Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 50: Marg-Helwan

August 25

My adventures on the Egyptian underground.
So I thoroughly enjoy taking public transportation for some bizarre reason. I love the hoards of people, everyone going somewhere different, all the mutual people watching that occurs, getting lost, etc. I also enjoy the fact that it's cost efficient, less harmful for the environment, and usually faster than driving.
I went out today to get to a friend's house on the other side of the city. In previous years, I would just take a taxi. With the congested traffic (which is 24/7), the trip would take anywhere from 40 minutes to about an hour and I would pay about LE40. This summer, I probably would've paid about LE50/60 (depending on how much haggling I did with the taxi driver) because of the inflation. I decided instead to take my chances and take the underground. There are only 3 lines in Egypt so I figured this can't be too difficult, especially after navigating through a huge portion of the London underground for a week back in July. The first noted difference of course is the lack of maps available for people to use. In order to get somewhere using the Egyptian underground you must do one (or all) of the following:
- Ask someone who knows the lines well (make sure you choose wisely),
- Ask someone who works at the station (they tend to talk to you as if you should already know so make sure you ask for clarification),
- Look for one of those big maps hanging on the walls in the station, but of course this is after you've paid and entered the station, and of course this immediately labels you as a tourist.
I did all three of these things and tried not to stare too much at the maps inside the station. It's a shame that they don't have those little maps that people can take home, especially with the huge number of people who use the underground. Although this makes sense because not very many tourists take the underground and everyone who takes it regularly already knows where they're going.
Anyways, I took one line (Marg-Helwan) and then had to get off downtown and get on another (Giza-Shobra). I did all this and managed not to get lost at all, which given my past with directions, is a very good thing. Another reason I love the underground - it's very difficult to get lost. The whole trip took about 30 minutes each way and I paid:
For the trip there:
- LE 2 taxi from my place to the underground
- LE 1 on the underground
- Walked to my friend's place
For the trip home:
- LE 5 from my friend's place to the underground
- LE 1 on the underground
- LE 4 taxi from the underground to my place
Total cost both ways: LE 13 = about US/CDN $2.5 vs. at least LE100 ($20) by taxi.
Ok, so for those who have tried this method of transportation in Egypt before, I'm sure you're wondering about something very important: the underground is stuffy, hot, and reeks. Yes you're right. The underground is stuffy, hot, and therefore the body odour is not pleasant. But oh well, I've experienced almost the same conditions in London and Toronto (minus the crazy heat).
Also, for women who travel alone, make sure to take one of the womens cars. Heaven sent idea. Always always always far less crowded than the mens cars which means you will either get a seat or at least you won't be stuck in some stranger's face for the whole ride.
While there are some things that can be fixed, I think the underground in Egypt is a good transportation option and one that I will be using more often.
PS: don't try taking pictures in the underground. Another thing that instantly labels you as a tourist.

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