“Where you go? Nuweiba?,” the man asked. “No, Taba,” I replied from the back of the jeep that had ferried me from my beachside hotel to the bus station.
“Taba, 250 pounds,” he said. I balked.
“Okay, 180 pounds.” I balked again.
“I go to Nuweiba anyway and I take you there for 50 Egyptian pounds. I take others too. We go now.”
Knowing that Nuweiba was halfway from where I was in Dahab on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, to Taba, the border with Israel, I agreed. After all, I was in a bit of a hurry as I was hoping to get to Aqaba in Jordan in time to catch the last bus on to Petra.
Little did I know, however, that I would be embarking on a journey that would have me questioning why I had even begun to speak with this man. A journey that would make me a witness to some strange oddities and perhaps, some illegal activity. And a journey that would make me wonder if I’d seen the last of my days…
He walks me towards his pickup truck, at which point I realized that there were no others. The guy lied to me right off the bat about that! That should have been a red flag right there, but I sat down next to him in the front seat of his battered old Chevy pickup truck that was probably older than me. That’s about when things started to get real interesting.
Checkpoints & Fingerprints
Egypt is full of checkpoints and every town, particularly in Sinai, seems to have them. So as we approach the Dahab checkpoint, the driver stops suddenly to talk to some people on the side of the road. Soon, it’s clear that they’re arguing and my driver reaches under the cover of his dashboard and pulls out a book to show them. A book containing fingerprints. Lots and lots of fingerprints. No good. He pulls forward.
“10 pounds!” he barks at me. “What?? Why?!” I asked. “You give me 10 pounds now and I charge you 40!” Begrudgingly, I opened my wallet and pulled out a 10 pound note. He backs up and uses the 10 pound note to bribe the men he was just arguing with. And we’re off again.
Upon arrival in Nuweiba, he stops short of the bus station. “I have a friend, he take you to Taba for 100 pounds,” he tells me. I didn’t even have that many pounds left. But maybe the friend is willing to bargain and the bus is an hour away, so we wait. And wait.
Finally, the friend comes and agrees to take me for 80 pounds.Tired of waiting, I accept and we take off in another pickup, though this one is slightly newer.
Suddenly, the driver makes a sharp U-Turn. “One minute,” he says. “I take care of this and this.”
He drives off the road and suddenly jumps out and starts throwing tires into the back of the truck. A couple of kids run over and start collecting tires for him. They jump in the back with the tires and my bag.
As we begin to go the right direction again, the driver tells me to roll up the window. There’s black smoke up ahead. As we approach, I notice it’s a burning stack of tires. The kids jump out and start unloading all the tires onto the road, effectively creating a road block with tires that would presumably have the same fate. I barely had time to wonder if what I’d just witnessed was legal before the driver hits the gas and speed off towards Taba, though at this point I was seriously starting to wonder if I’d ever get there…
It wasn’t long before a hotel van passes us. My driver honks at them and then they all pull over to discuss. “You go with them to Taba,” I’m told. You pay now 80 pounds and then money done.” I reconfirmed this fact several times before proceeding to the empty passenger van. The driver pays them and, once again, we’re off!
This was a much more pleasant ride, at least until we veer off the main road to some beachside resort, complete with its own village and golf course. The van parks in the back, which appears to be some sort of an employee area.
“One minute,” the man in the passenger seat says, as he heads for a building. 15 minutes later, when he still hasn’t returned, I ask the driver what time we’d be leaving. “One minute,” he replies, as he exits the van to go look for the guy. I’m now sitting there alone.
The driver is gone so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’d been abandoned. Just as I was about to get out and look for someone, he returns apologetically and we’re off again after this lengthy half hour stop.
We hit the Taba checkpoint, a good 4km or so from the actual border, when the driver says “Finish!” “No, border,” I argue! “Money, money,” he says, waving a 10 pound bill. At this point, I have no more money, “No, money done. I pay already,” I insist. My persistence seems to have worked as I was driven all the way to the border for no extra money.
As I set my feet on solid ground again, I could not believe that I was still in one piece and had arrived at my final destination without being kidnapped or arrested!
Leaving Egypt was incredibly simple. Entering Israel, not so much. But I made it through fairly painlessly, mainly because of my insistence that I was going straight through to Jordan (it netted me a “Transit” entry stamp valid for 5 days…and yes, I already had one Israeli passport stamp so another one didn’t seem like much…).
By the time I made it across the Jordanian border, it was now 3:00pm and the last bus to Petra had just left. As I wandered towards the collection of taxis, the dispatcher approached me.
“I know where you want to go. You want to go to Petra. Well there is no bus until tomorrow so you can take a taxi for 50 dinar (roughly US$70).” I was floored. So I opted to wait for other people heading that way.
So, I waited… and waited… AND waited. Finally, half an hour later, 2 other foreigners come through and low and behold, they too were bound for Petra! As I’d come to learn, they too had started their morning in Dahab, but they had both take the bus that I didn’t wait for. The bus that cost a mere 25 pounds (US$4.13) and I had spent 130 (US$21.54)!
D’oh! Well…at least I stimulated the Egyptian economy and made the days of what very likely could have been two criminals (or something…)!
But you know what? I walked away with a story that I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life!
Oh and please do note that Egypt is an incredibly safe place. In retrospect, it was a pretty dumb decision that day to take this “taxi,” though intercity taxis are usually a quick and efficient way to get around Sinai.