Sailing Down The Nile


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Africa » Egypt » Upper Egypt » Aswan
December 23rd 2010
Published: February 10th 2011
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Pit StopPit StopPit Stop

Feluccas pull up along the shore.
I was immediately annoyed at Egypt and Egyptian workers and I had not even been in the country an hour.
First my debit card wouldn't let me withdraw any cash, and then I changed my remaining Euros for Egyptian Pounds at the bureau de change where I asked the smug, arrogant looking teller how much a tourist visa was. He tells me that it is 85EGP (£1 = 9EGP). I then queue for 10 minutes only to be told by the immigration officer that I need to purchase a tourist visa from...the bureau de change. So I return to the same teller to buy a tourist visa. Why didn't he tell me I needed to buy a visa from him the first time?
A cleaner then demands £2 for using the airport toilet, which I am sure is free to use.

My phone beeps.
"I'm in Terminal 1 - where are you?" read Sag's text.
I was in Terminal 1 as well, so where the hell was he?
After doing some walking inside and outside the terminal building, I then discover that Terminal 1 in fact has several arrival halls, kilometres apart. I am pointed to a
The Nile Meets The SaharaThe Nile Meets The SaharaThe Nile Meets The Sahara

A felucca passes the sandy shore.
bus stop that I need to catch the free airport shuttle from, which completely unsigned.
Both Sag and I need to go to Terminal 3 to catch our flight from Cairo to Aswan anyway, so I agree to meet him there. At the first stop the bus makes, guess who jumps on...
I tell Sag I never thought I'd ever see him here in Egypt after the trials and tribulations caused by all the snow in London.

It is now 1am local time and I have now been awake for thirty consecutive hours after my epic journey to Paris. We chat and play some cards while I tell Sag the whole story. At 2am we finally decide to check-in - the weird thing is that you have to go through security before you check-in at Egyptian airports.

Roughly 3 1/2 hours later, we arrive in Aswan and a driver is at Aswan Airport to pick us up and take us to the hotel where the tour group are staying. Near the baggage carousel, is the most pitiful, pathetic Christmas tree I think I have ever seen. At least they were making an effort to make the Westerners
Aswan BridgeAswan BridgeAswan Bridge

The sun sets as we sail under the new Aswan Bridge.
feel at home I suppose.
Our driver is nice and chatty, friendly. Sag engages more in the conversation with him than I do - from what I have been told about Egyptians and from what I had already experienced, I just didn't fully trust anyone. Not the most travelled person (yet) Sag hasn't quite developed traveller's cynicism just yet.

The airport is quite a way from the city and the sand stretches beyond the horizon on the side of the road. We pass the High Dam and lots of broken, uncompleted, dilapidated buildings - astonished to learn that people actually live in them.
In contrast, our hotel is really luxurious - although it isn't actually finished either as workmen chip away on top of the scaffoldings in the lobby.

Having now been awake for thirty-seven consecutive hours I was really looking forward to crashing in our hotel room for a few hours before we were due to board the felucca that was to take us down the Nile for a couple of days.
Only there weren't any rooms reserved for us.
Although we had joined the tour late, we had still paid the full
Full MoonFull MoonFull Moon

Overlooking the Nile at night from the river's banks.
tour price so we should have rooms reserved for us, regardless of whether we were actually there or not! Sleeping in the hotel lobby for a few hours was completely out of the question.
Our driver then telephoned Sam, our tour leader, but he didn't seem to understand the situation. He then put me onto Davies.
"Do you mind coming downstairs to help sort this out?" I asked him tersely.
"I'm not in the hotel" explained Davies, "most of the tour group are here in Abu Simbel." A-ha.
The tour company - Travel Talk, the same company that we had major boat issues with in the Greek Islands - didn't seem willing to give us rooms and the hotel certainly weren't. Davies then offers us his room, as he isn't in it anyway. The hotel refuses to give us access to his room. I was livid.
A few shouted complaints and phone calls to Sam later, we are finally given a room - a room that we have paid for and are entitled to. Feeling relieved but a bit bitter about the whole fiasco, we go up to our room. A shower and five hours sleep was essential - as we would be going back to basics
Hotel LobbyHotel LobbyHotel Lobby

Sags passes out momentarily in our swanky hotel lobby.
on the felucca.

Around noon, we checked out and finally met up with Davies and some of the other people on the tour. Again, I never thought we'd all see each other here in Egypt.
Just like the Greek Islands tour, the people on this tour were all about our age and were almost exclusively either from New Zealand, Australia or South Africa, most of them living in London.
Apparently there were meant to be 140 people on the tour - at the start of the tour, only 21 had actually made it due to the snow in the UK.

