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Published: November 23rd 2015
The Nile flows from south to north but the wind blows from the north to the south. This curiosity is what allowed Egypt's rulers to tie their kingdom together as transport in either direction was always feasible. If you were coming from the south you could just go with the flow and if you were heading to the south all you needed to do was unfurl your sails. Somehow we missed this factoid in our trip planning and did it all bass-ackwards.
A while back we traveled with a couple from the UK who were all giddy about a Nile cruise that they had recently taken so we added it to our never ending bucket list. Our original plan after Turkey was to go to the Ukraine but when we checked the November weather reports we chucked that idea right out the window. I suddenly remembered the Nile cruise thing so we got on-line, shopped around and booked a 'luxurious' 5-day, 4-night cruise with meals, tour guide and temple tickets included. For this we paid a total of $840 US for the two of us. We booked through the highly recommended Viatour company. We should have waited until we arrived
Sarha In Sail
Feluccas are beautiful craft. That's KJ waving on the right.
There are over 300 cruise boats anchored in Luxor. Of those 300 boats only 30 are actively being employed and those few that are sailing are sailing at less than 50% capacity. What we should have done was go to Luxor, walk into a travel agency and tell them that we wanted a 5-day cruise for $400 US tops. There are boats departing every day with lots of empty cabins. We probably would have been on-board a boat in less than 24-hours. Live and learn. While all meals are included, drinks are not so bring your beverages with you. The cabins are equipped with refrigerators. A small bottle of water will run you a buck on the boat. 2-liter bottles are fifty-cents each at local stores. Egyptian wines are nearly undrinkable. The local brand of beer 'Stella' is very good. A huge can of Stella purchased in Luxor costs a buck and a half. On-board the boat you'll pay $5 each. The waiters have no issues with people bringing their own drinks to meals. Coffee and tea are provided gratis at meals.
A Nile cruise boat is a 4-story barge that has been outfitted as a
Our 'Luxury' Cruise Boat
Every cruise boat we encountered had exactly the same dimensions. Our cabin was at water level which I thoroughly enjoyed as we got a birds-eye view of the local water traffic.
hotel. There's a nice marble-floored lobby with a front desk. Wood paneled halls and beautiful cabins with big picture windows and comfortable beds. The top deck sports a small pool and plenty of deck chairs suitable for catching rays. The canopied area is equipped with tables and chairs where you can read a book, play cards or eat a meal. There's a bar with a dance floor, a game room and a huge dining room where you take your buffet meals. Our boat; The Mirage, run by South Sinai Travel, had seating for 200 diners. We had 55 people aboard.
During our 5-day cruise we spent a grand total of 2-days actually cruising. The rest of the time was spent either sitting at the pier in Luxor or the one in Aswan. The stretch of river between Luxor and Aswan isn't very long. You can drive the distance in two hours. We did not know this when we booked the trip. Had we known, we would have done a 2-night cruise max. You'll spend one night in Edfu which is where there is a lock the boat must pass through. No boats are allowed to travel on the Nile
Deserted Cruise Boat Sun Deck
This was the scene on every cruise boat we saw on the Nile.
at night. That's probably the only reason they bother stopping in Edfu.
If you take a cruise make certain to get a cabin on the right side (starboard side) of the boat as the boats always dock on the left side where you'll be staring at a seawall from your port-side cabin. And as you'll be spending 3-nights in dock your cabin's location will be of the utmost importance.
The food served is directed at western tastes. There's always beef, chicken and fish. The best that can be said of the food is that it is inoffensive. Lots of carbs. Egyptians love fried chicken. We're not talking heart healthy recipes here. Breakfasts consist of fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, omelets and lots and lots of bread. You like bacon in the morning? Forget about it. There will be a waiter assigned to your table to clear away dishes and fetch drinks. If you're a tipper they will also go for food items. Staff is friendly and attentive. The cabin was very clean and well tended but the cruise certainly wasn't worth over $200 per night especially since the Sheraton Nile was a two-minute walk away from where we were
Anoushka; Future Grandmaster Chess Player
She and I got along well. This picture was taken in Aswan. She lives with her parents in New Jersey but I never held that against her!
docked in Luxor.
