“No, first time.”
“Then stay, no problem. Two days, three days. Enjoy the city.”
I was quite humbled and grateful and so I decided to stay two days instead of just the night. Luxor’s an historical place with a lot of monuments to see. The next day would be jam packed with some traditional tourist sight-seeing.