We had about an hour to walk around town before we boarded the felucca, so a few of us checked out the markets. The trend of crusty buildings continued into the townships, along with dirt roads and donkeys. This is definitely one of the poorest countries I have been to, most certainly a developing country. Vehicle traffic was crazy and I didn't know if cars stopped for pedestrians - it was a little scary to be honest.
As a group of Westerners walking through the market, we were attracting quite a bit of attention -
Aswan MarketAswan MarketAswan Market

Where we got our first taste of haggling in Egypt.
I actually felt a little vulnerable.
Bonnie, one of the Kiwi girls on our trip decided to buy a pair of sunglasses and the haggling began. Although you are determined not to get ripped off and bargain hard as a result, you do feel a bit foolish afterwards when you realise that the extra 5EGP you managed to take off the price is really in fact, only worth about 50p. I think she managed to buy the sunglasses for about 5EGP.
It was then time to board our feluccas as the group split into two boats.

The felucca sure is basic. It's pretty much just a wooden yacht with a huge square mattress covering the majority of the felucca's surface area above deck. This is where we sit, eat, socialise and sleep.
Our big luggage is stored in the hull and our boat crew of two, sleep in compartments underneath the bow.
As the felucca set sail, a calm suddenly came over everyone and everything as we slowly floated down the Nile, the longest river in the world.
Our crew then cooked up a basic lunch for us of falafel, cucumber, goat's cheese and
Our FeluccasOur FeluccasOur Feluccas

Our homes for two days.
pita bread, which was delicious considering the simplicity of the preparation. Over lunch, we got to know our fellow felucca passengers - Michealani and John, a South African/Scottish couple; Larissa and Sach, a South African couple; Pratik and Gayatri, siblings from the US; and Veruska, another South African girl. These guys all knew each other. There was also Dave, a lone Australian; and Davies, Sag and I completed the boat.
Beer was available to purchase on-board, so it was a relaxing afternoon and evening of drinking, chatting and playing cards, while cruising slowly down the Nile. Relaxing, if a little boring - but I don't think anyone minded at all.

The boat then pulled up upon the shore as we settled in for the night.
Dinner again was basic but scrumptious - rice, more pita bread, a tomato-cucumber salad, kotfa sausages and a delicious red stew.
Now every tourist going to Egypt is advised to bring some Immodium with them, and I thought that my moment to take it would be arriving soon after seeing our boat crew wash our dishes in the Nile...
Sam then came to join us for dinner and told us
Dinner TimeDinner TimeDinner Time

Rice, courgette stew, pita bread and kofta sausages.
stories of previous tours. The highlight had to be the story about one particularly randy tour of singles, where an offended Muslim crew member walked up to a fornicating couple, shined a torch into their faces and screamed, "NO FUCKING ON THE FELUCCA!!!"

As mentioned before, life aboard the felucca is basic. Like spit-your-toothpaste-into-the-Nile and find-some-space-in-the-sand-to-dig-a-hole-for-your-business basic. You really had to watch your step along that beach.
Our two feluccas weren't the only boats parked here either - which meant that sadly, there was a lot of litter on the beach as well. There didn't seem to be any kind of law or anything regarding where a felucca can rock up - anything goes apparently.

Now I have had some pretty bad night’s sleep, but this was right up there - despite the fact I was desperate for sleep.
I was a bit slow in claiming some sleeping space on the mattress and all that was left for me was a small corner at the rear of the boat. Although the thick tarpaulin shutters were up, my head was right next to the gap between the shutter and the mattress resulting in a cold, stiff breeze
Sailing...Sailing...Sailing...

..I am sailing!
blowing into my face. It was freezing too, as the temperature plummeted as soon as night fell.
To my left was the stench of empty beer bottles and to my right, a snoring Sach. As if sleeping wasn't impossible enough, Larissa's mobile alarm went off and both her and Sach were completely passed out and oblivious to it, leaving it to me to have to rummage through their bags in an attempt to find it and turn it off.
I then slept the opposite way so that my feet rather than my face was being hit by the night breeze - but this only resulted in getting kicked in the head at regular intervals by Michealani's feet.
Worse night's sleep ever.
At least breakfast was yummy. More of that red stew along with a small omelette, more pita bread and some fantastically sweet, hot tea.

