This is Egypt – Israel to Cairo, part 1 of 3
Chaya and I crossed the Egyptian border from Israel with a single intention: to get to Cairo as fast as possible. We had a pocket full of Egyptian money that we exchanged before leaving Israel — it was enough to get us out of the country. I cannot say that frugality was a high priority, but old traveling habits die hard.
I inquired at the border about buses going to Egypt’s capital, and was told that I could get on the bus at 4:30PM. It was half passed one at this point, but we figured that this would be our best bet — I have waited before, three hours idle in a chair would not kill the journey.
Besides, after a morning of border crossing chaos, neither Chaya nor I felt up to dancing between the jigs and jives, the scams and hustles of the minibus taxi drivers.
We crossed into Egypt and ran through the sea of taxi men. There was a bus station one kilometer from the border that sat beyond a bend, where we knew that we could get on a large public bus to Cairo without hassles.
Just as we were breaking out of the taxi driver crowd at the border, a minibus pulled up next to us. I looked straight ahead, knowing that my wall of acknowledgment would not last very long.
“Cairo, Cairo!?!” yelled the driver.
I blew him off, and kept staring straight ahead — only a half km more until the bus station.
He drove up a hundred yards and pulled over to wait for us. At our approach he jumped out of the minibus and ran onto the sidewalk before Chaya and I.
He grabbed my arm firmly as I tried to walk by. With no slight amount of aggression I removed his grasp. I believe I also told him to f’ck off, or some other similar directive.
He continued cackling prices and lies.
“To Cairo, leaving right now, 100 pounds, get in now! Right now, we go!”
Minibus from Taba to Cairo.
There was only a single passenger in the bus — there was no way that he was going anywhere “right now.” A global rule of transportation is that minibuses do not go anywhere unless full of passengers.
Chaya and I walked on.
The bus driver got back in his vehicle creeped behind us at three kilometers and hour, yelling out ever lowering prices to us from the window. For the span of a football field the minibus shadowed our steps with a screaming man in the driver’s seat.
This guy was obviously very dedicated to his work — he would not give up. There was no way that I was going anywhere with that guy. I reissued my initial directive loudly and with force. He drove off in a U-turn back for the border to scour for other game.
“Right now we leave” was clearly not the truth.
Chaya and I walked to the bus station. Upon entering the bus field, we saw a sign for the East Delta bus company. We walked up to its operation window and were greeted by fat, greasy skinned man in a t-shirt that was nearly as dirty as his face. He was flashing a huge smile at us — not a good sign.
Taba bus station time table.
“Delta bus station?” I inquired, not quite believing that any bus company in the world would allow such a sketchy and filthy looking fellow to work under their banner.
My inquiry was confirmed as the man unlocked a door and walked behind the counter of the office. The price was 130 pounds ($26) for two tickets to Cairo on the 4:30 bus. I paid with 150 pounds and expected change. The bus man stuffed my money into an old desk drawer and closed it. He then began talking nonsense. I asked for my change. He continued talking nonsense. I demanded my change. He acted surprised at my demand, as though it was standard operating procedure for him to take my money, provide tickets, close up the deal, and then talk ten minutes of nonsense before giving me my change. Perhaps it was. He eventually reopened the drawer handed my 20 pounds over.
Chaya and I then sat in front of the bus office along an empty row of plastic chairs. For a half hour we watched the nothingness of the Sinai borderland move by.
Then the ticket vendor who sold us our bus tickets walked over to us.
“You go this man. He take you to to Cairo in taxi.”
Chaya and I looked at him like he was a touch cracked — we had just purchased bus tickets form him, we obviously wanted to go by bus. If I did not know any better I would have thought that the Delta bus company employee was selling us off to taxi drivers.
“This man leave now in taxi,” he continued, “you go with him.”
“We just bought bus tickets, we will wait for the bus,” I responded.
“No, you give me ticket and driver 20 pounds each person. No problem, no problem. You leave right now, go to Cairo. Give me ticket. No problem . . . ” the bus man continued his banter.
He was trying to sell us off to the taxi drivers.
“We will just wait for the bus,” I replied.
The bus man got excited: “NO, NO! bus leave at 4:30, take 8 hours to Cairo. This man leaves right now, 5 hours to Cairo. Go right now!”
“No, we will wait for the bus. We do not mind waiting.”
“GO right now! Give me ticket, you go with that man in nice car!”
Neither Chaya nor I particularly trusted this situation, and there was no chance that we were going to jump into this trap that was obviously concocted to ensnare us. The bus man was obviously planning to “refund” our tickets, by taking his personal cut, paying some of it to the taxi driver, and then leaving us to whatever situation we befall in the middle of the Sinai Desert with an underpaid taxi man.
