Monday, December 31, 2007

Nobody Made Me Buy a Ticket

After leaving Dakhla Oasis, I traveled by bus to the Egyptian town of Asiut, about halfway between Cairo and Luxor. My final destination of Luxor, required a trip on the train.

After finally arriving at the train station in Asiut, I walked up to the ticket counter. A guard from the Tourism and Antiquities Police introduced himself. He told me the computer system was down, the train was late, and insisted on accompanying me to the cafeteria. Having me more than my fair share of hucksters and scam artists on this trip, I was sceptical. I got in line only to be told 20 minutes later that the computer system was down and that I would have to buy tickets directly on the train. The guard patiently waited beside me the whole time.

I told him I'd like to get something to eat (not at his suggested cafeteria) and asked him to leave me alone. He said OK and told me to please find him when I come back to the station. I went with another couple travelers who were in the same boat, and the guard was waiting outside the restaurant I think.

I found out later that Asiut was one of the centers of fundamentalism. During the early 1990's a series of bombings targeted Western tourists and most of those groups came out of Asiut and some other areas, so police are VERY cautious with Westerners there, and prefer that they make their stay in certain places short. They escort obvious tourists (guilty as charged) and nudge them along to make their way to Cairo, Luxor, or any resort destination. At least the guard didn't act like he deserved a tip.

When I finally did board the train, I got on first class and asked someone who to pay. He pointed to a huge, chainsmoking mustachioed guy with a tattered thing resembling a uniform, a painfully enormous beer gut, and his fly down. I asked him twice while the train was in motion when I could pay and get a ticket. He mubled in broken English to sit down, not listening to anything I said.

He checked tickets for everyone in my car in no particular order. He'd check a few people in front of me. Then he'd sit down for a while, then he'd check a few behind me. The whole time, he never checked my ticket and I got to ride for free. Five hours of free train travel. This in a country that seems to have perfected the art of extracting money from traveler's pockets.

My enthusiasm and happiness soon waned however, when I tried to use the restroom. The toilets on Egyptian trains officially set the record for filthiest public toilet ever witnessed by Tyler Beal in his entire life. The previous record was held by a gas station somewhere between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, Texas visited in the summer of 1999. The train beat out Chevron by a mile. Oh, the nastiness.

I finally did get to Luxor. and then I had a nice meal that consisted of stuffed pidgeon. Add that to the list of meats I've ever eaten.

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