Saturday, May 27, 2006

Billmon in Cairo

And now for something completely different. Billmon, my favorite blogger, was attending an economic conference in Egypt last week, and did some great blogging about Sharm El-Sheikh. Then, there was nothing for a few days. Last night, he posted what has to be one of the funniest accounts of trying to catch a train I have ever read. The intro:
Every since I was a small boy, and used to spend hours pouring over maps of faraway places and dreaming about the treasures hidden there, one of my dreams has been to take a train down the Nile, into the heart of Africa. Riding first-class to Luxor on the Egyptian national railway isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s close enough, and that’s what I was set to do after I left Sharm el-Sheikh and the World Economic Forum behind. Last Tuesday, however, my dream was almost shattered, probably beyond repair, because of a large red spot on the corner of a $10 bill.

It would have been entirely my fault. For once in my life, I forgot the traveler’s gold rule: cash is king. And because I forgot, I arrived at the Cairo train station Tuesday morning with only twenty Egyptian pounds (or about $3) in my pocket – 47 less than the price of a first-class ticket to Luxor. And that almost kept me from going to Luxor at all.

I know what you’re thinking: What about that $10 bill with the red spot on the corner. What the hell does that have to do with rail travel in Egypt? I’ll get to that, but first let explain why I ended up in a strange city in the Middle East with virtually no ready cash.

In my younger days (or, as my son prefers to say, back in the Late Stone Age) I always traveled with a thick wad of American Express travelers checks tucked away in my money belt. I had a rather bad experience as a teenager alone in New York City with very little money trying to get a paycheck cashed (I know it sounds stupid, but I was just a kid.) Ever since then I’ve had a healthy respect for the power of liquidity, enough to want to be sure I’m floating in it whenever I’m far away from home.

All's Well That Ends Well

Please, take time out of your day and read the whole thing. It is long but worth the read. You'll be glad you did.


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