“You’re taking an overnight train in Africa?”
This was the incredulous response I got from Shelley, a former co-worker and Zimbabwean, when she learned of our travel plans for Cairo to Luxor.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” I answered. And it was. I can’t say it was an easy or familiar process, but in the end, it was fine.
I’m sure I read somewhere that tourists should avoid using the metro in Cairo, but we did it anyway, travelling a few stops from our hotel in Dokki to the Ramses train station. For 2 Egyptian pounds apiece, it was even more cost effective than haggling for a taxi, and the chances of the metro diverting to a papyrus shop were slim.
As soon as we entered the train station, we were bombarded with requests.
“You need taxi?”
“You need hotel?”
“You want souvenir?”
Then a policeman stopped to help. We told him that we needed overnight train tickets to Luxor, leaving that night.
“Come with me,” he said, offering no explanation or room for argument. So we did.
We crossed over to another platform into a ticket office, where he sent us to the first ticket window.
“That window only. But maybe train is full. Today is a public holiday.”
Well. That did explain the crowds at the station. We waited for a while at the window, only to be told that yes, the train was full. All trains leaving that night for Luxor.
“Try next room. Window 17,” the policeman said.
We dutifully trudged to the next room, which apparently was where second class tickets were sold, which is what we were after in the first place.
“No seats. Train is full.”
We walked back to the first room, starting to lose hope. Our trip, while loosely planned, still relied heavily on us getting to Luxor by the following day.
The policeman appeared again.
“I help you. Follow me.”
Having nothing to lose and time to waste, we followed him out of the station and around the corner to a hotel. According to the policeman, the man at reception also ran a travel agency and could possibly arrange tickets for us.
After five minutes of listening to the receptionist’s offer of a five-night, all inclusive holiday in Luxor, I was beginning to lose my cool. The man refused to sell us train tickets only, as he only benefitted from a package deal. Fair play to him as a businessman, but extremely unhelpful to our situation.
The policeman accompanied us back to the station, and up to window # 4. Suddenly, he announced that we could get overnight tickets for the 12:30 train, but we had to buy them from Cairo all the way to Aswan, then get off at Luxor. All this for a mere 10 Egyptian pounds more.
Rather than ask questions, we were happy to pay 109 each for the tickets (under 14 pounds UK). And that is how we found ourselves, many hours later, in first class seats for the nine hour overnight service to Luxor.
I slept the whole way and it was amazing.