“Would you like the Hotel Car?” the receptionist wanted to know when I asked for a taxi.
“No, I would like a taxi, no special car.”
“That will take about 10 minutes.” she said looking me over.
“That’s fine, I will wait.”
She was still watching me, when I walked towards the exit to wait for the taxi. After a little more than ten minutes a small white car was coming up the elegant driveway of the hotel. The doorman stepped to the curb, and spoke to the driver – I didn’t understand what he said but it did not sound welcoming.
“That taxi is for me, ” I said coming closer. “Oh” he straightened up and looked at me just as surprised as the receptionist before. He wanted to know where I was going. I gave him the address and he showed it to the driver. 38, 26th Of July Street, Cairo. He did not seem to know where it was, and after a few minutes all the doormen were talking to the driver at once. I think to end the confusion the driver started nodding, confirming that he knew where it was.
When I got into the taxi one of the doormen stopped me, “Just a minute.” He went behind his desk and came back with a block on which he recorded the number of the taxi, the name of the driver and where I was going. He gave me a copy and he kept one. Then he made sure that the meter was working and had been started. We were finally on the way – maybe a hotel car would have been simpler, but I wanted to feel more like a native and not like a tourist.
Now we were driving, and driving. The poor man had no clue where we were going. I knew that because I had looked the address up on a map and found out that it was not far from the hotel. Unfortunately I had left the map in my room. Since there are very few street signs or numbers on buildings, it is difficult to find an address in Cairo. The driver stopped several times to ask, but nobody could help. Finally he went below an underpass, and stopped the motor. Turning around to look at me, he said, “Please don’t walk away – and please lady don’t say anything, or I will be taken away and don’t see my family tonight.”
“I won’t walk away, I might drive away” I said laughingly. He was not laughing and I suddenly realizing that he was worried I would complain about him. To whom I could have complained, I did not know, but obviously he knew. When I assured him, that I would not, and that I would wait for him, he left the taxi and jumped over a nearby fence. There I was in the middle of Cairo, alone in a taxi wondering what would happen next.
When he came back, about 5 minutes later, he had a big grin on his face, “Do you know where it is?” I asked. He nodded and with that the taxi started to take a few fast, fast turns and there we were. In front of a big gate that opened after he shouted at the man standing in front of it. When I wanted to pay, he did not take the money but told me that he will wait for me. “I might be an hour or longer”
“Ok, I take you back to Hotel, I wait. I objected, but it was no use, he was waiting. I knew that now it was time to discuss the price. With my few words of Arabic and his broken English, we agreed on $15. A very reasonable rate, I thought, for a job that took more than 2 hours.
The next day at the hotel it was the same procedure. But this taxi driver was smarter. We had hardly left the driveway when the meter had been stopped. What could I say? This driver spoke no English at all. So all I could hope for was that he knew where the Museum was. He did, and when I handed him $2, the going rate, he knew that stopping his meter did not get him a higher fare.
There are three type of taxis in Cairo –
The Black and White ones which are run down, don’t have a meter, and can be hailed on the street.
The Yellow Taxi – they have meters but are the most expensive, and have to be ordered by phone
The best part about the taxis in Cairo is that there are plenty of them and that they are not expensive.
Have a pleasant ride until the next time