Most Taxing

15 07 2008


“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxis” (Benjamin Franklin – sort of)

I am generally a trusting person, although deserved or not, I must confess that taxi drivers tend to arouse my most suspicious tendencies.


There is no finer way for me to explore anywhere than on foot. I like nothing better than to tuck a map into my back pocket and simply lose myself in the backstreets with just a general sense of direction and a major sense of curiosity. It’s not only the best way to sample the atmosphere, soak up the sights and smells and get to know the people, but it’s also the only way to see the little things that would certainly be otherwise missed.


However, if the distances are too great, energy levels are flagging or public transit isn’t an option, sooner or later we may have to opt for a little car with a light on its roof.


I should stress that my suspicion of taxis is really not well founded as my positive experiences far outweigh my negative ones (that I am aware of!), but I do have this overwhelming fear of being taken…for a ride!


During a trip from Istanbul airport to my hotel, I couldn’t help but notice I was being intently watched in the rear view mirror. I shifted uncomfortably and then, suspicion aroused, did what I do in any taxi anywhere and tried to locate the fare meter. Eventually, sliding towards the centre of the back seat, I spied it near the dashboard. The driver’s eyes loomed large in his mirror when he realised the focus of my attention.


His meter was off.


I raised an eyebrow in true Sean Connery fashion, and glared back at the bodiless eyes floating in the centre of the windscreen. His hand groped across, flicked on the meter…and then re-adjusted the mirror to avoid my stare. I continued the journey in the centre seat watching him carefully, pretending that I knew where I was going.


…Which is precisely the problem with cab rides in strange cities: you usually have no idea where you are or whether you are indeed being led astray. I always request my destination authoritatively, try to act disinterestedly and watch my surroundings with a nonchalant detachment as though I’ve been there before. Otherwise, my excitement may betray my vulnerability. The fact is, I could be driven mad and wouldn’t know.


Except once in Cairo.


A group of us had split into two taxis one evening for a journey across town. I was sitting in the front seat of the first taxi and enjoying the hustle, bustle and organised anarchy of Cairo’s busy streets. We tooted and weaved our way around, narrowly missing dozens of sprinting pedestrians and playing chicken with over-crowded buses and exhaust-spewing trucks. Finally, we arrived at our destination. The driver reached down to the meter, looked at me and said:


“Sixty pounds.”


We’d just spent two weeks traversing Egypt in minivans, motor coaches, public buses, donkeys, camels, horse-drawn carriages, a felucca and a sleeper train…and during that time I had not only learned a great deal about ancient Egypt, Bedouins, Nubians and the current Middle East, but also half a dozen Arabic phrases and most conveniently, Arabic numbers.


I glanced at the meter and could see that the actual fare was considerably less than I had just been quoted.


“No, it’s 20 pounds.” I replied.


“Sixty pounds.” He reiterated gravely.


“No,” I responded again, pointing at the meter, “it says 20 pounds.”


With that, he burst into a wide smile and extended his hand to shake.


“You are very clever man. Twenty pounds.” he grinned.


I laughed, handed him 25 pounds and got out of the taxi just as our second vehicle pulled up.


“How much was yours?” my fellow traveller asked as he put away his wallet. Proudly adding: “I bargained mine down to 70 pounds.”



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




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