Didn't do very much that day - just lying on the mattress in the sun and catching up on sleep while unknowingly getting my toenails painted (thanks Dave) and getting really, really annoyed by the relentless Bob Marley soundtrack coming out of the stereo. I swear I would've throttled Bob
Bob MarleyBob MarleyBob Marley

Our crew loved Bob Marley. A little too much.
Marley if he wasn't already dead if I had heard just one more Bob Marley song that day.
Apart from that it was serene.
It actually got quite warm in the sun - John was pretty red all over by the end of the day.
These felucca's really don't go very fast - I think we only covered about 10-12 kilometres in two days.
There were loads of feluccas sailing peacefully down the Nile - it was all very picturesque. But unfortunately, there were also large rectangular cruise ships - floating blocks of pollution that billowed smoke out the back while cruising down river, violently rocking our boat as we got caught in their wakes.

As we pulled ashore for the night, we organised a game of desert football to be played on the flat stretch of sand above our dock. Beach football is completely different to normal football - the ball keeps getting stuck. Arsenal and Barcelona would really struggle with their passing game on this surface.
The crew members from all of the feluccas combined to create an Egyptian team, playing against an ANZAC team made up of their passengers.
Sam
BonfireBonfireBonfire

The locals start chanting as we experience some Nubian culture first-hand.
was getting pretty competitive - but in the end exhaustion was the winner as both teams gave up and settled for a 3-3 draw. I must say it was fun, and it's always good to get some exercise - running in the sand is tough. My throat had never felt so dry either.
And I was hot - and boiling for quite some time too, despite the sun starting to set. A dip and proxy shower in the Nile soon took care of that. The water was very cool, but awesomely refreshing after our sweaty run-around.

After a dinner of NFC (Nubian Fried Chicken - so good!), everyone from the docked feluccas gathered around a bonfire as the locals started rhythmically banging their local drums, singing their local songs and throwing their local shapes. They weren't singing just Nubian songs though - Sag managed to get them to do a Nubian rendition of Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" - "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain" seemed to go on forever as well, as they went through the nationality of every single passenger with each verse. As this all carried on, everyone was knocking back the beers.
It was
Fun & GamesFun & GamesFun & Games

Put your hands up in the air, put your hands up...in the air.
then time for a cultural performance showcase by the passengers on the boats. A group of American girls sang "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" (not very American, I know) some Kiwi girls sang our national anthem, the South African girls sang theirs and the lone Scot, the lone Irishman and the lone Slovenian all sang folk songs from their respective countries. But the performance of the night had to be our haka. Davies, me and two other Kiwi guys dispensed with our shirts (despite the cold) and were led ably by Sag. I don't think that anyone caught on to the fact that none of us knew what we were actually doing, but we all knew enough collectively to convincingly wow the crowd.
What followed was a game akin to pass-the-parcel, but with an empty bottle - where each person holding the bottle when the drums stopped was eliminated until there was only one person left.
We then played a game where everyone had to dance to the drums until they stopped. When they stopped, Sam would call out something like "2 girls, 3 guys!" and then people would have to get themselves into groups of two
Campfire StoriesCampfire StoriesCampfire Stories

The locals enjoy a laugh.
girls and three guys. Those that didn't manage to form such a group, would then be eliminated.
Towards the end, Sag ended up being the only guy left with a group of five girls. Inevitably, when the music stopped, all the girls jumped him, fighting over him, resulting in pile of bodies in the sand as everyone lost their balance. I don't think Sag was complaining, put it that way.
The final game was probably the funniest.
A game for couples, the guy had to hold a bottle of beer with this thighs while blindfolded. He would be a few metres from his partner, who was sat down with a glass between her legs. She would have to instruct him so that he would come over a pour as much beer as he could out of the bottle between his legs, into the glass between her legs. Without using his hands. Which when you think about it, is quite a dirty metaphor. Lots of fun and laughs for, well, almost the whole family.
It was then time for bed - we had the first of many early starts the next day, when we finally leave our floating
Oversized MattressOversized MattressOversized Mattress

Where we sit, eat, sleep, chill, play cards, and socialise.
homes.

Ma'as salaama!
Derek


Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


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LunchLunch
Lunch

Cucumber, falafel, crisps, pita bread and goat's cheese.
Fire!Fire!
Fire!

One of the islands along the Nile caught fire and this fireboat had to fire water cannons onto it to put it out.
Scorpion RudderScorpion Rudder
Scorpion Rudder

That's not real by the way.
Playing CardsPlaying Cards
Playing Cards

Playing cards is underrated, just like board games.
Chiilaxin'Chiilaxin'
Chiilaxin'

While cruisin' down the longest river in the world.
Cruise ShipCruise Ship
Cruise Ship

Aka Pollution Box.


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