We recently spent just under two weeks in Egypt – our first visit to a country that has left us with a feeling of wanting to go back for more. After the first two nights in Giza, we took a night train south to Aswan – a thirteen hour journey on paper, covering almost 900 km, or 550 miles.
Being unsure of our schedule meant that we didn’t pre-book tickets and therefore had to buy them once we got on the train. As it turned out, this wasn’t an issue at all, with the conductors happy to sell them to us after a young guy sitting nearby helped out with some translating. The only drawback was that unfortunately the train was full and buying tickets so late meant that we didn’t have allocated seats…
I’d read about other people who had experienced the same thing and still managed to find a seat, so I wasn’t too worried, but after taking almost a whole day to travel to Egypt and touring the Giza Pyramid complex in the heat earlier that day, our own seats would have been pretty handy at that stage!
While we were standing in the aisle, we chatted briefly to the guy who had helped us earlier and found out that he was heading to his home town, about halfway to Aswan. Around thirty minutes later, he and his friend stood up and offered us their seats. We told them not to worry about it, but they weren’t taking no for an answer and walked out of the main part of the carriage to sit on the floor in the area near the door. We weren’t really sure what to do, but eventually sat down and drifted off for two to three hours of much-needed sleep almost instantly.
Once I woke up and realised how long we’d been in their seats, I motioned for them to come back, but once again they shook their heads. This time it was my turn to be insistent – there was no way they were sitting out there any longer after what they had done for us, so we grabbed our bags and swapped places with them.
Even though we’d only been in Egypt for around forty eight hours, this wasn’t the first act of hospitality we’d experienced from the locals and it was far from the last. We were made to feel more than welcome everywhere we went – from people taking time out of their day to show us around, to not allowing us to pay for coffee, tea and shisha, or helping to buy train/bus tickets.
The rest of the trip wasn’t too bad – we grabbed some other seats after a couple of hours of sitting on the floor and, even though we had to change places several more times, were reasonably comfortable until we reached Aswan, fifteen hours after departing.
At one point, I woke up and looked out of the window to see the sun rising over the Nile and by chance, the song below by The Confederate Dead was playing through my headphones – a truly surreal moment.
Wikipedia states that the title of the song, ‘is an Arabic phrase that expresses appreciation, joy, praise, or thankfulness for an event or person that was just mentioned’. I thought it at the time, but that definition confirms that this really was one of those occasions that you couldn’t script. It reminded me of Metallica’s ‘Trapped Under Ice’ coming on as I sighted the Grey Glacier for the first time in Torres del Paine back in 2013 – obviously a completely different situation, but just as fitting and another I’ll never forget.
After waking up, I also realised that unfortunately, the young guy and his friend had got off the train without us being able to thank them a final time. I’d say that Masha’Allah describes their generosity perfectly.
Leave a comment if you’ve ever heard a song on your travels that could have been scripted for that very moment!