Toyota and Chevrolet pick-up trucks cover some routes between smaller towns and villages off the main roads, especially where passengers might have cargo. A dozen or so people squeeze into the rear of the truck (covered or uncovered), often with goods squeezed in on the floor.
Covered pick-up trucks are also sometimes used within towns, similar to microbuses. This is especially so in some of the oases, on Luxor’s west bank and in smaller places along the Nile. There are a couple of ways you can indicate to the driver that you want to get out: if you are lucky enough to have a seat, pound on the floor with your foot. Alternatively, ask one of the front passengers to hammer on the window behind the driver; or, last, use the buzzer that you’ll occasionally find rigged up.
These clever scooters-with-seats, ubiquitous in Thailand and India, have arrived in Egypt. Locals call them tok-tok (turns out the onomatopoeia of their tiny engines works in Arabic too), and they’re especially popular in small towns. They’re typically the same price or cheaper than taxis (LE15, say, for a 15-minute ride), with a pounding shaabi (music of the working class) soundtrack for free. (Tuk-tuks are popular with young – sometimes too young! – drivers who like to customise their wheels with mega-speakers and other bling.) It’s a good idea to negotiate a price before getting in.
Your trip through Egypt will go a lot more smoothly if you learn the Arabic numerals, which are used on all buses, trains, timetables and other crucial transport details. It helps to write down the critical numbers so it’s easier to compare with signs.
The microbus (pronounced ‘meekrobas’), often also called a micro or a minibus, is a (usually Toyota) van with seats for 14 passengers. Privately owned and usually unmarked, they run along most of the same routes as buses and are a bit cheaper. They also stop anywhere along the route on request, and will pick up riders along the way if there’s a free seat. There are certain parts of the country (the lower Nile valley, for instance) where foreigners are currently not allowed to use microbuses between towns.
Microbuses run on no set schedule – they just wait until they’re full, then take off. If you’re in a hurry or just want more room to yourself, you can buy an extra seat. The two prime seats are next to the driver; savvy solo travellers recommend buying both.
Microbuses can be quite cramped, so you typically don’t want to ride one for more than three hours or so. But their flexibility is a huge asset, as you can usually find one headed where you want to go, no matter the time of day.
Microbuses usually congregate outside bus and train stations, or at major highway intersections on the edges of cities. Increasingly, though, they operate from an established depot – ask for the maw’if meekrobas (as opposed to the mahattat bas, or bus station).
Microbus parking areas are usually a mob scene of drivers all shouting their destinations and trying to cajole you into their vehicles. Just shout your destination back, and eventually you’ll wind up in the right zone.
You pay the microbus driver once you’re underway. This usually involves passing your money up hand-to-hand through the rows; your change will be scrupulously returned the same way.
The servees (service taxi) is the predecessor to the microbus (minivan) and runs on the same principle: buy a seat, wait for the car to fill and you’re off. These big Peugeot 504 station wagons, with seats for seven passengers, are now less common than the vans and are being phased out. As with microbuses, you might find them near bus and train stations, and you’re welcome to buy extra seats for more space or just to speed along the departure.