Words: Jeremy Miles. Picture: Hattie Miles
As Abdulla swerved 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 through the honking, seething, fume-belching nightmare that passes for traffic on the roads of Cairo.
We had found Abdulla the evening before 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 business that seemed to be populated by the crazed and kamikaze. We had booked him for a day. At around £17 for “wherever you want, as long as you want” it had seemed a good deal. Now that we had just watched our lives pass before us, we weren’t so sure.
Abdulla 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’s not an easy city,” he explained. After this blindingly obvious observation he went on to tell us that he’d been driving a taxi around Cairo for 35 years. “It doesn’t get easier,” he added with a shrug.
That was it. If he’d survived that long the chances were that he’d make through another day. Yes, I know what the other logical theory is but there are times when you really don’t have much choice but to be optimistic. We continued happily on our day out convinced that in Abdulla’s care we were protected by some sort of divine force-field.
Certainly his car had survived beyond all odds. It appeared to have once been a big, old eight seater Pugeot but some, er how shall we put it, modifications had taken place. It had endured a life that had left it looking like something you might expect to find dumped in a disused quarry. The 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 dim, distant past at 544, 679 kilometers.
However our optimism paid off and six 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 old city, The Citadel and a marvellous array of Islamic mosques and Coptic Christian churches. There had also been a surreal visit to the Cairo Tower, a landmark constructed with Soviet backing in the late 1950s and early 60s. From its revolving restaurant some 500 feet up we received a panoramic view of the city as, enjoying tea and cake, we were jerked slowly around in circles. A hapless waiter meanwhile was using a lot of energy trying to stand on a chair to change a lightbulb. Not easy when the floor’s moving and the ceiling isn’t.
Our trip to Cairo came as part of a holiday centred 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 Abdulla 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 the markets and museums.