No way. I did not care if the bus took a dozen hours to get to Cairo, I was not bend.
“We will take the bus, we have tickets, we don’t mind waiting.”
The bus man walked away to chat with the taxi driver alone. They sat together upon a couple of plastic school room chairs a dozen dozen paces away. A few other men then approached them and had a little huddle. The new fellows then walked over to us with attempts at convincing us to exchange our bus tickets for a taxi ride.
We were being pushed into making a deal that we did not want to make.
When caught in the riptide of travel, it is often better to fight your way to shore than be dragged out to sea. The bus and taxi men were pulling us out into the ocean, and Chaya and I just wanted to get back to shore.
“We are going on the bus,” I spoke with finality.
The taxi/ bus men left us alone . . . for another half hour. A taxi man with a minibus soon pulled into the bus lot and approached us with a similar deal:
If we were to exchange our bus tickets and pay him 20 more pounds (not a bad price really), and he would take us to Cairo — “right now.”
We declined the offer again. The bus man then walked over to us to provide assurance that our tickets were completely refundable if we wanted to take a taxi.
We did not want to take the taxi, we wanted to take the Delta bus that we bought tickets for. To a couple of American travelers, this seemed to be a simple deal: you buy tickets and you take the ride. The fact that nothing is so straight forward in Egypt began to make itself known.
A half hour more goes by . . . We are becoming tired of arguing with bus people and taxi drivers . . . though we did realize that getting to Cairo as quickly as possible would be to our benefit. The 4:30 Delta bus would drop us off somewhere in expansive Cairo no sooner than midnight — this is a stupid time to arrive anywhere — and we still had to make preparations for our flight the following morning.
The seeds of speculation were beginning to set in — we were starting to bend. . . . for only a few dollars more we could leave “right now” and be in Cairo by nightfall.
I looked down into my hands and waited for time to pass, sorting out the best path to travel. I then noticed a man standing right over me:
He began cackling.
It was the same minibus man who accosted me at the border.
I laughed at seeing him, as “We leave right now” was stretched into an hour and a half. He spoke the same banter as the other taxi men who approached us at the bus station.
The ever helpful and understanding East Delta bus company official again agreed to refund our tickets in exchange for us traveling by taxi.
Taxi men at Taba.
This was the last taxi man in the world that I wanted to travel with to Cairo.
I tried to shoo him away like I did to the ones who came before him. But he was unmovable. For more than ten minutes he babbled over my head.
“We go now! We go now! To Cairo!”
Ten minutes soon turned into twenty.
“We go now! We go to Cairo! Good price! Whaaat is your problem? No problem, you give ticket, we go now!”
He was not going to accept loss. He was going to make Chaya and I go with him, no matter what. I began to admire this man’s resolve.
. . . or at least I found it rather humorous.
I went over to his minivan and looked in its windows: it had three other passengers inside who seemed to have been regreting that they chose this particular driver to go with. I talked with them a little — they were from Israel. They were in their early twenties and seemed as if they would be good traveling companions.
We made a couple jokes about the driver, and I got the feeling that I welcomed an adventure with these kids.
I walked back to the excited driver to make a final offer. I called over the bus official and I stood looking smugly at the two vultures.
“Ok,” I began my negotiation, “I give you this bus ticket and go to Cairo in this taxi, but I will pay no more money.”
They quickly agreed.
I handed over the ticket.
“No more money,” I confirmed with the taxi driver.
“No money, no money,” he happily agreed.
The taxi man and the bus official then found a quiet corner on the lee side of the station to work out their deal.
Chaya and I got into the minibus . . . fully welcoming the scams and hustle that we knew would come.
But we were moving on towards Cairo.
This is Egypt.
Route for travel from Eilat, Israel to Cairo, Egypt. We paid 75 EGP each for a minibus taxi. It took around 6 hours from Taba to Cairo.
This is part 1 of a series of 3 travelogue entries. Read the rest of this yarn:
Part 2- Minibus Fiascoes and the Dirtiest Toilets in the Egypt
Part 3 – Ain’t Nothing in Sinai Egypt
Vagabond Journey on hard traveling
Hard Traveling – Bicycle Journey Across Eastern Europe
Travel With Me
Hitching across the Middle Kingdom
By Train Across Southern China
A visit to the US Embassy
I Unwittingly Celebrate Ramadan, too
Trust and Travel and the Complexities of Adventure…
This is Egypt – Israel to Cairo, part 1 of 3