We arrived to the raucous soliciting of cab drivers eager to take us here, there, anywhere. We trusted no one, kept our guard up, and watched on suspiciously. Half an hour earlier, a laptop was flying through the air, a dozen passengers were out of their seats, yelling, arms flung. The huge commotion jolted us wide awake even if it was 1:30 in the morning. In my half lucid state, I had noticed a man board the train and take a seat a couple of rows ahead. My eyes followed him the few seconds it took to make his way down the aisle before sitting down. He was dressed in brown and wore a scarf around his neck. I normally wouldn't notice such things, but he reminded me of another man I'd seen on a bus in the north who had also sat in front of us. I had barely just redirected my gaze when all of the sudden the frantic running and grabbing and screaming broke out. The man had snatched a laptop right out of the hands of another and was making a run for it. Strong but not fast enough, he was quickly tackled to the floor and taken away. I wonder what happens to a man like him in a country like this.
We had arranged to be picked up by Khaled, a Nubian who would recognize us, the only tourists to arrive at the railway station in Aswan at 2 am. But when we got there, a handful of Nubians awaited, none of whom we knew, all of whom could've been Khaled. Our ears were perked listening for the one who knew our names. A tourist policeman escorted us to seats in his office where we could wait. Wary of giving away our identity and not being able to fully confide in anyone, we declined the offer to telephone our 'friend'. As a man of the law, so to speak, he was armed, which kept us well aware of the single door that linked us to the outside world. In that moment we weren't so sure which side was safer.
There was a convoy leaving to Abu Simbel at 3:30 am as it does every morning and we were to join it. For a visit to an ancient temple, the security control was quite extensive. Paperwork had to be filed at least a day prior and had to include passport info and then the morning of, armed military men searched in and under all vehicles for any signs of threat.
The journey south towards the border of Sudan was in the dark. Traveling with a stranger in a strange car in a strange town in the dead of night is something we'll never get used to. Though here, at this time, the streets were quite alive as if Egypt were a country that never sleeps. After finding that plenty of other tourists were part of the convoy, we gave into the night.
At the temple of Abu Simbel, much like at other historical sites throughout the country, we were blown away by the scale of the monuments and the intricacy of the art, riddled by the construction and impressed with the architecture. Remembering that pharaohs and their queens, nobles and high priests walked through these temple walls once upon a time, we escaped for a brief moment the heaviness of the night and just took in the grandeur of the site. Ironically, amidst the chaos of modern-day Egypt, it's sometimes easy to forget the richness of its history, culture, and traditions.
On the way back to Aswan, we decided to catch the next train back to Cairo rather than wait for the evening one. The driver insisted that the station was closed for the afternoon and that, instead, we kill the time before the evening departure with a tour of the city - the Nubian village, obelisks, Philae Island, the dam, this temple, that museum. The price was no problem, our enjoyment was key, he ensured us, which, of course, is always a recipe for crookedness and we smelled it from a mile away. After much back and forth, standing firm behind our decision and against the pressure, we were finally dropped off at the station where we found it to be open just like we suspected.
Now on the journey back to the capital city, we hope for a much less dramatic and a much more hassle-free experience.
The train back to Cairo was actually full, but we were able to get a ticket on board, which meant that we weren't guaranteed a seat. For a few hours, we played a game of musical chairs and somehow kept managing to be the ones without a seat. Not fun for an overnight 15-hour ride.