We had 7 people in our tour group including ourselves. I befriended a bright nine-year old girl named Anoushka. I taught her how to play chess in the lazy hour before dinner. We chess players need all the new recruits we can possibly get. Our guide, Tony, spoke excellent English. Very personable guy. We had a brand new shuttle bus to get around in. In Edfu you'll have to use a horse and carriage to get to the local attractions. I believe that we visited 6 or 7 sites with the cruise company. Cost of tickets was covered in the fare. We were only forced to visit two 'cultural learning centers'. In other word; Gift shops. Tipping of guide and driver is expected. Tipping of cabin stewards, waiters and crew is expected. You can pick up an envelope from the front desk on your last night and put whatever amount you think suitable in there or not. Would I do this cruise again? Maybe. But never at this price and never for 4-nights. Raggedy-assed Aswan is a one night town at best with very little to see. If I'm going to hang out somewhere then Luxor
Our Cruise Boat Group In Aswan
From the left: John Wu who is Chinese but lived in Houston but now lives in China, Me, Anoushka the chess queen and Nina, chess queen Mom.
would be my first choice.
While we were staying in Luxor I had arranged a sunset Felucca ride from a guy who was camped out in front of the Sheraton. Great experience. I knew that larger Feluccas operated between Aswan and Edfu. KJ and I made inquiries and arranged for a Felucca to pick us up in Aswan the same day we got off of our cruise boat. What a difference a sail makes my friends.
Our boat; The Sarha, was 35 feet long and 14 feet across the beam. There were a crew of three. The boat is basically a gigantic floating bed. There's a tiny kitchen on-board where all of our meals were prepared. The boat is canopied and at night canvas walls drop down so you're sleeping under thick woolen blankets in a big square tent. Cost for a private boat is $100 US a night for everything. It turned out to be one of the most memorable travel experiences we've ever had. I'm sure that we could have gotten the same trip for less than the price I paid but I considered the $100 to be fair value for the service rendered and my
The robe he wears is called a Gallibaya. Every dude in Egypt wears this thing and every gift shop in Egypt tries to persuade you to buy one.
charitable side isn't willing to nickle dime these folks given the current situation.
The captain's name was Bahsahm. A short-haired fan of Bob Marley and the Wailers. He had a flag with a picture of The Wailers flying from the boat's rigging. Bahsahm had a great face. Genuinely friendly dude who spent most of his time tacking the boat downriver while hanging off the log-sized tiller. The guy was perpetually smiling.
The cook was Loolee. 26-year old kid who could have used a few more salads in his diet but regardless of his girth every morning he would scamper up the Felucca's double-mast to unfurl the sails. The kid could cook. The food served on the boat was some of the best that we had in Egypt. After we anchored in the evening, Loolee and Amin would hit the local market for fresh bread.
Amin (pronounced: Ahmeen) was the guy we hired for the sunset cruise in Luxor. During that excursion we told him that we were interested in pursuing the Aswan/ Edfu trip at which point he said, "I have a boat in Aswan that we can use." He did not have a boat in Aswan
Breakfast On The Nile
Sometimes life on the road is so good as to be unbelievable.
as we later discovered. Tell an Egyptian that you want a camel ride or a boat trip or a taxi and that same Egyptian will insist that he owns a camel and a boat and a car when in fact he has none of the above but rather than tell you the truth and lose your business he will, shall we say, embellish the facts. What he isn't telling you is that he has friends and family who own camels and boats and cars and these are the conveyances he is presenting as his own. In an Egyptian's mind it is all the same thing and an Egyptian never ever lets the money out of the family circle.
