Posted on Tuesday 24 February 2009

More fun with taxis!

I go out to Giza 2 days a week. I do some volunteer computer-type-thingies for one of the Egyptology groups that work near the pyramids.

From Zamalek, the easiest way to get there is by taxi.

Getting a taxi to Giza is pretty easy. I flag down a taxi and tell them “Giza” and the driver’s eyes light up with (the local equivalent of) dollar signs. They figure they have a rich tourist on their hands.

I then tell them, in very rough Arabic, that I want to go _near_ the pyramids but not _to_ the pyramids. And that I want them to take the ring road. That makes them unhappy because

  • it means I probably am not a tourist and I speak at least a little Arabic, so it means I am going to be a little hard to bilk
  • it means that they cannot drive the surface road route to the pyramids
  • it means that they cannot take me down what I lovingly refer to as, “tout alley”.

This is the main street leading from Giza to the Pyramid entrance. (or one of them, anyway).

Along this street will be young men who will, quite literally, run into traffic when they see a taxi with a khwaga (foreigner)  in it. They usually congregate around the intersections where taxis have to slow down or stop.

It will be several minutes of:

“Hello! Where you from? You go pyramids? I take you. I take you horse ride” etc etc

My favourite experience along those lines is when I told the driver to take the ring road, and he did not. (I wasn’t paying attention. I was listening to music and day dreaming. By the time I realized what was going on, it was too late to make the turn off.)

I let him know that I was not happy that he did not take the ring road. And I let him know that I was not interested in going to the pyramids, or a horse ride, or a guide.

As we approached tout alley, he was waving people off in an attempt to placate the angry khwaga. One fellow ran along side the taxi and managed to get the front, passenger-side door open. He was attempting to get in the taxi to “be my friend”

I told the driver: “La-a. Mish aiz, yalla yalla.” (No. I no want. Step on it).

He accelerated. My new-wanna-be-friend was doing a pretty good job keeping pace. He was able to keep even with the taxi. But he was only even with the rear door.

The front door, which is still open at this point, mind you, is juuuuuuust out of his reach. He can keep up, but can’t gain the extra couple of feet needed to jump into the front seat.

The only thing that would have made this a perfect comedy is if he had run into the back of one of the mini-buses that was stopped along the side of the road or tripped and fallen.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish harm on the young man. He is just trying to earn a living (granted, by being a nuisance and a leech, but still).

I would have laughed my ass off if there had been a harmless pratfall though. As it was, I got a chuckle out of waving out the window to him as he tried to keep pace.

It made up for the extra time required to take the surface roads.

But anyway, that isn’t what this post is about.

This post is about getting home _from_ Giza.

There are a lot fewer taxis available going from Giza at the time I want to leave. (between 5 and 7 pm).

Yesterday I had to wait for over 5 minutes (if you lived or even visited here, you would understand the magnitude of this statement) before any taxi came by. And it was full. It was probably 10 minutes before I got a taxi.

I got in the taxi. It was a pretty nice taxi, as Cairo taxis go. The seats were brand new.

Of course, they didn’t actually fit the taxi and were made for some sort of mutant that had a 36″ inseam and a 10″ torso (the “head” rest was low, between my shoulder blades).

But the taxi wouldn’t stay running. When ever he put the clutch in, it would sttttttutter. About half the time, the driver was able to give it gas and keep it from stalling. About half the time not.

Nor was it a lack of fuel issue. It was something else.

Normally this wouldn’t concern me for a couple of reasons

  • it is rather common for a taxi to die, either out of gas, or to stall and then fail to restart because of a dead battery.
  • taxis are usually a dime a dozen. If this one died, I would simply hop out and flag another

But this time was different.

I had waited a long time for a taxi. Getting out now would mean a long wait for another.

And we were going on the ring road. Where traffic would be wizzing by at anywhere from 50 to 150 kph.

So a breakdown on the ring road is a little hairier.

Oh, did I mention the wind was blowing and the sky grew dark?

So the taxi dies a couple more times. The last time right on the on ramp to the ring road. I analyzed the situation and figured

this is my last chance to get out before we get on the ring road.

He got it started again without even slowing down. And I chose poorly. I stayed in the taxi.

We get on the ring road. Traffic is moving fast today. (sometimes it is at a crawl).

Taxi stalls.

He pops the clutch.

Taxi stutters and starts. We drive on.

Taxi bogs down.

At this point I am actually a little nervous about a semi ploughing into the back of us as we crawl along at about 20kph.

He limps it to the side of the road.

Ok, time to get out and try to grab another taxi.

I am texting back and forth with the good doctor at this point keeping her apprised of my situation (“remember, I want to be cremated and my ashes flown back to seattle”)


standing on the side of the highway

in the whipping wind

trying to hail a taxi

nobody is stopping

It was kind of amusing and I was actually chuckling about it.  To sum it up I will cut-n-paste from a message I sent my wife as I was standing on the side of the highway

Could be worse. Oh wait. It is raining.

It was only another 5 or 10 minutes before I was able to flag another taxi.

Good times…

4 Comments for 'Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta-Taxi'

    February 24, 2009 | 4:47 pm

    I know in Alexandria is the same every foreign is a turist and it equals lost of dollars.

    February 24, 2009 | 4:48 pm

    Do you have any idea how paranoid i am about that very thing happening!? I do not want to be stuck on the ring road trying to flag down a taxii

    February 25, 2009 | 12:23 pm

    Just found your blog, laughed out loud several times, learned a few things… (I am a newb expat in Egypt, admitted shamefully and happily). Nice to meet you and shall be back often insha’allah.

    March 3, 2009 | 12:02 am

    I know this isn’t going to sound appealing, but I was so annoyed by the taxis/touts down there that I hopped on a bus that went right past the Giza Metro. Took it to Opera and caught a taxi home from there… not suggesting you make a practice of it, but it might be the way to go if you run into any more taxi shortages.

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