Posted by: Anna | November 22, 2010

Survival Guide to a 20 Hour Bus Ride

I know – Thanksgiving is almost here, and perhaps you are moaning the difficulties of travel. How busy the airports are, or the traffic on the highway on the way to Grandmother’s house, or wherever you go. Since Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, I thought I would give you something for comparison, so you can be thankful for that gourmet airline food (if you are lucky enough to get any) or that 10 mile traffic jam that lasts an hour.

That something is a 20 hour bus ride from Dahab in the Sinai Peninsula to Luxor on the Nile. That’s right, 20 hours. That’s an entire day, minus four.

We could have flown, but instead we spent our money diving in Dahab, so our budget for November is empty. And the bus is quite cheap. It conveniently leaves every day. You do not need to reserve in advance. There is a reason for this.

We packed carefully, including in our bag to keep with us the following items for survival: earplugs, sleep mask, books to read, cards, laptop with episodes of Survivor to watch (for however long the battery lasts), snacks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, fleece, and about 10 other items. We used every item.

It started off at 3 PM, when the hotel told us we needed to leave. We loaded our bags and ourselves into the back of an open air jeep, and it drove us the 10 minutes to the bus station. We already had our tickets, so we just waited until 3:55 when the bus started loading. We put our packs in the storage area under the bus and climbed into what we believed to be our seats, based on some random guessing at reading the Arabic numbers that identified your assigned seat. A few others boarded as well, and we departed around 4:40. The bus was scheduled to depart at 4:00 PM.

We made a long stop at security, the first of many times that a police officer boarded the bus, asked us (and only us) for our passports. In case you think racial profiling is alive and well only in the States, or Western Countries, you are wrong. We are immediately pinpointed as tourists and treated differently, sometimes better (as in Jordan), sometimes worse (as when negotiating for a price for anything).  He then told us – “Obama, good? Okay, have nice time!”. Obama good is the standard greeting for Americans – Australians get “Good Day, Mate!”, Brits get “Fish and Chips? Hahaha”, French get “Bonjour, Bonjour”. We get “Obama, good?”

We made what we know to be a one hour (because we just did this drive to take the boat to a dive site) drive to Sharm-El-Sheikh, and it only took a little over two hours on the bus. The bus is slow. It stops a lot for security checkpoints.

We get our tickets checked for the second of probably 12 times during the bus ride, and more people board the bus in Sharm. The bus passengers consist of Arab men, one angry Arab grandmother, and a Korean couple also from Dahab. The grandmother, dressed in modest black from head to toe, and wrinkled like a sharpei, gave me dirty looks the entire bus ride, which made me nervous. It might have been my whore-ish shoulders, or perhaps my scandalous ponytail. I’m not sure. I think at one point she was insisting that I be moved so as to not be sitting within 3 rows of her, but I can’t be sure of that.There was a lot of yelling and angry gesturing in my direction.

The bus ride was accompanied for the entire time by loud Arabic music. Tommy called it soothing, I called it horrible. I’m sorry – it’s not pleasant. Especially at 3 AM trying to sleep on a crowded bus in Egypt.

At 4 AM, a man got on yelling in Arabic with a coffee pot and some cups. I question the wisdom of his business model. Just the thing? Hop on a bus filled with sleeping people, wake them by yelling at them, then try to sell them coffee. What?

We stopped every couple of hours for at least 30 minutes. The upside is that you know the next bathroom stop is never far. The downside is that the bathroom stops vary greatly in quality. I had one nice clean toilet, one somewhat clean squatter, and one that cannot be named. The other downside is that everyone else on the bus would hop off to smoke for thirty minutes, so immediately following the stop, the bus smells like smoke. The smell has almost disappeared by the time we stop again. The other other downside is that all the stopping makes the bus ride last about 30% longer than is actually necessary.

The bus ride did give us the opportunity to try some new potato chips from the ubiquitous snack stands at every bathroom stop. I have learned that chips are very local, with flavors in each place suited to the palate of the residents. In Russia, we had salmon roe chips and crab chips. Here, we had meat skewer chips (really, we did) and lemon jalepeno. I think there is a reason Meat Skewer is not available at your local Kroger. Lemon Jalepeno was quite good. I also had my first Twinkie (ever) on the bus for 20 cents. Not bad. Not really good either.

We eventually arrived, around noon. Getting off the bus starts the first tourist gauntlet we had to run – taxi? taxi? taxi? Taxi drivers yell at you from all sides, asking you questions and insisting that they can take you, for a very cheap price. There are no fixed taxi prices in Luxor, so you pay what you negotiate.

Thankfully, the owner of the hotel we stayed at in Dahab had called his brother who has a hotel here in Luxor to take care of us. The policeman took us with him, put us on the phone with the guy from the hotel in Luxor, and then threatened and at one point pushed the taxi drivers away from us. The hotel sent us a taxi to take us to the hotel for very cheap, and the guy from the hotel met us and walked us to the hotel.

We arrived, put down our bags, and were able to settle in pretty quickly.

Ah, back to why you were looking for the survival guide for the 20 hour bus ride. The key to survival is – don’t take a 20 hour bus if you can help it. Good luck on your travels!



  1. Sure glad I missed that long bus ride. I’m flying to Mom’s on Wed. but just to St. Louis and out of Love so hopefully it won’t be too bad! Glad you have a good greeting when you departed the bus. I’ll eat some turkey for you!

    • Thanks! Eat extra…we are hoping to meet up with some other Americans in Cairo to celebrate, but not sure if it’s going to work out now or not. Hope you have safe travels and a happy TG!

  2. How horrible to be singled out and even despised. That to me would be the most unpleasant of many unpleasant aspects. As your mother, I will be very excited when you are out of Egypt, despite all the wonders you will see. We are so excited to talk with you on Thanksgiving.

  3. Big deal. I was once awoken on the Acela going from Boston to New York on a Saturday morning by a drunk couple from Stamford.

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