Sunday, 03 July 2016 20:25

Cairo taxi tales - with photo gallery

Cairo taxi rides, loved them Cairo taxi rides, loved them

I recall how taking taxis in Cairo used to be a real ordeal. That was 12 years ago and I still remember exactly how much I dreaded them, trying to figure out how to fastest get away from the driver once you’d paid. Even in our ‘survival Arabic class’ we were taught how to shout abuse at taxi drivers while throwing money in through the open window before making off in the other direction.  This conversation was even on our classroom tape!!

Usually the amount people paid/told you to pay, seemed so little it should have been the driver who  shouted - and sometimes it was. I hated it - not for them being mean, but for me having to be mean - something that totally goes against my nature.

Good vibes and nasheeds doing their job

I remember always getting into taxis putting all my efforts into being positive and almost chanting ‘It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, he’s kind, he’s friendly.’ And it usually worked!  In fact, I may have possibly gone down in history as the only foreigner to ever have been given a free taxi ride in Cairo.

I flagged a taxi to go meet some colleagues at a ‘Western bar’ and the driver was playing Mishary Rashid,  a Kuwaiti preacher, imam, Quran reciter and nasheed (Islamic a cappella music) artist. His chants are most magical, melodic and soothing even to the ‘Western’ ear. I immediately recognized his voice as I’d been buying his tapes (yes, they still had tapes back then) out of car boots by the plastic bagful. 

Obviously this isn’t exactly the kind of music one expects a (back then) young Western woman to listen to, so when I asked the driver smilingly ‘Masheri Rachid?’ he was in shock. He almost forgot that he had to drive his rickety little car and turned around to stare at me in disbelief before managing to nod. 

We tried to have a conversation to no avail, so in the end just smiled in silence as we enjoyed a ‘spiritual moment’ together - a young Western woman and an Egyptian taxi driver listening to the Koran.

A free ride and unintended comedy

When I got out at my destination and wanted to pay him, he vehemently refused. I insisted for a bit, smiled, bowed in thanks and went off for my drink with friends. When I told them, they first insisted I was making it up... I like to believe the taxi driver remembers the incident as well as I do and it is still one of my favorite Cairo taxi stories.

Up there with the one when I thought I had told the taxi driver where I wanted to go, but he leaned over on his steering wheel and laughed and laughed and laughed, unable to drive off for a good 2 minutes. As a friend suspected, I had probably said something like “I want you to be the father of my 12 children.” I’ll never know, but I somehow did manage to get to my destination once he had wiped away his tears of laughter.

Closed pyramids and free Arabic lessons

Then there was the ride to the pyramids which happened to be ‘closed’ that day - possibly also an incident only I can lay claim to having experienced. I am still not quite clear on what happened, but something had obviously gone terribly wrong in the translation between the friend who was giving instructions via the phone in Arabic and the driver who was supposed to take me. I somehow did manage to get him to drop me off at a Nile river boat that served beer, so the outing still ended up a success. 

And then there was the case of the aspiring Arabic teacher. He thought it was absolutely marvelous that I was learning Arabic numbers, so he kept overtaking cars so that I could read out the license plate numbers for him. Obviously I got tired after about ten cars, but he would not hear of it. ‘Again!’ he kept urging me ‘Again!’ as he overtook car after car, passing license plate after license plate till I had my head spinning with Arabic numbers.

Hail to meters

And despite all those funny memories, I was endlessly pleased to see this time around that taxis had meters, people treated the drivers in a civilized way and they in return were friendly and smiley. Possibly this has to do with the fact that these days I chant positive things in my mind most of the day, not only in taxis, but I did find every single one of them to be lovely and courteous.

Hassle free airport rides

In fact, my positive taxi experience started right at my arrival at the airport, before I had even set foot outside of the building and even before getting to the baggage claim. I had read up online and decided to splurge and get one of those 10-euro transfers which presented itself promptly via a well-dressed young man speaking perfect English. He quoted those exact 100 Egyptian pounds (€ 10), called my Cairo friend from his personal phone and helped me get my bag.

Within minutes I was seated in a clean, air-conditioned car with a driver who again spoke good English. He put my address into Google maps on his mobile, called my friend to say we’ll be there in about half an hour and left me at her doorstep, making sure she was coming down to meet me. Thus began my perfect stay.

When leaving the airport building I did look around and noticed how clean and new most taxis were. Possible the reason why their drivers did not pounce upon any tourists, was that there sadly weren’t any.

Unbelievably cheap for tourists

I took many more taxis during my visit as they are the easiest way to get around - most rides within central Cairo are less than €3. While some cars had no AC and those drivers obviously did not speak English, they were all smiley and always put on their taxi meters.

One travel blog I just read still recommends ‘To avoid any dispute, on arrival at your destination step out of the car, pay through the window and walk off in the opposite direction of the traffic.’ This is no longer valid or necessary - even the one taxi driver who wanted 1 euro more into town as it was rush hour did not seem to care at all when my guide told him smiling then we better get out. No dispute whatsoever. I think they just want to be treated in a civilized manner which seems a reasonable demand.

Accounts of a happy driver

In fact, during one ride with my Egyptian friend we ‘interviewed’ our driver on this very subject. He  explained that there used to be way too few taxis so the drivers could actually ask for exorbitant prices and the government was not giving younger drivers with newer cars licenses.

It is when a new law came into force, requiring all taxis to be of a certain standard and have meters and new applications for licenses were accepted, that things changed for the better. Now there are plenty of taxis and one rarely waits for more than 2-3 minutes. “People know I have a meter and there is no need to discuss anything. Things are much easier now,” he explained. Taxi drivers and passengers are all satisfied at last which I consider amazing Cairo taxi news.  

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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