Monday, June 02, 2008

Innocents Abroad Part 6: Trains and low flying Birds

In a journey filled with great and even jaw-dropping experiences there was one experience that had to be the fly in the ointment. There was one experience that gave all of us in our party a measurement for rating all the other experiences. We could always say, “At least that wasn’t as bad as the slow train to Luxor!” or “Compared to the slow train to Luxor this is luxury!”

We began our journey from Cairo to Luxor excited about riding what was billed as the Agatha Christie train ride. I have not read the books but apparently there are mystery novels set on a train from Cairo to Luxor. We fought the hazy Cairo traffic to get to the train station with ALL our luggage. And there we sat. The train was a bit delayed. We found out later that there was a crash delaying OUR train so they hastily put together another train to take its place. That should have been clue #1 but we didn’t know any better. The train finally arrived and we were looking forward to our luxury compartments for the eight hour, over night ride. We knew something was wrong when we walked down the narrow aisle, struggling with our luggage, while looking out of windows that looked like they were coated in a thin film of frost. It turned out not to be frost in the Egyptian desert but skuz. Our luxury compartment was a dingy grey with brownish accents and no room for luggage much less a 6’1” 250 lb. passenger and his wife. I sat in the seat with my knees grazing the sink in front of me looking at myself in disbelief in the mirror. Don’t even get me started on the bathroom down the hall because this is a family program!

The food was delivered by our steward and we picked at it for a while before he came and made it disappear. It was some kind of meat with some kind of vegetable with some kind of hard, crusty bread. I got some tea to wash the few mouthfuls down and was happy that I had the sink in front of me. Then our steward came in and pulled down the bunk beds for us and I found my grey sheets and ratty wool blankets were, just like the bunk, made for someone closer to 5’6”. The boards that supported the bunk were easy to find and hard to sleep on with the one inch mattress rising and falling around each one of them.

After a sleepless night we found out in the morning that the train was not going to move for a while. That same accident that stopped our original train was now gumming up the whole train system and we sat for an extra six hours staring out skuzzy windows and trying to find our steward who was fast asleep in one of the compartments. At least he got a good night sleep.
As I look back it reminded me of spending a Sunday in Jerusalem the week following this train ride. I was dressed in my Sunday best and we went to a Lutheran church in the Old City. We had a great time and a spiritual high for me but as we were walking back I got “bombed” by a low flying bird. It hit me on my ever-growing forehead with unexplained, wet warmth. I asked my wife what it was and all she could do was laugh. As I look back on the train ride I can complain to you as much as I want, and my co-travelers would complain with me but, after all, we were in Egypt. We had just seen the great pyramids of Giza and were now in the Valley of the Kings, I’m sorry but on a trip like that I can handle a nasty train ride OR being dive bombed by Jerusalem birds.

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