Saviours on the chaotic streets of Cairo

Travel Writer: Larry Archer missed the last bus out of the city to Suez, but help was at hand

We stepped off a coach into chaos, into Cairo. There were people everywhere, on the footpath, on the road, crammed into microbuses that bullied their way through sometimes spying a clearer route on the footpath. We shouted in each other's ears to be heard above the din. Traders, touts, shoppers, bikes, buses, cars, men, women, everywhere!

We dove underground, seeking refuge in Al-Shohadaa Metro station. Boarding a train to take us to Tutankhamun at the Egyptian Museum, my partner laughed at my Cheshire grin. After two years sailing in the Mediterranean I danced through the dusty noisy chaotic streets of Cairo.

My excitement was vanquished at 9pm when we missed the last coach back to our floating home in Suez. Our budget didn't stretch to a last-minute hotel room in a city where need decides the price.

The man at the ticket kiosk was locking up. “Local buses may run for another hour,” he told us. “They leave from another part of town. I’ll drive you there.”


Wary but with no alternative, we followed him. He opened the doors of a coach and ushered us inside. “I have no car,” he laughed.

As he squeezed his large vehicle through streets too small, we shared stories with Jemal. He offered us cigarettes and sweets and refused anything in return. As friends he said, we share what we have and take care of each other. Eventually he stopped. “Wait over there. The bus will come with the tout shouting the destination. You must be fast, not polite. Force your way on.”

We stood on a dark street, alone. A few traders lingered further down. Suddenly a microbus rounded a corner. “SUEZ! SUEZ!” Crowds charged from the shadows, elbowing their way on board. We didn’t stand a chance. The overstuffed bus trundled away. Once again we stood, apparently alone.

Then a voice whispered in my ear “Follow me”. Not knowing what else to do, we ran, following the soldier through alleys until we reached a car-park with one vehicle sitting empty. We piled on, it took off, rounding a familiar corner. “SUEZ!” roared the tout. Once again the shadows came alive and charged. Asif sighed, sipping his Coca Cola, admitting he now knew we were on the right bus. “I love America,” he whispered wondering what we could tell him about that enigmatic land.

Our rickety bus rolled into Suez about 1am. We bid farewell to Asif and made our way home to our boat anchored in the harbour.

On a tight schedule to meet friends in the Red Sea, we left Egypt without visiting the Pyramids. I don't remember much of the tourist sites we did see. Jemal, Asif and the chaos of everyday life I remember in great detail.

Asif’s picture sits on my mantelpiece, eclipsing Manhattan with his own Cheshire grin. Six years later, as my adventure ended, Asif found the right bus to America.