Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day 5: The Train

Happy Halloween! (Oddly enough, Cairo had a distinct lack of jack-o-lanterns today - just one extra advantage of being in another country entirely...)

Today started early - they all do. This is not a restful vacation! (It's pretty awesome, though!) We were up at 5:30 and first in line for breakfast thanks to the Early Bird who lives in my room. After eating our usual sumptuous meal, we squirreled away pockets full of pita sandwiches, bananas, and other self-contained edibles. We were heading for Alexandria on the train, and were forewarned that lunch would be quite late, so providing ourselves with noshing opportunities was a high priority.

We boarded the train slightly before nine AM. The train station in Cairo has an old-fashioned prettiness, though I was again on the wrong side of the bus to photograph it. There were quite a number of commuters boarding the train, but as usual Grand Circle had sent advance scouts ahead to procure our tickets so we didn't have to wait in line. We just boarded our car for a non-stop ride.

The train was quite comfortable, with roomy seats in stark contrast to the cramped bus seats we are now used to:


The area around the train tracks was quite built up, even once we were out of Cairo proper, and we noticed several interesting things as we rode. For one thing, we were riding past the most awful, rickety looking concrete or brick tenements, but most every one of them has columns of rebar sticking out the top like they'll be back to put the top floor on as soon as they raise the funds. On the other hand, these buildings look like if you added any more weight to the top the whole assemblage would collapse into rubble! Also, not many of the buildings we passed were painted - what's the point? They'd be sandblasted by Mother Nature soon enough, plus coated with enough dust to obscure any colors - but occasional ones were faced with colored tile or even constructed out of tinted concrete. Because I was taking the opportunity of the train ride to write up the previous day's events in my trip diary, I forgot to take photos of this (*doh!*) but at least I wrote it down!

A little further on, we went into "farm country". The fields here are divided into narrow strips and grids by irrigation canals, as of old,


often with adjacent strips planted in different crops like a strip quilt. We saw a lot of cabbages! Also sugar cane, palm plantations, orchards - apricots? and much unidentified greenery. Maybe one strip in ten will have standing water on it. The owners of the field in the photo had a tractor, but most of them seem to use human labor, supplemented with water buffalo and donkeys - it's pretty common to see a huge pile of plant material with an itty bitty donkey trotting underneath like a mobile haystack.

No comments: