It was the last taxi out of Cairo Airport before dark.

The taxi company owner took pity on me after a Cairo receptionist said the hotel bus service was not available because of the curfew, so I would have to spend the night at the airport. He decided that I would be his last fare of the day. But first, he and his companions had to pray.

Their driver Adsous soon arrived with a car, the three of us piled in and we began belting along towards central Cairo, normally a half-hour drive away at speed.

At 6pm, the roads were already almost deserted because of the curfew in force since 4pm. We were to drop off the boss at his house on the way to my hotel in Zamalek because he was worried about looters. But they kept on saying: "Don't worry madam, we will get you safely to your hotel."

Not far from the airport, we turned a corner and saw a gang of people holding sticks and steel piping, anything they could lay their hands on. We had arrived in the boss's neighbourhood, where we bumped along unmade roads to drop him off.

Other groups of vigilantes, similarly armed, were on every street corner to protect their property. Apparently there were rumours circulating that President Hosni Mubarak, acting out of spite following the popular uprising against him, had ordered the prisons to be emptied.

We sped back to the highway where a car suddenly emerged from the darkness and headed straight towards us with its headlights flashing, warning us to turn back.

We carried on for another 400m where we reached a makeshift roadblock manned by a group of young men. "They say very bad people on that road, we can't go that way," Mohamed explained from the back seat.

A night at the airport was beginning to look like an attractive option. But then, Adsous and Mohamed were suddenly able to negotiate their way through an army checkpoint and we were off again.

But it was not to last. The rest of the journey was an obstacle course of roadblocks, human blockades and sudden turns on to unlit sideroads where groups of vigilantes walked or gathered in the dark with their clubs and sticks. Small fires had been set on some roads.

After one u-turn took us in front of a petrol station, the first of several we saw with its entrance barricaded, Adsous began shouting "no benzene, no benzene". He pointed to the dashboard. Next to the red light telling us we weren't wearing seatbelts was the orange warning that his petrol was dangerously low.

We had been on the road for a full hour. Adsous flicked on the radio to hear the announcement that General Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief, had been appointed Vice-President.

My Egyptian companions agreed this was a good decision, that the elderly Suleiman would lead a transition, "but Mubarak is still there. And we want him to go."

Fifteen minutes later, we turned back on to the highway and raced along the final straight into the centre behind a solitary car over the 8th October bridge, past burned-out cars, the shell of a police station and a still smouldering building.

I have never felt such a sense of achievement on arriving at a hotel.