Christy and Aaron Tracker

Follow Christy and Aaron on their backpacking trip around the world

Racing Back to Cairo

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 10 3rd, 2010

Christy and I were really excited to get to Cairo from Tel Aviv to meet my aunt Karen. Everything was going pretty smoothly on our long travel day. Our bus ride through Israel was comfortable and air conditioned. We got our visas at the Egyptian Consulate within 20 minutes (versus 3 hours for the people in front of us). Crossing the border into Egypt went pretty quickly once Christy woke the sleeping border guard to stamp our passports. We thought our luck was going to continue when we got on a shared taxi in Taba to take us to Cairo instead of waiting for the next bus. Riding in the shared taxi was going to get us to Cairo several hours ahead of the scheduled bus service. However, our luck ran out halfway through the ride.

From the beginning, I was hesitant to take the shared taxi because of horror stories I have read on the internet. Most of the stories involve getting ripped off by the driver. The bus station attendant helped convince us to take the taxi explaining our tickets for the bus would be our tickets for the taxi, no additional charges needed. The other American’s waiting for the bus decided to have an adventure and take the taxi. Christy and I aggreed to go because we really wanted to meet Karen as soon as possible. Only Graham, from California, spoke out against the shared taxi. We should have listened to Graham, but instead all 15 of us piled into the shared taxi while the driver tied our luggage to the roof.

Christy getting ready to ride the shared taxi to Cairo

Our drive started off great. Christy and I have been in Egypt for about a month, riding in buses and taxis several times. In the shared taxi we found it fun to watch the reactions of the “first time in Egypt” Americans while our driver drove down the middle of the road and sometimes in the wrong lane of traffic moving back to the correct side moments before the oncoming trucks. Our driver got a little erratic when he started falling asleep. Chain smoking fixed the driver’s sleepiness problem but left only one hand on the steering wheel. We were amazed at our driver’s ability to pass cars one handed, and sometimes no handed when talking on his cell phone. If a drivers ability is measured in the number of cars passed compared to the number of passing cars we had the perfect driver. Our driver navigated the semi truck slalom expertly, passing the trucks alternately on the left and right. He only hesitated a moment on the final turn of the truck slalom when Trevor, the long haired California boy wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a trucker hat, shouted “Noooo! Don’t do it!” The ride started to get a little scarier when it got dark. Our driver used some combination of hazard lights and turning the headlights off to communicate to oncoming drivers. The messages flashing in his lights could not be figured out by any of the Americans in our group. We all got a little worried when the road under construction would quickly end, leaving us travelling at highway speeds on just a road of sand. Driving down the center of the road allowed our driver maximum space to maneuver the out of control vehicle drifting on the sand.

Then, like a drunken night that goes on too long, fun and craziness turned into property damage and fighting.

Somewhere around the Suez Canal, one of the bags tied onto our roof fell off and hit a car behind us. We did not notice the bag fall off. The driver of the taxi hit by the bag gathered up as much as he could and chased us for an hour until he finally got us to pull over. The driver from the taxi tried to get the woman who owned the bag to pay for the damage to his car. She offered him a thank you payment for returning her wallet and keys, but he got mad because he wanted her to pay for the damage. He started yelling at her in Arabic and the people from the 2 taxis bunched together to watch this argument play out.  To our American eyes we felt our taxi driver was at fault because he failed to tie down the luggage properly. Not once did the other taxi driver try to get our driver to pay, he just kept yelling at the woman. Finally, our taxi driver told the woman to not pay anything and got her back in our taxi. The 2 drivers then argued for 15 minutes. We were all sitting in the taxi waiting for the fight to break out but it stayed at intense yelling and pushing away outstretched arms. Here is a sample of the yelling going on outside of the taxi.

After the fight we were all anxious to get to Cairo. It was a long couple of silent hours waiting for the ride to end. We were all relieved to reach Cairo and get on the relatively comfortable and safe subway.

Christy relieved to be on the Cairo Metro

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Posted by Christy in Posts on 08 15th, 2010

We had heard from numerous people that Istanbul was a favorite amongst travel destinations, and after experiencing it for ourselves, it did not disappoint.

First I should say that Turkish people are known for their tremendous hospitality. We experienced this the minute we arrived in the city with the bus company that took us from Bucharest from Istanbul. You see, we arrived at our final destination at 3 AM, and Aaron and I had not expected to arrive until at least 6 AM, so we had not booked a hostel for the night. With no Internet access, no Turkish currency, and nowhere to go, the bus attendant automatically invited us to stay in the bus company’s office until morning, which we happily accepted, because we really did not know what else to do.

When we arrived in the office, we got to talking to the owner. After talking for about an hour or so, he offered to take us to the Blue Mosque (one of the most famous mosques in Istanbul), and we were a bit skeptical since it was 4 in the morning and we had never met this man before, but we felt bad saying no, so we went along with him. We are glad we did; it was an awesome experience seeing the Blue Mosque when there were no other tourists around.

After we came back from our trek, the owner had the front desk attendant keep the office open just so we could sleep there! Would any American do that? Doubtful.

When we left the next morning we met our CouchSurfing host Efe, and later on his girlfriend Merve and roommate Berk. This was one of our best CouchSurfing experiences so far, not only because our hosts were awesome, but because we stayed with them over a weekend so they could really spend some time with us. They took us all around the city, from the busy, hip district of Taksim to the Egyptian Bazaar. We drank Turkish tea, smoked a waterpipe, had some of the best baklava in the city AND shopped at the biggest mall in Europe (yeaahhhh).

Christy in the Egyptian Bazaar

What was even better was they introduced us to a lot of their friends, and we even got to join Merve at a celebratory dinner for her university.

Thank you, friends at Isik University, for welcoming us at your dinner. Hopefully this blog post will contribute to your continued enrollment success!

I should also mention that Turkish food is the BEST. It was my favorite food in Europe. I am sure Aaron will do whole other post on the food, so I won’t go too into it here.

So, Istanbul= A+. Go. Go NOW. Meet the lovely people, see the beautiful mosques, eat the tasty food, and come back and thank me later. :-)

We Got Eurail Passes

Posted by Aaron in Posts on 07 24th, 2010

Christy and I got a train pass today. While traveling within Spain and England we always rode buses because they are extremely cheap compared to trains. A $150, 14 hour bus ride from Barcelona to Paris made us rethink our strategy. We bought 10 travel days within 2 months from Eurail. Their website claims you have to buy the pass ahead of time from the United States, but it was actually easy to buy in the Paris train station. Unfortunately, I am 26 so I no longer qualify for the youth rates. We ended up buying the 2 person adult group rate since it was almost the same price as 1 youth and 1 adult ticket. The best thing about the adult tickets… FIRST CLASS! We never envisioned riding around Europe in first class cabins, but we aren’t complaining. :)

Christy in a first class train