Friday, July 14, 2006

Taxi story #1

When one arrives in Egypt you have to be on your toes, especially if you have to take a taxi from the airport. I would recommend arranging to have a car sent from your hotel even if you think it is a bit pricey. Egyptian taxis are scary and the Cairo ones are the scariest of all. There seems to be a lesser degree of insanity with cars associated with or linked to hotels. Thankfully as we booked a package holiday there was a mini bus waiting for us and all our luggage when we arrived.

There was also a courtesy minibus for the trips from the hotel to the dive centre so we avoided taxis then too. Our first experience with a taxi was coming home from the dive centre to our hotel. The courtesy bus wasn't going to be doing its run for a bit and we were tired, ready to get back to our air conditioned room. We thought a taxi would be the most convenient.

Henry walked over to the informal taxi rank on the road in front of the dive centre to discuss the price to carry us back to the hotel. The driver and H agreed that 40 Egyptian pounds (about £4 UK pounds) to take us back to our hotel. After we got in and were up the road a way, the driver restated the price as 40 Egyptian pounds PER PERSON. There was an immediate argument and Henry demanded that the driver stop the taxi. In the end the driver delivered us to our hotel for the original 40 Egyptian pounds but was sulky about it. We felt bad too, like we were being taken advantage of on our first day. It was a bit of a squeeze getting in and out of this rickety old blue and white taxi and I was in a big hurry to get out of it after the unpleasant and hot ride to our hotel.

It wasn't until we got into the hotel that we discovered what a misadventure we were having. I had left our camera in the taxi!

Now normally, the Olympus camera that I use for blogging, taking family snaps etc... has a nice long strap. The strap is always around my neck if the camera is in use. This winter we sprang for the underwater housing produced by Olympus for our model of digital camera. You can see from the previous blog entry that I can get fair results from the camera at moderate depths. But to get the digital camera into the underwater housing you have to unbuckle the strap. See where I am going with this?

We had been using the camera that afternoon in its new underwater housing. After diving we wanted to show each other and other divers the photographs we had taken so took the camera out of its underwater housing. In the cab, the housing was in my backpack and the camera was in my lap. I must have set it next to me when getting in or out of this taxi and forgotten it. I felt just awful. When it dawned on me what had happened I had the biggest heart-sink moment in years. I have become attached to this camera in my day to day bloggy life. Not only that, we had this really expensive underwater housing that was only good for the model of camera that we now no longer have.

I called the dive centre right away, thinking that perhaps this taxi driver was well known and could be contacted to see if the camera is still in the back of his taxi. No luck. It was gone. We were already putting the snappy housing up for auction on e-bay in our minds.

The following day after our now camera free dives we went to go speak to some of the other taxi drivers in this makeshift taxi rank. One of the drivers who had taken a shine to young George the day before remembered whose taxi we had employed and knew the driver. He phoned the driver right away. The driver had not seen the camera. Never mind it was worth a try. Before we left we said to the guy who had phoned his pal our taxi driver that there was now a reward of £50 British pounds or 500 Egyptian pounds for the return of the camera. Loud protestations were next. The taxi driver was a good Muslim and wouldn't keep a camera that wasn't his! We tried to explain that we weren't accusing anybody of keeping our lost camera we just wanted to make it worth it to them to look a little harder. You know, check under the seats an extra time.

I want to say at this point I'm starting to feel pretty bad. Not only was there the misunderstanding about the fare yesterday that could have been our fault for not making things crystal clear before we stepped into the taxi, but now it seems as though we are accusing these hard working drivers of theft. We go back to our hotel after the second day in Egypt feeling just a little worse about the situation.

The next morning as we come down to the hotel reception the desk clerk says that there is a message for us. Our camera has been discovered and the driver has left his number! We are overjoyed. All those great pictures from the beginning of our holiday will be saved and I won't have to learn how to use a new camera. The underwater housing can stay in our possession too . .. This is great!

The hotel clerk speaks to the taxi driver and says that he will be at the hotel at 11:00 am to return our camera to us.

Fair is fair, I get 500 Egyptian pounds and I go out to the front of the hotel, standing by the armed hotel security guard and wait for this nice taxi driver. The driver shows up very promptly and after first checking that I wasn't kidding about the reward shows me our camera that has been carefully wrapped in tissues and placed in the glove compartment of his taxi. I am quite relieved to get the camera back and happily hand over his reward.

The camera back in our possession, I start to walk back to the hotel. The driver then asks me to give him 200 more Egyptian pounds to reimburse him for his drive out to the hotel. Hmmm. I tell him that I don't have my handbag (which I really don't have with me) and I have no more money. He asks that perhaps I could reimburse him tomorrow at the dive centre if I am going to be there at the normal time. I am rapidly starting to think that this guy is one big chancer. I nod some sort of half agreement as I check to see that the memory card and batteries are in the camera and get back to the hotel.

I meet Henry in the lobby of the hotel, holding the long lost camera in my hand. It is when we start to show somebody our dive photos from our first day that get a little surprise.

This is a photo of a mosque under construction in Sharm el Sheikh. We didn't take this picture. This is a picture of somebody's denim clad lap. We all think it is far too hot for jeans. Who's lap might this be?
Here is a picture of some Egyptian person that we don't know. Hmmm
Wait a minute! I recognise this person in the yellow shirt. It is the taxi driver in whose taxi I left our camera. The same guy who found our camera after a reward was offered.

As these photos were taken in the late afternoon, he had obviously found our camera right away and started snapping. There are some small digital video clips too. Nothing interesting. Just somebody fiddling with buttons that they don't understand. My feeling bad about the fare misunderstanding of the first day and my guilt at almost accusing him of theft by offering a reward has vanished. I almost can't wait for him to ask me for more money tomorrow. Little chancer.

It turns out that taxi drivers in Sharm El Sheik have been known to charge new holiday makers, easily spotted by their whiter than white northern skin, well over the odds for first rides from the airport and for taxis to the hotel after first nights out. One poor couple from Huntington, North Yorkshire paid 500 Egyptian pounds for their first ride to the hotel when a 25 pound ride is what is listed (private cars are more).

Henry and I got savvy very quickly. If a taxi driver doesn't want to take us to our hotel for 20 Egyptian pounds, there will be another taxi driver that will and they know it. We didn't even have to haggle, just turn around and start walking towards another driver and they snapped in line.

Please know that during our stay we met many very very nice drivers and we tipped very generously whenever we had good and friendly service, with or without air conditioning. This joker (pictured above) was merely an exception.

*The second driver that had phoned the joker on our behalf also came looking for a reward just for making the call - jeeze louise! Talk about taking your eyes out and coming back later for the sockets!


saz said...

Glad you got your camera back but it depresses me that you have to be constantly on alert for this type of thing.

Peggy said...

But if you look at it another way, we left our camera in a taxi in Sharm El Sheik AND we got it back! On top of that, we have a story and photos to go with it!

saz said...

That's for sure and looking again this morning it does make me laugh looking at the photos your taxi driver took.

Anonymous said...

All diplomacy aside here, those guys are friggin ridiculous. What sheisters! And that show of indignation when you told them about the reward - what a joke. Actually, getting ripped off by a cab driver seems to be a risk no matter where you go. Congrats on getting the camera back. - Helen

bob said...

well they do seem dodgy characters but holiday resorts do attract this sort of chancer.

Mark said...

interesting story you have there!

Patricia Lieb said...

That's funny, not funny ha-ha but sadly funny. Imagine somebody taking photos with somebody else's camera and then not seeing the results... As a photographer, I treasure my shots.
Anyway, glad you got it back.