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.