Travels in Egypt originally written in 2005
Words Jeremy Miles Pictures Hattie Miles
As Abdullah swung the rattling wreck that had once been a car across six lanes of traffic, death or serious injury seemed a certainty. Incredibly, as if by magic, a path opened up before us and we passed unscathed though the honking, seething, fume belching nightmare that passes for rush hour on the roads of Cairo.
We had found Abdullah the previous evening when we hailed his taxi near our hotel. After a couple of near-death experiences on the roads around the city, he had seemed an oasis of calm and common sense in a trade that seemed to be populated by the crazed and the kamikaze.
We had booked him for a day. At around £17 for ‘Wherever you want for as long as you want” it had seemed like a good deal. Now we had just watched our lives pass before us, we weren’t quite so sure.
Abdullah glanced over his shoulder at us cowering on the back seat. A smile flickered across his world-weary face. “In Cairo driving is tough. It is not an easy city,” he explained with a resigned nod.
After this blindingly obvious observation he went on to tell us that he had been driving a taxi around Cairo for 35 years. It doesn’t get any easier,” he added with a shrug.
That was it. If he’d survived that long the the chances were he would make it through another day. Yes I know what the other logical theory is but there are times when you really don’t have any choice but to be optimistic.
We continued happily with our day out, convincing ourselves that in Abdullah’s care we must be protected by some sort of divine force-field.
Certainly his car had survived against all odds. It appeared to have once been a big old eight seat Peugeot but some er modifications had taken place. It had also led a life that had left it looking like something that in this country you might find dumped in a disused quarry.
The inside door handles had been torn off, the gear stick was just a metallic stump and the dashboard was dead. The speedometer bounced loosely up and down and the clock had frozen sometime in the diim distant pass at 544,679 kilometres.
However our optimism was rewarded and nine hours later we were returned safely to our hotel after a day in which we had taken in everything from the Egyptian Museum and the breathtaking treasures of Tutankhamun to the mysterious alleyways and atmospheric markets of the old city.
We explored a marvellous array of Islamic mosques and Coptic Christian churches and of course The Citadel. Sitting high above the city this medieval fortification was the seat of Egyptian government and the official residence of its rulers for nearly 700 years until the 19th century.
There had also been a surreal visit to The Cairo Tower, an impressive landmark constructed back in the late 1950s and early 60s. From its revolving restaurant some 500 feet up we had a panoramic view of the city as we enjoyed tea and cake and were slowly jerked around in circles.
A hapless waiter meanwhile was using a lot of energy trying to stand on a chair to change a lightbulb. Unfortunately his chair was firmly planted on the static floor while the troublesome lightbulb was attached to the revolving section of the ceiling.
Our trip to Cairo came as part of a travel feature based around a Nile Cruise.After a fascinating eight days sailing from Luxor to Aswan and back with visits to tombs and temples and a journey along The Nile that offered astounding scenery, we had flown north to Cairo for three nights at the Pyramids Park Hotel.
Located some 23 kilometres from the centre of the city, it sits amid lushly landscaped grounds on land reclaimed from the desert. As its name suggests, it’s dead handy for the Pyramids and Sphinx which we visited as a seperate trip from our taxi adventure.
Standing by the great Pyramids and scanning the horizon you realise how fast the ever-developing city of Cairo is advancing on this historic site that just a few years ago was miles from the urban sprawl.
As Abdullha said, Cairo is not an easy city. However it is a fascinating one and I am sure that, despite the huge number of things we crammed into our two-and-a-half days there, we barely scratched the surface.
After leaving Cairo we flew back to the tranquility of Luxor and four nights in the comfort of the luxurious Sonesta St George Hotel.
Nestling on the banks of The Nile, it proved a perfect location for recharging our batteries, making return trips to the temples we had seen on our cruise and exploring markets and museums.