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Monday, November 1, 2010

The Desert Highway, Cairo to Alexandria

I have got to skip ahead and leave posts on Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, carpet/suzani buying and the like for a later date.  Patty (my sister-in-law) and I are now in Egypt.  Yesterday we flew from Istanbul to Cairo where we were met by a hired driver for a transfer to Alexandria (we could have flown but the connections were inconvenient and this three, but closer to five, hour drive seemed like a good way to be introduced to Egypt).

And it was!  I can now report that the entire nation between Cairo to Alexandria appears to be under construction---literally thousands of buildings going up everywhere and new highway spurs breaking off in every direction.  Cairo, with a population of around seventeen million, is one of the fastest growing, and most densely populated cities in the world. 

Based on five hours on the highways, encompassing both inner and outer suburbs of two cities and long desert/agricultural stretches in between, I can also report that two schools of philosophy exist about highway driving in Egypt---there are the “straddlers” and there are the “laners”.  Straddlers generally straddle the painted lane markers, keeping a set of tires in each lane.  This has the advantage of increasing the car’s "personal space" as well as turning a two lane highway into a three lane highway when a group of straddlers are together (cars/trucks centered over center and side lines).  Laners obviously are more conventional, staying within marked lanes.  Problems are greatest when a group of laners meet straddlers and much honking ensues at high speeds as the laners squeeze the straddler first to one side then to the other.  Our driver was a straddler (generally about 1/3rd of drivers by my reckoning) and he was hampered, as an official tourist vehicle, by a government-mandated governor on his speedometer that prevented him from traveling faster than 100 km/hr (a state-sponsored program aimed at minimizing the number of tourists who die in car accidents).

 yes! a cow tied in the back of a small pick-up who looked desperately like he didn't want to be there.

Finally, I only wish I could have taken better pictures out the van window of all the craziness on the highway, a road shared by trucks, cars, donkey carts, hitchhikers, buses packed with passengers, scooters, bicycles, and, incredibly, pedestrians who thought nothing of crossing an 8 lane highway packed with vehicles at speeds easily exceeding 60 mph (they used a variant of Italian street crossing technique without the stare-down!).