These large boats were once the primary way of moving commodities through Egypt. After the railway and the new highway were built the Feluccas found a new source of income transporting tourists up and down the river. Up until a few years ago there were scores of Feluccas outfitted just like ours that would carry as many as 14 people. Sailing the Nile by day and camping under the stars at night on the enumerable islands that stripe the river. Islands
Amin and Loolee
Doing what they do best. Enjoying the ride.
of silt carried north from as far away as Lake Victoria. The islands are covered with farm fields and grazing livestock. They have cattle here that look like a cross between a cow and a Wildebeest. The most common animal you'll encounter is the jackass. Docile, inquisitive donkeys that gathered to say hello every-time we put into shore. At night they brayed like a pack of guffawing hounds. Reminded me of Pleasure Island's downside in Disney's Pinocchio.
Amin acted as first mate; Helping with the meals, boat maintenance and spelling Bahsam when he needed a break from steering the boat. The stern had no protection from the sun and you could get pretty cooked back there depending on the time of day. As for KJ and myself we lay sprawled across the Cleopatra-sized mattress and watched Egypt unfolding before us.
We tacked upwind making broad sweeps across the river. We watched farmers tilling their fields and solitary fishermen rod and reeling from small rowboats. The terrain changed constantly going from date palmed wadis to arid canyon-lands that looked like those places that KJ and I favor in southern New Mexico. Herds of cattle drank deeply from the Nile,
It was in the midst of being carved out of limestone when work suddenly stopped. Bahsam told us it was of Middle Kingdom vintage. I never found it on any maps.
their legs buried a foot deep in the wet black silt. Towering sand dunes pushing hard against the fertile fields behind them. It looked and smelled like Africa. There were so many birds. Everything from Great Herons to flocks of twittering tiny sparrows all taking meals from the fast flowing water. We passed by old Egyptian temples so off the grid they don't appear on maps. We saw a long abandoned Roman fortress town set on a rocky slope. The remnants of its red mud-brick walls were 30-feet thick and the narrow streets populated only with ghosts. Robed Egyptian boys played soccer barefoot on hard-scrabble riverbank while their Moms beat laundry against rocks. In the late afternoon the wind would pick up and our boat fairly flew over the tea-colored water. Bahsam always let out with a little whoop when this happened and I'd smile with exhilaration, the cool air keening in the rigging.
When the cruise boats appeared about 20-years ago the Felucca business fell off a cliff. The westerners we encounter in Egypt are primarily older folk. Retired. Package tourists. Not given to sleeping bags or toiletting al fresco. We have yet to see any of the
Donkeys Pay Us A Visit
Very friendly critters who craved attention.
backpacker contingent out here. Out anywhere as a matter of fact. Perhaps kids don't travel as much as they used to due to job worries or safety concerns. Those days when, just out of college Aussies, traveled the world on year long sabbaticals are long gone. In any case; We never saw another tourist Felucca the entire time we sailed and I suspect that given a couple of years more you couldn't hire one if you wanted to.
The Egyptian railway traces the Nile at a point along the canyons. Long passenger trains blasted their horns as they clickety-clacked by. Village kids would wave excitedly when they caught sight of us. Excited to see a Felluca in full sail, doubly excited to encounter English speakers. Bahsam expertly maneuvered the boat so close to shore as to make me believe that we might run aground before he swung the massive tiller and started us away. The children would say 'Hello, welcome to Egypt!' Little girls straddling a fallen palm tree like happy little monkeys were besides themselves when we shouted 'Hello' back at them. As we came close enough for them to see our faces one of the young girls
"How Old Are You?"
Our Edfu interviewers.
suddenly asked; "How old are you?" and I couldn't help but fall back onto the soft deck laughing joyously. How old indeed.
Tips for visitors: We met a gentleman who became our most valuable resource for help in traveling around Egypt. His name is Abto. His phone number is 01062870342 Good guy and as honest as the day is long. He arranged transport for us a number of times while we were in Egypt and his knowledge of the country proved invaluable. He speaks excellent English. Very personable dude.
KJ and I are in Hurghada, Egypt on the Red Sea now. We're staying in a top-end resort that we didn't pay for (it's a long story). We spend our days by the pool or snorkeling the world-class reefs just offshore. I'll try to jam a short Red Sea blog in before we leave.
Shouts out to Klaus and Ulf. We think about you every day now that we are living with what seems to be half of Germany's vacationing population. To Dina; We finally did it! Are you happy now?
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