Our next task was to organize our 12-hour overnight train from Cairo to Luxor. Upper Egypt is actually south of Cairo. It seems backwards but its based on the Nile River, which flows downhill from the highlands of middle Africa to the Nile Delta (Mediterranean Sea). So Luxor is Upper Egypt and Alexandria is Lower Egypt.
Purchasing the train tickets seemed like a fairly simple task. We jumped on the underground metro, an experience on its own, and arrived at the Central Train Station where we intended to purchase our sleeper train tickets.
We were told that the company only accepted US dollars so we planned ahead and brought the exact amount in US currency. We handed over a $100 dollar bill and a $20 bill to the ticket agent, but were told that our $100 bill was unacceptable because it had a tiny tear in the top corner. It couldn't have been more than a few millimeters!
We were so frustrated and didn't know what to do. We left the office and sat outside the station cursing the agent and his senseless refusal of our new $100 note. We didn't have any more US currency on us and they stupidly would not accept their own Egyptian Pound as payment.
Eventually we cooled down and went to the nearest bank to exchange the bill (it must be noted that the bank had no problem accepting this bill, in fact they didn't even notice this minuscule tear). We reluctantly returned to the ticket office and handed over the six $20 bills.
To our amazement, the same cashier refused two of the $20 notes that we just got from the bank next door! We were furious. How could this idiot cashier be so anal about currency that we clearly just received from the bank? Did he think we were running a fraudulent currency business while on vacation… and for a measly $40? Seriously!
The story ends with us finally getting our tickets and him accepting the money, but not before he had his employee run next door and exchange the two bills with another merchant. It was so bizarre and infuriating. You'd think that if they only accept US currency they would at least know what the different versions of US notes look like. But that's typical Egypt for you!
Nevertheless, everything worked out… as it usually does when emotions are in check. We didn't know what to expect but assumed the sleeper class would be comfortable given that the trains were quite nice in both Thailand and India (the only other overnight trains we've taken together).
The train was a pleasant surprise. We had a private cabin with two large beds complete with fresh linen and soft pillows (something we had yet to experience in Egypt). We were also served a hot dinner and continental breakfast. We gave the first-class comfort level a 10 out of 10.
The only downside was that the railway is very old and in desperate need of an update, "a relic of the British occupation". The journey was bumpy and the train was extremely jerky. The result was that we didn't get much sleep.
Unlike our usual impromptu routine, our arrival to Luxor was pre-planned with a reservation at the centrally located Oasis Hotel on the East Bank. With our heavy backpacks on we tackled the early dessert sun and made a b-line straight pass the swarm of taxi touts. We had a map and a game plan. It was a short hike and the hotel was an easy find.
We really enjoyed the budget hotel for its exceptionally clean and cheap rooms and awesome chill out lounge on its rooftop garden - and the free breakfast and tea at sunset was a nice touch!
It was the perfect place to meet other adventure travelers over a beer and shisha. We met a couple from Australia (Jake and Michelle) that are doing a similar year long trip as us, only going the opposite way (West to East) and adding North America instead of Australia/New Zealand.
We teamed up with Carlo and Rose (from Holland) and Javi and Elena (from Spain) and began our exploration of one of the world's most fascinating regions - the East and West Banks of Luxor!
October 18th, 2009