Dodging and weaving—traffic in Cairo. JOHN SWART

Many of the best adventures on a bicycle tour happen after the bike has been parked for the day. A group of us were assembling in Cairo, Egypt, to begin a tour south through the desert when we realized we didn’t have bike locks and had no clue where to get them. Exiting our hotel compound walls into the dusk, I spied the cab driver I’d used to go to the Cairo Museum in the morning, so I signaled to him and asked him to drive us to a store.

We needed two cabs for seven of us, so he flagged a buddy from the line-up idling across the road. This meant both drivers had jumped the cue. Shouts and curses (you didn’t need to know Arabic to get the drift) ensued, then a heated pushing match began in the middle of the road. Horns blared, lights flashed, and tires screeched as oncoming traffic swerved around the blustering drivers while we huddled in the cabs waiting. One of our group bolted out of the cab and scurried back into the hotel, fearing the night could only go further downhill.

Our drivers escaped and hopped into our cabs and sped away, our guy yelling and gesticulating out his window as if summoning the Devil’s wrath upon the others. They found us a general merchandise store. We had no idea where we were, so we asked them to wait while we shopped. Seems some of our group needed other stuff too — toilet paper, hand sanitizer, detergent, more toilet paper, baby wipes, etc. The first to pass through checkout with a 24-pack of toilet paper (we all decided to share a value pack), three hand sanitizers, two locks, a box of detergent, and some chocolate bars got quite the stares.

By now two of our group decided they needed SIM cards for their phones. No problem for the drivers, so away we go, one cab in hot pursuit of the other, like an Inspector Clousseau police chase through the dark streets of Cairo. Oncoming “tuk-tuk”—motorized pedicabs— had no lights, yet seemed quite happy going the wrong way on multi-lane one-way streets. Stop lights and stop signs were ignored on our route beneath a neglected overhead expressway. It was dark and dirty and dusty with cars, trucks, and donkey carts darting every direction at every chance. It was a ridiculous way to drive, and the more we laughed in the cab, the more aggressively the driver drove.

It was a ridiculous way to drive, and the more we laughed in the cab, the more aggressively the driver drove

SIM cards acquired, we asked the cabbies to take us somewhere “authentic” to eat. Away we went again, as if a green flag had dropped at Indianapolis.

The Egyptian menu had one English word to describe the meat in each dish, but no further detail. Everything was lamb, chicken, or pigeon, and the prices were in Aramaic script, indecipherable to us. Our waiter spoke little English, and we were the only non-Egyptians in the place. I chose stuffed pigeon (why not) and asked for a side order of rice, because a pigeon is small. The waiter smiled and nodded. My skinny, blackened pigeon arrived on a huge bed of rice, stuffed with rice, with my side order of rice beside it. The other guys did equally well in their choices.

Our cabbie asked how we liked the meal, and then informed us that his wife’s father owned the restaurant. Surprise.

Heading back to the hotel, we entered a narrow, darkened street with many dilapidated VW vans parked on both sides. Their owners, noisy, disheveled young men, were hassling and trying to intimidate the cars going through into stopping. Our feisty driver yelled “Crazy guys” to us over his shoulder and gassed it, sending the thugs scattering. It was amazing. I’ve no idea what someone who stopped would have faced, but I suspect a cash donation to the Cairo VW Association would have been demanded at the least.

We had great fun experiencing Cairo’s side streets at night, and it seemed the young taxi drivers enjoyed chasing each other around town. Cost of the evening: $10 each for the cabs, and $8 each for our fine dining. A bargain by any measure.

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Oh John you took me back to Cairo! So glad you and your group experienced the real Egypt! I used to laugh/cry as a passenger in the car. But, you’re braver than I, I would never try hammam (pigeon) although I DID know they stuff with and serve over rice lol. Great article my friend.

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