Travel: Your holiday disaster

Bloodied ears and a taxi driver with a serious hard-boiled egg habit left Rory O'Callaghan stranded in the Egyptian desert

IT WAS pouring in Cairo as I waited for a bus to Hurghada, 500km south on the Red Sea coast. When it finally came, it pulled out on to an Egyptian version of Spaghetti Junction and got stuck on a rainswept flyover behind a Bedu and his camels, contentedly breaking wind on to the windscreen. Bad omen. At Hurghada the plan was to meet a friend and together we would hire a taxi, drive into the interior, and climb Gebel el Shaib el Banat, the highest peak in Egypt's eastern ranges.

The bus didn't get far. Cairo and its forest of five-storey, breeze-block ghettoes had quickly slipped behind, as we headed out into the barren wasteland of the Eastern Desert. It was like no desert I had ever imagined - a lifeless moonscape stretching off in all directions as far as a murky horizon. The rain was coming down in sheets and the wind howled across the asphalt. It passed through my mind that the driver had probably rarely driven in the rain. Barely an hour into the journey, a woman in canary yellow leapt up from her seat, her hands waving, and screamed, "Yah salem! Yah saleeem!" We were gently aquaplaning at right angles to the road. Finally, as the wheels slithered off the road, we flipped into a forest of sharp gravel.

No one died - but because the bus had flipped on to its left side, almost all the passengers had bloodied left ears. With tissue applied appropriately they looked like they were modelling for a Van Gogh biopic.

An hour later another bus picked us up and drove us on, in shock, to Hurghada. I met my friend Sandy there and, after getting a couple of stitches from a holidaying German nurse, who consoled me with "Yah, yah, you vill liff" before sewing into my unanaesthetised ear, we were accosted by Mohammed. Mohammed was a taxi driver who promised to take us to the Gebel. He did so at 90 miles an hour in his rusting Peugeot 505, while simultaneously cracking hard boiled eggs on his forehead.

When we got there ... we weren't there. It was a Roman encampment called Mons Claudianus where tourists were often brought for sightseeing. We didn't want to see Roman ruins. The Gebel was still 15 miles away, shimmering on the far horizon. We pleaded, we shouted, we screamed blue murder. It did no good. We refused to pay. Mohammed blew his top. We thundered back to Hurghada, Mohammed cracking another half dozen eggs on his skull, and were brought straight to the police station. Mohammed immediately demanded we be locked up, or he be paid.

Three hours later, after audiences before the constable, the sergeant, the captain and the local police chief, each interspersed with outbreaks of gratuitous form-filling and even more gratuitous rants from Mohammed, our erstwhile taxi driver was thrown out for being a rascal and we were apologised to profusely. "Welcome in Egypt," the police chief said.

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