One of the main things that:
* & horrify
first-time visitors to Egypt, (and yes, even returning visitors who have had time erode away the memories of their first visit) is……. THE TRAFFIC!
It is a ceaseless cacophony: crowded, completely random, constantly weaving, inconsiderate and confusing!
This is mainly because visitors tend to apply what THEY have come to believe are the norms for respectable traffic! It does well, however, to completely disregard the exams you had to sit to get your license, the words of wisdom shrieked at you by whoever taught you to drive and indeed, your own experience and natural instincts!
In Egypt, we drive as Egyptians drive!!
“Well,” as one of our Egyptian friends explained to us, “we all drive trying to maximise the space available on the road!”
So basically, you have far too many cars, squashed together on a far too limited strip of road, all trying to squeeze into any available gap that appears, as quickly and as fast as possible……before any other car, bus, donkey, delivery bike or bicycle. And, of course, at the same time, trying to second guess what the other vehicles around, behind, in front and almost on top of you are going to do about that minuscule gap in the flow in front of you!
And the lanes?
One of the salesmen at a local car dealership doubled over with laughter as he heard that one foreigner had driven for half an hour along the corniche, staying in the “lanes” the whole way! This was a source of great merriment as the story gained momentum around the sales-floor. When asked, then, what are the lanes for then, if not to regulate the flow of traffic, the salesman sincerely replied:
“Well, of course, that is to help us find the road when there is thick fog!”
And when asked how often this happens, after discussion with his colleagues, replied:
“ Maybe 4 or 5 times a year, and only in the mornings!”
So the resultant effect…
is rather like a full speed Mario-Kart type computer game, with some vehicles even as odd-looking as those in the game! There is constant swerving, sharp breaking, cross-lane weaving, no indicating… all at rather high speed, with horns constantly in use, along with much angry arm-waving when someone takes your gap in the traffic, and even shouting across cars. And one-way streets mean nothing, cutting across 4 layers of cars to turn off the road is completely normal, and even suddenly seeing a car coming towards you on the wrong side of the road is usual! Short-cuts are expected: every driver is just trying to shave off those extra couple of minutes… which is really pointless, as traffic regularly grinds to a halt.
And a safe stopping distance?
There is no such thing! Most times drivers try to avoid actual contact with the cars surrounding them, however, this is not always possible, and results in heated conversations between the drivers. Almost every car has wonderful “scars” somewhere on the body to testify to frequent run-ins with other vehicles!
And parking is literally by touch (or bump) and drivers mostly leave the hand-brakes off so that if necessary the cars can be pushed slightly so that others can try and ease out of the parking spaces… so tightly packed are the cars: literally bumper to bumper! And when you park, you must fold your wing mirrors in, or else passing cars (who pass very close) will break them off!!
So what about crossing the roads?
Forget everything you mother ever taught you, ignore your natural instinct to flee, and never, ever try and cross a street alone! If you wait for a break in traffic… well… you might spend your entire holiday standing on the side of the road. Best advice is to stand close to a local person, and when they walk, you walk with them.
Cars generally will not slow down for the faint-hearted! But once you step out, they will avoid you!
And never expect traffic to stop even if a police-man holds up his hand… and no-one even notices traffic lights…. and you should not rely on them either!!!
But do not fear, if you stand paralysed on the side of the street for longer than a few minutes, a nearby shopkeeper, or police-man, or helpful young Egyptian will take your hand or arm and guide you safely across the road! This is what they do!!
You will get the hang of it….
The sooner you understand the sights, smells, feel and vibe of the 24/7 traffic, the quicker you will get to enjoy your holiday. The roads are like a crazy daily dodgem, which might leave you gasping in shock and horror….. but that is how the traffic rolls here!
(And of course, having read this, you will now be better prepared!!!)