June 4, 2009

Egyptian Incompetence and an Asinine Taxi Driver - Part I
Giza, Egypt

It was just before 5 p.m. and Tatiana and were sizing up our options after having just disembarked into an unknown part of greater Cairo (previously: Nuweiba to Cairo by Bus).

We had the perfect trifecta of trouble before us: We didn't know where we were; we didn't have an address for our destination; and we didn't how much was appropriate for an unmetered taxi. —Lovely.

Note: If you're unfamiliarly as to why we were in this predicament, please give this a quick glance: Cairo Communication Conundrum.

The Phone Call to the Fiancée

The first thing to get sorted was where we were going. This required yet another phone call to Shalaby, the Egyptian fiancée of Tatiana's friend.

Still inside the protective barrier of the bus terminal, I minded the baby and the bags in a ticketing office while Tatiana made her way to find a phone inside a minimart a few dozen paces away. The idea was to get Shalaby on the phone, explain we still needed the address to the apartment, and to pass the phone off to a local for him to accurately write down in Arabic just where we needed to go (this would be for the taxi driver).

Tatiana ended up paying one Egyptian pound per minute for the call, and for reasons that I'm still unclear lasted some six minutes to complete (costing a total of about US$1).

As before, communication was a bit of a problem with the man, and Shalaby ended up giving us a lofty figure for the cost of a taxi (because the reality of it was that he truly had no idea what amount to tell us).

A scribbled address in Arabic: You'll soon learn more about the misery this little piece of paper caused.

My eyes focused in sharply on the Arab man following Tatiana as she exited the minimart. I gathered the baby and approached—apperantly he was the fellow that spoke with the fiancée and jotted down the address.

He offered to help with the taxi, and against our insistence started speaking with one of the wretches of humanity outside the terminal, pressed against the bars trying to solicit passengers for his parked cab.

Tip: Never approach or speak with an idling taxi driver. It's a waste of time. Walk as far as necessary to find one moving on the street, or even better, a cab that just dropped someone off. If you value your cash, sanity and belongings, avoid these men.

Of course the piraña taxi man jumped at the opportunity to try and pull a fast one on some foreigners (even in front of the local), and hollered back, "VERY FAR! 150 pounds!" (US$27)

As we blew him off with a laugh and started walking away—keep in mind that was the price of three nights' accommodation at Green Beach—his price dropped and dropped until we could hear him shouting for 50 pounds over our shoulders.

Naturally, we would never take a ride from such a person, even if the price was right. But the added bonus was that we now knew the maximum that we might have to pay, and ascertained that somewhere between 25 and 35 EGP would probably be an appropriate fare.

Taxis, Inept Police, a Hobo and Med Student—OH MY!

The passengers of our bus had long since dispersed, and with them the majority of the sharks waiting outside the terminal. We exited and pushed past the bevy and continued to walk 'till we were no longer being shouted at or pursued for cash.

Walking against the traffic in the stifling evening heat mixed with the horrid smells from decrepit vehicles, we stopped under an overpass and started flagging down cabs.

Bus station escape

It didn't take long for a real scrappy looking dark-skinned bum (Sudanese, perhaps) to spot us from across the street and to approach.

Over the next ten minutes a huge scene unfolded below the overpass. The filthy, perhaps mentally unstable man tried to flag down taxis on our behalf by screaming and jumping out in front of them. We, in turn, were screaming at the man to get the hell away from us and that we weren't going to give him any money for his 'assistance.'

All of this attracted the attention of a nearby female traffic cop and a sharp-looking twenty-something guy, who turned out to be a med student interning at a hospital across the street.

The medical student spoke with us in educated English, and agreed that 30 or 40 Egyptian pounds should be sufficient to reach our destination in Giza.

Meanwhile, the cop had taken over for the destitute wacko in flagging down taxis, but her presence was just about as damaging to the process as his (the drivers just weren't interested in negotiating with her around). Ultimately, she gave up and walked off, leaving us and the med student to deal with the somewhat calmer bum.

By now it had already been a good half an hour since we got off the East Delta bus.

Eventually our new friend successfully flagged down and negotiated a taxi for us—30 EGP (US$5.40)—and we gave him the OK to join us in the cramped vehicle for the short distance he needed to travel to get home. (He would later exit just a few miles away, handing the driver a 5 EGP note and us his phone number.)

As we were loading the taxi the bum approached, as if to grab a bag and 'help,' setting Tatiana off in a rage that I surely thought would come to blows (he just wouldn't back down). But I shoved her in the car, and we were off.

…And so began our drive with probably the stupidest driver in the whole of Cairo.

Continued: Egyptian Incompetence and an Asinine Taxi Driver - Part 2 of 2

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