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26 January 2008

Taking A Load Off...





Taking A Load Off…

By Hoda Nassef

There are alternative ways of travelling inside Egypt, apart from the trains or airplanes. Many good air-conditioned buses travel throughout Egypt, even up to Libya, which are cheaper than taking the plane, but almost just as comfortable, despite the longer hours. From Alex to Cairo and vice versa, you reach your destination in three hours. From Alex to Marsa Matrouh or the North Coast, you reach your destination in five hours or less. To Sharm El-Sheikh, in less than six hours. All buses are equipped with air-conditioning, snacks, inbound video TV to make the time pass fast for restless children and toilets. Some of these buses have the capacity to turn the chairs into lounge chairs or can be flattened for sleeping. You can even cross borders at almost half the fare paid for a plane ticket, and visas or entrance to other countries depend on current political situations. One of these daily outward bound buses are to Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, for instance, that have real sleeping compartments. But as with all destinations outside of Egypt, you must have a passport

I wanted to make a real ‘live’ and fair comparison of each bus, so I chose West Delta bus last August (formerly the Pullman) from Cairo to Alex, and returned the same day from Alex to Cairo by the Super Jet bus (formerly Golden Arrow). Prices of the West Delta buses start at L.E. 20 only. However, I am sorry to say for West Delta Co. that there is a big difference in both buses and staff. No noticeable maintenance in the West Delta bus, which looked neglected and was not at all clean. It had not been cleaned even during the brief stop at the terminus. Throughout the three hours, the driver chain-smoked and left his window wide open, while at the same time he was a bit inattentive to the traffic, as he chatted with his colleague all the way to Alexandria. The air-condition was great at the front of the bus, but people complained from the middle till the end that it was hot; thus, A/C worked only half-way through the bus. I was lucky to have reserved a seat in the front! No refreshments were offered or sold. I never enter the WCs, so I cannot talk about its hygiene or cleanliness, but judging from the dirty bus front, I guess that it was much dirtier inside the WC!

On the positive side, the bus came to Abdel-Moneim Riyadh (Tahrir Sq.) terminus on the dot, and we all arrived safely to our destination. Also, all destinations and fees are at least five Egyptian Pounds cheaper than the Super Jet, and if squeezed for timing, you can get a bus at nearly any time or day you choose. Furthermore, the counter staff are more cheerful and respectful to all who buy their tickets! Nowadays, you don’t have to go to Heliopolis to book a front seat if boarding in the Tahrir Square (Abdel-Moneim Riyadh) as before – thus, they are finally computerized and connected to the other branches.

As for the Super Jet (formerly The Golden Arrow) on my way back to Cairo, from Alex at 5 p.m., the ticket was naturally L.E. 5 more, but worth it! Perfect air-conditioning, and very clean. It was probably one of the newly purchased buses as well, as there were no apparent wear and tear; in other words, good maintenance. Snacks are sold as well, but you have to ask for the price-list, or the hostess on board might invent them! And, you won’t get a price-list even if you ask for one, so rely on her honesty. The air-condition was great, throughout the whole bus, even at the moment you board the bus, which was a great relief, as it was particularly hot and humid in Alexandria on Sunday 20 August. The bus came early to give time for loading luggage and left on the dot at 5 p.m. The polite and calm driver did not smoke, therefore his window was shut! Very smooth driver too. Video tape of a ‘new’ last year Arabic film was aired and nothing inside the film to embarrass parents. I can only guess that the W.C. was relatively clean, as all else seemed so. Despite the heavy traffic while entering Cairo, the bus was on time in the Tahrir Square after exactly three hours from departure.

NOTE: All prices may have increased at the moment of reading this.

If you're arriving from locations within Egypt, the bus companies (in Cairo) are these: West Delta Bus Company, Abdel Moneim Riyad Square, phone 2765-582; Super Jet Bus Co., Tahrir Square, phone 2 772-663; Upper Egyptian Bus Co., Ahmed/Ramsis Helmy Square, phone 2 574-6658; and East Delta Bus Co., Ramsis Square, phone 2 574-2814 or 2 261-1886. The bus terminals are Al Azhar Station, 45 Al Azhar, phone 2 390-8635, and Ramsis Station, Ramsis Square, phone 2 574-6658.



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