Down the Nile by Felucca


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March 14th 2007
Published: March 14th 2007
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Days 41-42 (Tue 6th Mar - Wed 7th Mar):
Through another hotel I had booked myself onto a felucca to travel for two days down the Nile as far as Edfu and with a car from there to Luxor (120EGP = 18 Euros). I arrived at the waterside at midday and had a good look at the vessel. The felucca is quite a wide boat, about four or five metres at its widest, and something like ten or twelve metres long (for you 'imperialists', read 'yards' instead of 'metres'). Towards the front is a vertical mast to the top of which is attached a second mast over twice as long as the first, pivoting about two-fifths of the way up its length and tilting back at a steep angle. This second mast holds the sail which spreads down to the boom which is held down by ropes at front and back and hangs almost horizontally, it being a little higher at the back than at the front, and conveniently above the head height of those standing on deck.
At the back of this particular felucca was painted 'KBTN MOHMID'. I was perplexed about what KBTN stood for until it was explained to me that it said 'Captain', Captain Mohammed that is. However, Mohammed was not well, and so our captain was to be his nephew, Ruby, who was assisted by one of Mohammed's sons, Allah. Ruby was a man probably in his late forties, and less than five feet tall, and very friendly and a happy chatterer, albeit in a pidgin-like english. Allah was twenty five and spoke almost no english, but he was great company because he was talked a lot and laughed all the time. I didn't know what he was talking and laughing about, but it didn't matter, I liked him!
By two o'clock the remaining passengers had arrived and we set off. As the sail was unfurled and filled with the Nile's wind I introduced myself to a couple from the Czech Republic called Spinak (him), and Oxanna (her); and two lads from France, though they lived in Belgium, called Arnaud and Victor. Victor spoke a little arabic, and reasonable english, so he was able to teach me a few new words which I could double check with Captain Ruby.

We spent the afternoon tacking our way upwind and downstream, this being northwards, and I volunteered to steer the craft to give Ruby a rest as well as to experience sailing a felucca. I had to read the water ahead to see where the wind was strong, and steer the boat across the wind each time we neared the edge of the windy area. It was obviously physical work, pulling on the rudder and repeatedly crossing between the two rear corners of the boat, but we moved with a very graceful motion which seemed somehow peaceful as the quiet breeze eased us along the calm water. On the lush banks of the Nile we frequently saw donkeys and cows grazing, as well as ducks and ganets, or storks.
As the sun sank out of view we tied up the boat and Allah prepared our dinner which was basically a thick vegetable and lentil soup with bread and salad. Most of the deck was boarded across to support an area of mattresses large enough for everyone, and with a fabric wall strung between a framework around us we wrapped ourselves in blankets and slept.

Following breakfast on the Wednesday morning we left the boat, via a plank, and walked with Allah into a nearby village called Abania. Having waved hello to dozens of men on donkeys, some also carrying crops or pulling carts, and passing groups of women dressed all in black and sitting talking together, we arrived at the house of Nadia, a friend of Allah's. His house was one of several in a large square enclosure, and it was a simple square room similar to that of the Bedouin in Petra except that in addition to the television there were two beds, which we sat on while we drank tea. Nadia seemed to be glad to have us visit him and didn't request baksheesh as I had come to expect everywhere else in Egypt anytime anyone does something for you.
We returned to the felucca and we continued making our way down the gentle Nile. In the afternoon we stopped again, this time to visit a village called Daraw where we visited the numerous market stalls of the village with the main purpose of buying camel meat for the evening meal, although I also bought monkey-nuts and dates. On our return to the felucca this time I spontaneously stripped off and jumped into the Nile. It wasn't too cold but actually really pleasant. Later, as the sun once again left us, Allah made dinner which included boiled camel meat. It was lighter and more tender than beef, but tougher than chicken, and quite salty, though that could have been Allah's doing. The Czechs chose not to eat any and stuck to the vegetable broth.
Later in the evening I was sitting with Ruby and Allah, the others having gone to bed, when Ruby proposed an unexpected invitation. 'One week in my village and you will be speaking Arabic' he said. I said I would love to come for one night, and so it was arranged for the following day.

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