05 August 2009

Cairo traffic chaos

The traffic around Cairo is probably the maddest that we've seen so far on our travels.

I've driven in many parts of the world but there is no way that I would get behind the wheel of a car here. In a lot of countries the roads are scary because of the speed or the lunacy of the other road users. The traffic here can't go fast enough to get scary but what is nerve wracking is the traffic density. If a road is marked up with two lanes it would only be considered full if there are at least five cars abreast. If not, be on the lookout, because someone will be coming around the outside, up the inside or through the middle. When you add bicycles, motorbikes, mopeds, horses, hand carts, donkeys and buses into the mix it all becomes a little bit chaotic.

The gaps between the vehicles (and animals) are minute and I don't know how we've managed to spend five days in the city without seeing so much as a scrape.

Driving that would send the average Brit into a murderous fit of road rage is met in Cairo with a shrug of the shoulder or a wave of the hand (and not just the two fingers like back home).

Apart from driving on the right hand side of the road the only other road rule that seems to apply is that the car in front has the right of way. Even if it's only in front by half a millimeter and has just cut you up from a side street. The obeying of all traffic signals is only done if there is a policeman about, at all other times it's optional, as is the use of headlights at night.

Although the roads are jam packed the traffic rarely seems to actually stop, making crossing the road somewhat challenging. The Lonely Planet recommends finding a local and using them as a human shield!

We've spent a fair amount of time sampling the traffic chaos from the back seat of a taxi, most of which are beat up old Peugeot 504s or Lada Rivas. There are more than 60,000 taxis on the road in Cairo and they're a great way of getting about. The only difficult bit is the haggling and trying to agree the on fair before you set off. In order to get a decent price you need to have the negotiating skills of Bill Clinton in a North Korean detention centre.

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