Night Train to Cairo

It is 12 hours into our journey and one of the carriage windows has just shattered. Broken glass falls across two rows of seats like hailstones. Passengers dart to safety and take stock of the scene. A quick gust of wind sends more glass from the broken pane across more seats and a decision is made to kick out the remaining window pane. An off-duty policeman, gun still attached to his hip, takes a few swings then, satisfied, settles back into his seat. I’m trying not to laugh, but the policeman catches my eye and we share a grin.

We had left Luxor at 11pm last night and we due to reach Cairo three hours ago. I had the half-asleep perception of making a too-long stop somewhere during the night, and found out early this morning that an unexplained protest somewhere had stalled us for four hours.

My trip roommate sits next to me reading some erotic thriller and swearing that even the trains in India were cleaner than this. Me, I put it down to experience, even though the grime sticks, the toilets are disgusting and the snoring thunderous. The breeze from the broken window comes as a relief and we travel past a brightly coloured village along a canal. A women wearing an abaya is feeding her ducks while others wash clothes in the canaland children balance on trotting donkeys. Further on, a donkey that was pulling a cart appears to have fallen and several men are raining blows on him to get him back on his feet. I have to turn away.

Our tour leader stirs, thick black hair sticking up. We tell him about the window and he just shrugs. “It happens,” he says.

(My trip to Egypt was sponsored by Adventure Center and MatadorU)

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