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Cairo:”Car Jamming”

At the moment, we are being immersed in the bountiful and amazing cultural artefacts, stories and history of Egyptian civilisation and ancient Egypt. Before we get lost in antiquity, consider that contemporary Cairo is a teeming metropolis of, depending on who you believe, between 19 and 25 million people. A baby is born every 30 seconds. People are on the roads day and night. If the birth rate is an indication, people are also going off-road with their activities.

At certain times of the day--let's say in the morning, the middle of the day, the evening and let's not forget nighttime --there is road chaos in Cairo. Rush hour is every hour. Your preconception of what you think is heavy traffic will dwindle into insignificance when you witness the controlled chaos of driving in Cairo.


Cairo: The City

Before we start, let's consider where we are and the requirements to navigate the road systems in Cairo. Cairo is a sprawling city. From the Citadel of Cairo, adjacent to the Muhammad Ali Mosque (also known as the Alabaster Mosque), you see a city teeming with life. Cairo is more like a living, breathing organism than an inert conglomeration of buildings.


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That sweeping view is only part of the city. Multiple that by three or four and you get an idea of the vastness of the city that is Cairo. And everyone has to get somewhere in Cairo. They go to work, visit family and friends, go shopping and do all things that are required to cram a full life. You can see it, hear it, taste it and smell it. Cairo is alive!


Cairo's roads

This brings us to the hub of driving in Cairo. It is a case of controlled chaos. Everyone knows where they are going; it just seems they are all going in different directions on the same road at the same time. When I say everyone, I mean cars; trucks; bicycles; buses (really crowed buses); motorcycles; Egyptian utes; tuk tuks that are allowed to be imported but not allowed to be licensed, so, they are illegal with drivers as young as 12; horse drawn carriages; men on donkeys; and one woman walking in the middle of traffic against the flow of traffic. For pedestrians, crossing the road means being confident and moving through and around all the vehicles travelling at speed and oblivious to the potential for disaster. If you thought things were perilous for pedestrians crossing on zebra crossings in Casablanca, they don't even know the meaning of zebra crossing in Cairo. Crossing the road can be like a death wish. The locals manage quite nicely, thank you. They are calm, calculate their trajectory around the traffic and get to the other side.

From our observation, drivers of vehicles of any kind have one approach to driving; they get in their vehicle, point it in the direction they want to go and drive. They are oblivious to traffic. Turning indicators are optional while blowing your horn is mandatory. Some roads have white lane markers on them and others don't. Having said that, lanes are irrelevant. Cars swerve and change imaginary lanes, squeeze into any space between traffic, turn when and where they want to and have I mentioned that they toot their horns alot. It's almost a form of greeting. It doesn't matter who you are, your level of education or where you live. Everyone is on a mission to get where they need to go. When our Egyptologist, Deena, was asked if she drove in Cairo, she replied:

"I am one of those crazy people" Deena (Egyptologist & licensed Cairo driver)



Please ensure the sound is turned in. The sound is essential when watching this video.

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Vehicles in Cairo

If you notice closely, you will see that many, if not most of the vehicles in Cairo are run down, damaged, in a condition of disrepair, need servicing and, generally, are in poor condition. Before you jump to the conclusion that Cairo's residents don't care for their cars, you should know that cars in Cairo are taxed 100% of the value of the car. In effect, the price of the car doubles when the tax is applied. How often would you update or purchase a new car if you had to pay a 100% tax on the car? I can hear the cyclists saying smugly, "Petrol? Who pays for petrol?" See how you go havigating in Cairo traffic on a bicycle. Good luck. And we complain about a luxury car tax in Australia.

On the plus side, petrol is cheap because it's subsidised by the government. At the moment, petrol is about 50 cents a litre in Australian currency.

Are you ready for your first driving lesson in Cairo's traffic? I dare you. Double dare you!

Click small thumbnails images to enlarge the photo

By the way, my mate Dennis of Bunnik Tours (that's Mr. Bunnik to you), told us that buildings on the side of the new highways in Cairo have been "shaved" to make way for the widening of the highways. Don't you just love the notion of a shaved house. How do you shave a house? Do you ask for short, back and sides? Do they use a hot towel and a foamy shaving gel? And how big is the razor they use to shave a building? You can see it clearly on many buildings where the edge of the building contains remnants of what was previously an apartment.


Stefan's Caravanserai expert on the incendiary rock band The Clash, Adie NZ (thanks Adie), has informed me that The Clash released a song titled "Car Jamming" on their landmark album, Combat Rock, specifically about car jamming in Cairo. How's that for synchronicity, even though Synchronicity is an album by The Police, another groundbreaking band. Even the Cairo police--the actual police not the band--find it difficult to manage traffic in Cairo.


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