“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.
22 replies on “Leaving Egypt: The Day I Thought I Might Get Kidnapped”
It happens. My own leaving Egypt story involves taking the overnight bus from Cairo to Taba. Mostly Egyptian men at night on a bus, and Egyptian truck stop bathrooms, whee! One of the most uncomfortable nights of my life, but I came through it.
The taxi in Petra thing, that happened to me and resulted in me landing in Petra with zero dollars to my name. So awesome. I suspect that you just have to expect to be taken in once or twice on a trip like that.
Haha on the way TO Cairo from Taba I took a share taxi with a bunch of foreigners and a few Egyptians (we’d already missed the bus and it was considerably faster). We took those truck stop restrooms too. One of the moments that makes me glad to be a man…
Yikes! How did you end up getting to Petra? And the fact that the border crossing there lacks an ATM on the Jordanian side is utterly ridiculous!
I think at 3am on the most uncomfortable bus ride of all time, I just no longer cared and it was a chance to get all segregated up with the few women on the bus. (The guy I sat next to was a perfect gentleman, but he was just as uncomfortable having to sit next to a single white girl as I was to sit surrounded by the single men. The women on the bus were traveling with escorts, for the most part.)There were toilets, not squats, but not nice ones.
I paid the cabbie when we got to Petra! He stopped at an ATM in Wadi, which is where I discovered I had critically underestimated my funds and the Jordanian dollar. I think I may have shorted him, too. I didn’t get the conversion rate right in Jordan. Ironically, I found a Jordanian coin in my bag today. No idea how much it’s worth, because the Jordanian currency apparently never took, whereas I can still convert to the shekel and the Egyptian pound fairly easily.
Haha that’s what smartphones are for! 😛 And the easiest conversion is that 50 JD is roughly US$70 since that’s what the entry to Petra costs…AND that’s what the taxi TO Petra costs! Divide by something or other and you get the conversion rate.
Ah yes, that’s what the two people I shared a cab with did. Driver stopped by an ATM in Wadi Musa and they paid. That would’ve been the smart thing for me to do. I have a feeling that I may have gotten short changed exchaning cash at the border.
Yes I did notice on those buses in Egypt and Jordan that men and women never sat together unless they were a couple. Yet on the Metro in Cairo it doesn’t matter that much (well, men can’t ride in the women’s cars but women car ride in the men’s…).
Great story and I’m glad you survived to tell the tale! I too am totally surprised that you were not kidnapped or arrested while stimulating the Egyptian economy.
Yikes man! That is crazy! Glad you are safe but instincts would have said something was wrong. Would I have listened to my instincts? I am not sure but at least you have a good story to tell!
Oh trust me, my instincts said something was wrong! But it’s not so easy to bail when you’re already in the car… But yes, I did walk away with quite a story!
Glad to see that you made it out of there with a good story; that’s the important thing.
The me making it out of there part? Or the good story part? 😛
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How crazy!! I loved this story – kinda reminds me of crossing the Thai-Cambodia border. Haha
It was just really shady – I’ve done it a few times so I’m used to it but you know.. drive to the border, get off – go through customs (need to bribe or you’ll be there for hours) and then once you get through, you walk across the border, get on a motorbike for an hour that takes you to middle of nowhere, wait for a tiny van to come pick you up to take you to the city. Not as intense as your story but crossing the border by land is always tough!! Lately it’s not as shady but it’s still pretty harsh. Haha
Ah now that sounds like many a border crossing, particularly the one from Laos to Thailand near Pakse/Ubon Rachatini… And you know, maybe I’m a glutton for punishment but I really enjoy land crossings. I kind of feel like there’s this spirit of entering the unknown “the old fashioned way” by doing them. And they’re certainly more exciting (and usually more frustrating) than airports!
Haha yea – I grew up in Southeast Asia so road trips with friends always involved border crossing. I definitely feel comfortable crossing Southeast Asia borders now but if I were in your situation in Egypt, I would have no idea what to do!
Hahah well the unknown of what will happen and what you should do are half the fun of traveling!
A fascinating, albeit terrifying story! I’m glad you survived it in order to tell your story! I’ve heard many interesting stories about the border crossings and checkpoints around here. One of my friends had some food taken as ‘payment’ at a checkpoint. Payment for what I’m not even sure he knows! Thanks for sharing!
In some countries, particularly in the developing world, border guards like to take a little off the top. Prime example is in Laos. Ask any number of foreigners of the same nationality how much they paid for their visas on arrival coming from the same crossing and you’ll get different answers… Not to mention that in the Middle East, entrance/exit taxes for land crossings are pretty normal (and incredibly obnoxious in my opinion). But yeah…the checkpoints… I had a soldier in Iraqi Kurdistan keep my passport for a bit just so he could look at my stamps!
That was a lot of different vehicles you had to take to get to the border! Crazy story and very entertaining. Glad you arrived alive. 🙂
Haha I’m glad I arrived alive too! 🙂