T he chaos of going through Cairo International Airport continued after I left the baggage claim area to go rent a car, as I wandered into an area of shops and currency exchange places — and literally hundreds of people crowded into this area — searching for a place to pick up the rental car I reserved but not initially seeing any counters of rental car companies like one usually sees at airports.
Renting a Car in Egypt: My Experience
Before I could even reach the doors to exit the terminal, a man wearing slacks and a white shirt with long sleeves but no tie approached me, asking “Are you Brian Cohen?”
I was astonished that he knew who I was, as I must have really stood out for him to pick me out — I was simply wearing a shirt and jeans; which was probably enough — but I initially had no idea who he was when I replied, “Yes, I am.”
He introduced himself as a representative from Avis, which was the company from which I reserved the rental car. We pulled over to the side outside one of the small currency exchange places where there was a chair — as well as people smoking cigarettes profusely under the No Smoking sign which hung from the ceiling.
Crowds. Smoking. Heat. No legitimate place to conduct business. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable this felt — as well as how I could not wait to exit that terminal and drive off to the hotel room which awaited me and unexpectedly had me trapped in the toilet. Unfortunately, properly completing the paperwork and answering all of his questions consumed at least 45 minutes of my time, which seemed longer under the aforementioned conditions.
When I saw that he was from Avis, I complied with his requests for information — including handing him my driver’s license — while conducting business in a manner which was unusual in my experiences of renting vehicles all over the world over the years.
The Rental Car
Once we were finally done, he instructed me to follow him to the rental car. We exited the glass doors of the terminal, where there was more chaos awaiting outside in the form of occupied cars which barely inched through hundreds of people who crowded the access road and walkways.
The insurance which was apparently included with the rental car — I did not order it as a separate item, as the insurance from my credit card would have covered it — would not be in effect in the event of an accident unless I officially reported the accident to the police; and I wondered why the agent repeated this information to me as we entered a vast parking lot which contained a sea of cars.
As we walked, I noticed that the cars looked like what one would typically find in a parking lot where people parked their personal vehicles while they were traveling; so I looked to see where were the parking lots for the rental cars. The walk in the blowing sand and unusual heat which enveloped Cairo felt like it took forever; and I noticed no vacant parking spots in this parking lot.
He finally turns to the left, maneuvering between cars until he stops, indicating that we arrived at the car which would be mine for the next eleven days. I look around, puzzled, for the rental car — until he opened the door to point out where everything is located inside.
The car — a plum Chevrolet Lanos LS of which I was unsure of the year of manufacture — looked like it was the personal car of someone and not a rental car. It was dirty both on the outside and inside; and there were numerous scrapes and scratches all over the car. There was a Mobil 1 logo adhered to the lower left side of the rear window.
Even the radio inside of the car appeared to be an aftermarket product and not a factory unit which was included in the car. It just did not seem like a typical rental car.
The car had almost 25,000 kilometers — equivalent to approximately 15,535 miles — already clocked on it; so it was not a brand-new car.
All I really cared about was having a car which would serve its purpose of getting me where I wanted or needed to go; so I really did not care much about the condition of the car — other than that I thought it was rather unusual and that I did not know whether or not it would break down.
Because I had not yet had the chance to exchange my dollars for Egyptian pounds — I almost never exchange currency at an airport, as I prefer to do it at a location where I can benefit from a better rate — the agent from Avis gave me enough money to pay the fee to exit the parking lot, which is something I never have to do when leaving the airport in a rental car. That was a very nice gesture on his part, of which I appreciated.
I had not yet exited the airport when people are casually crossing the road in front of me as if I were not there; other cars brazenly nudged me to the point where they were literally only inches from the car I drove as they were speeding; and the road itself was poorly marked with few signs and rough pocked pavement. This article of 8 Tips on How to Drive in Cairo and Other Parts of Egypt contains more details pertaining to my driving experience.
Return of the Rental Car
Other than one experience I endured — which I intend to detail in a future article — the rental of this automobile was flawless. Well, not completely flawless, as the horn would stick when I used it — the horn is absolutely necessary while driving in Cairo — and I had to press it again to stop it. Also, everything — such as the doors — squeaked and almost felt like they were ready to fall off, which made the car seem like it was cheaply manufactured. The air conditioning was incredibly powerful — downright cold, I must say — despite the intense heat wave under which Egypt was suffering at the time.
Although I drove the vehicle to where I was supposed to return it at the airport, I could not find where I should actually return the vehicle, as once again, there was no actual rental car lot. Fortunately, I returned to the airport in plenty of time; so I parked where I was not supposed to park and left the emergency flashers on as I ran inside to find out where the car specifically needed to be returned. I finally found an information area where a kind woman called Avis, who told her that a representative would meet me.
The man who identified himself as a representative of Avis — he had the paperwork to prove it — got into the car with me; and he drove the car back to that crowded parking lot where I first drove the car from the airport when the rental period began. On the way, he needed to use the horn, which stuck. “Must be a ghost,” he joked after initially being startled and hitting it several times before it finally stopped. That was entertaining, I must admit.
He parked the car and completed the paperwork on the trunk of the car while simultaneously giving directions on his mobile telephone to a customer who was trying to find his or her way to the airport; and in fact, that telephone call actually delayed the return of the car when he wandered off somewhere to a place where he could actually hear that customer speak amidst the cacophony of the crowds of cars and people.
The fuel tank was full; and the working condition of the car was just the way it was when I first rented the car. I asked if everything was fine with the car. Satisfied, the agent signed off on the car and just replied that were were done and it was all right to go to catch my flight.
I still have no idea how no additional scrapes, scratches or dents were added to the experience of driving a car around Egypt — but I can tell you that it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Would I recommend that you consider Avis if you happen to be loony enough to drive a car in Cairo? That depends, as there is another component to this story which has still not yet been resolved. Details of that will be documented in a future article…