Taxi!, Egyptian Thrill Ride!
Riding in taxis overseas is so addicting – after years of calm public conveyance, I have been seduced by the charm and terror of car rides with strangers. Taxi rides turn mundane destination transport into adventure travel at its best. Riding in taxis around world can be fun, exciting and downright crazy.
My first memorable taxi ride was in Egypt, or I should say, all my taxi rides in Egypt were memorable. Riding a taxi in Cairo is more death-defying than an adventure park full of hungry lions and as thrilling as diving with hungry sharks. The only thing more dangerous in Cario is a trip to the Great Bazaar, the Khan.
In Egypt taxi rides are preceded by the price negotiation, which is a time-consuming business with much arm waving, sighing and discussions about your family. Inevitably the drivers want to take you to the pyramids, even if that is not your destination, or another hotel, or a destination of their choice.
Patience and tact is required to get to the hotel of your choice without offending the driver’s sense of honor. Once the negotiations are accomplished, the driver assumes you are his guest, and most likely would drive you to hell if he had directions. (Cell phones are the drivers’ new secret weapon, often they accept the fare, and have no idea where they are going. After you are in the car they call their buddies and ask WHERE?)
Traffic in Cairo and all of the Great Valley follows is own cosmic rules, creating three lanes of traffic out of one or two. Taxi drivers drive with their left arm hanging out the window, honking at other drivers and waving for space on the road. Listening to the honks is like hearing dolphin school echolocate. One honk means, “You are There, I am Here. Two honks, “I am Coming through the Non Existent Hole in front of your Car/Donkey/Motorbike.” Three honks means, “LOOK OUT!!!!!”
Seatbelts are a non-option in an Islamic country; prayer beads hang on the dash for a reason. Inshallah. Motorbikes loaded with entire families pass your taxi on the right, with the kids sitting on the handlebars waving at you. Camels and carts demand street room on the highway as well as the crowded city streets.
Night driving is a particular thrill – using lights at night to navigate is an optional driver decision. Drivers almost stay in the proper lanes at night, flashing the car lights every thirty or forty or even sixty seconds to let other drivers know where they might possibly be on the road. It feels like driving by random night sonar.
In Cairo, the ultimate traffic nightmare city, we walked out of our hotel, took three turns and were lost. We could have gone back to the hotel lobby and asked for help, but that would have been a kind of defeat after refusing to join a tour that morning.
Failing to flag down a taxi on the street, my sister walked out into stalled traffic and opened a door and just got into the taxi. Jumping into the back seat I discovered we had found the only taxi driver in Egypt that spoke no English at all and did not understand our attempts at Arabic. Possibly it was just a private car, since there are no markings on taxis.
We wanted to go to the Egyptian Museum. “Pyramids?” the driver said hopefully. After driving around the block a few times trying to figure out where we wanted to go, we settled on the “Nile” (Neeel) Hilton Hotel that is across from the Egyptian Museum. Arriving triumphant at our chosen destination, we passed five taxi drivers asking, “Pyramids?” “Next ride,” we replied, “Next ride.”
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