Aswan I have Arrived

I slumped into a wicker chair of the first coffee shop outside the station, twelve hours since Cairo, the waiter saunters over the way they do in the south, hey man he says in English, I order my coffee and give him my phone to charge and consider asking for a neck rub, no doubt I would have arrived in better condition had I plumped for the sleeper, the coffee arrives and so does a shoe shine boy, he looks at my shoes and moves on knowing a waste of time when he sees one, leaning back in the wicker chair I almost nod off for a second, the music stirs me into life, toe tappy Nubian, Mohamad Munir, I have left Egypt, this is Africa now, I should find a hotel, pretty sure there is a bunch of them just around the corner opposite the river, another coffee and will pick the first one.

The hotels seemed to have all moved since the last time I was here, or was my memory playing tricks, it’s getting warm now, third hotel looks better than the previous ones, am not buggering around all day doing this, its fine, I check in and plonk my gear down and snooze for a while, in my dreams I can still hear the train rumbling along the rails but also strangely a man shouting something about bananas, better get up and go find some Nubians to photograph.

I attempt to splash my face with water In the sink but the dribble that emerges hardly sufficient, I use my drinking water and don’t give it much thought, I bound down the stairs with energy I know will only last about five more minutes, the receptionist gives me a look of bemusement as I wave goodbye, in the street outside I exchange glances with an old guy pushing a hand cart who seems familiar, I must be mistaken and ignore his cries of fresh bananas, I head to the river and Nubia.

After a long day I trudge back to the hotel, the dust and grime of Nubian Aswan is just as thick as it is in Cairo and all I want is a hot shower, that though is not going to happen, with a hand towel wrapped almost around my waist I stand looking from the redundant shower head to the bucket of water that I am quite sure was not there when I left the room earlier, nothing is happening, neither hot nor cold, I clearly asked when I checked in, is the water hot, needless to say I should have asked is there any water at all but stupidly I just assumed, I resisted the urge to stroll down to reception wearing the towel and got dressed.


Nice Photographer; Erm there doesn’t seem to be any water in my room

Weary Looking Hotel Manager; Yes I know.

Nice Photographer; Ah, good, so when will it come back on?

Weary Looking Hotel Manager; Erm, maybe later.

Nice Photographer; Oh, (sad face)

Weary Looking Hotel Manager; (noting my sad face) Don’t blame us, the water is off everywhere, it’s that damn Morsi and his damn Muslim Brothers.

Weary Photographer; Yes well am very sorry but I have to find another hotel.

I go back to the room, repack my bag and take the elevator down stairs, as I leave the hotel the weary looking assistant hotel manager calls out after me;

Please pray to God we get rid of those damn Muslim Brothers.

Its dark now, I pass through the souk trying to remember where I last saw a hotel, the man selling bananas is pushing his now empty cart into an alley, about now a bloody guidebook would be really handy, I plod on, after several attempts I check into the Al Salam, views of the Nile and a chamber maid clearly a struggling artist, the water so hot it took a layer of skin along with half the Sahara, I said a quiet prayer and hit the sack.


Night Train From Cairo


As with everything else in Cairo buying a train ticket can be an both amusing and infuriating at the same time, maybe it’s just me but part of the charm of Cairo is it’s utterly chaotic nature and just maybe a sense of humor is how Egyptians deal with it, I plunge into the pool of humanity swirling around the ticket office, everyone clinging to each other for buoyancy, not a bit like a Tunbridge Wells post office,  by the time I have washed up at the counter I have made a number of friends and most of them straining their necks through the window to see how this transaction turns out, the ticketing official peers over his pince-nez at me with little surprise or interest, I ask for a ticket on the overnight train to Aswan, its fully booked he tells me, I am not sure if I actually told him when I wanted to travel, tomorrow I said, not today, fully booked he said, the faces around me switching back and forth as if at a tennis match, now I dispensed with travelling with a guide book in Egypt some time ago, it does have to be said I am something of an expert on its complexities, he pointed to another window and told me to get the sleeper, now the sleeper is luxury car for wimpish foreigners who travel with guide books, the fare is about a hundred bucks, I have used it before, much like a padded cell with prison food, I wanted a regular ticket costing about $20, I glanced over at the sleeper window, a scene of calm and tranquility, the day after the day after tomorrow then I said sticking to my guns, I sensed a division in the crowd now, half intrigued to see if the foreigner gave in and stumped up for the cushy number and the other half just wanting to buy their tickets, okay then when do you have a ticket available for I asked, my tone resolute but in my mind I knew I was going to the empty window the other side of the room, he gave me a considered look, I knew the look from back when I was at school, that didn’t end well either, he looked back at the 19th dynasty computer that the station was named after, fine he said, the day after tomorrow, I passed him my crumpled notes, collected my ticket, my friends all wishing me a safe journey or something like that.