17th : Leaving Mallawi
Train to Sohag
18th : Train to luxor
Yes, it took all day…
17th : Leaving Mallawi today. We do leave here with some good memories. The hotel was ok, Tuna el-Gebel was good and we met some very nice people.
We are trying the train again today, but have decided to go first class. Hopefully it will be less smelly and we might get a place to sit. We are skipping Asyut and going straight to Sohag. There is not much to see around Sohag, but our friendly guy from Cairo, Ali, was from here and said his hometown was a nice place. There are two monasteries in the area, so we are planning one full day and two nights there.
On arriving at the station a police officer was waiting for us. Not sure how he knew we would be coming, but the hotel did make a phone call when we left..
He escorted us to the platform and waited with us for the train. A seat was easily found, as people got up to let us sit down together. Enough legroom to keep our bags with us and still not be too uncomfortable. The officer had told us before we left “Asyut and then Sohag”, which made us think the train only stopped twice along the way. (His English was very limited) The train actually stopped almost at every station, and Asyut turned out to be the last stop. Now we had to transfer to another train heading south. Making it to Sohag was not a problem, it just took a bit longer then expected.
Exiting the station we ran the gauntlet passed the taxi drivers (and locals telling us to leave..?) for the nearest cafe. This is our strategy at arriving at every new town : Ignore all the people yelling out, find a quite place for a tea or coffee and find out about a hotel there.
Our waiter pointed down the street to Hotel Salaam as a nice cheap place, cheaper then the two on the other side of the train tracks.
We made our way there, but were disappointed with the room to say the least. It was dirty and not maintained. Upon hearing the price, we had no choice but to burst out laughing. For the worst room so far in Egypt he wanted to charge us 150 pounds! When we made to leave, he dropped is price to 120, but as we have so far not paid more then 90 for far better quality rooms, we kept laughing and walking.
So then to try the two hotels on the other side. The first one was a beauty. Great double room and spotlessly clean. Ok, still not cheap, but worth it for a 100LE. The problems started when we gave them our passports to check in. Suddenly it was an issue that we were not from the same country even though we had already mentioned this. And suddenly there was a “hotel policy” that foreigners have to show a marriage certificate to be able to share a room. We have not come across this at all before in Egypt, Jordan or Morocco. We know it is sometimes asked for with a mixed couple (muslim and non-muslim), but for us, two obliviously non-muslim people, it has never been a problem.
On to the next one. But the last hotel had called ahead, and we could barely say hello, before we were told that the hotel was full. The same thing with hotel number three.. Sohag is not turning out well. By now we had dragged our bags around for over an hour, and were getting fed up. Back to the train station then for a train south. This time we thought we would just get the first train out and made it into a local one. Again the penetrating stench of unclean bathrooms and the crowdedness. Anna changed her mind and we got out, planning to wait for the next first class train to come. But unfortunately, the local guys would not leave us alone. we had thought the police presence at the stations was a bit much, but now with no police around we understand why they were there. We had people talking to us in Arabic, turning into yelling, and the whole thing did not sound very nice. We felt uncomfortable surrounded by this group of 20somethings and left. We are not feeling welcome in this town at all.
We went back to the cafe for a tea and a think. What are we going to do if we can’t get a hotel room in this town and can’t get a train out? Our waiter was shocked when he heard what the first hotel wanted to charge us.
We saw some police walk passed and asked them for help. They did not speak any English, but luckily a young man, Iad, helped us out. We were now planning to go to the town near Abydos, but apparently this town has no hotels. That would mean we have to go all the way to Luxor, but it is getting too late for that. Iad has a friend that works at an hotel in a different part of town and made some phone calls to make sure we could stay there. (and to check the price). Everything good and the room would be 80LE. Perfect, and we can then leave first thing in the morning.
The hotel turned out to be 240LE a night though (80 for Egyptians, 240LE for foreigners. That’s what you call tourist tax..) As we had no other options and it was getting dark, we haggled him down to 160LE and paid up. The room was not worth it..
Iad turned out to be great though, and took us on a walk around Sohag. Walking with him was good and most people left us alone. Sohag is by no means a small town. It is a big city of over a million people with the noise, lights and shopping to go with it. It was interesting to talk with Iad as he is in the Egyptian army at the moment and his English was pretty good. Although not as good as his Russian or Polish, which he studied in Uni for a career in tourism.
We were pretty tired from the stress full day and headed back to the hotel fairly early.
18th : At the train station at about 10.00. We lined up to buy a ticket, but they refused to sell us one to Luxor. We were told that we had to buy a ticket to Aswan, and then get off the train at Luxor. That did not make sense to us, so once again we asked the police for help. He took us to the tourist police who pulled out some chairs at the platform next to his booth and we were told to wait for 10 minutes.
To make a long story short, we ended up waiting for more then 4 hours. Every time we tried to get some info on what was going on, we were told to wait for 10 minutes. This country is impossible! At about 13.00 we were finally told that the train was going to come at 14.30 and we were allowed to leave to get something to eat. On returning we were escorted by a undercover officer to the train. He would also be coming with us to Luxor. A bit excessive, but if this is the way they want it here..
As we still had not been allowed to buy tickets, we got on the train without any. Also without our assigned escort, as he had disappeared earlier. We tried our luck in second class and found a seat, only to be kicked out five minutes later by the people that had the tickets to these seats. The seats in first and second class are numbered and as both carriages are full, we find a standing place in the dining car.
Now our undercover cop shows up again and orders us to take our bags into first class. Here he tells the people to get up and out, so the three of us have two seats. We are soooooo not happy. We had wanted to buy tickets before hand to make sure this would not happen. Now Egyptians that have bought tickets are being kicked out of the seats they are entitled to, so we can sit. Well, we can’t even sit that well, as the police take one seat and thinks it’s ok for us to share one.
Luxor is quite far away, and although Andrew doesn’t weigh much, I still don’t want him on my lap for the whole way.. We are told how much the first class tickets are and protest that we have to pay for two seats if we only have one. Our officer gets grumpy and leaves, so Andrew can sit down. With our tickets purchased we sit back and try to relax, but now Andrew has to leave his seat again as the women that has the numbered ticket shows up… Eventually we make it to Luxor. It is dark and we are tired, so we end up doing what we have vowed never to do again and follow a tout to his hostel. It turns out to be a good choice. Clean with comfortable beds. After check in we quickly pop out for a take away meal and some beers. There are up sides to being in a touristy city!