July 31, 2006

A JOURNEY TO EGYPT: Part Four - Sailing Upon The Nile

In Aswan, along the shore of the Nile, it is almost impossible to avoid touts desperately trying to get business for their feluccas. A felucca is a traditional Egyptian sailing vessel. They are a gentle and regular sight upon the Nile, and it seemed to me an appealing option to spend the next few days sailing on one up to the temple of Kom Ombo. With some negotiation, I was able to secure passage for 100 Egyptian Pounds ($16). This included two days and two nights on the river, as well as food and transport up to Luxor.

I arrived at the felucca the following morning at the arranged time, although the actual launch seemed to drag infinitum.

I was extremely relieved to discover that my fellow nine travellers onboard were an interesting and pleasant group from all parts of the world, and that our captain, Mohammed, seemed an experienced and trusting sailor.

After some time, our journey began and we started to cruise up the Nile at a slow, calming pace. Mohammed steered the vessel, so that it zigzagged through the strong current.

It was no time at all before the beers and the conversation was flowing like the mighty river below us. We were all particularly entertained by two of the loveliest American gentlemen, who work as flight attendants for Delta. The stories that they shared with us were hilarious.

I was amazed to learn that flight attendants are just human beings like the rest of us, and that they also have a need to, shall we say, relieve internal gas. They do this using a tried and tested technique that is both silent and efficient, as they push the trolley down the aisle. Rather amusingly, this is termed "crop dusting"!

I am sure that there was plenty of "crop dusting" going onboard our felucca, as some of us had a touch of the Egyptian curse.

We continued meandering up the river, accompanied by a magnificent scene of palm trees and desert horizons. Sporadically, we would pull into the shore for a break and some food. Mohammed prepared basic, but adequate dishes of pita bread, vegetables and soup.

After a night of heavy partying on the sandy shores of the Nile, many of us woke up with very painful heads, brought on by a combination of Tequila, beer and hashish. The tranquil continuation of our journey helped us to recover quickly, as we lay basking in the intense heat of the day.

By the mid afternoon, we were all rather dehydrated, so we welcomed news that we were going to visit a camel bazaar. However, we soon became irritated, when we discovered that we would have to each pay 10 Egyptian Pounds to take a taxi to the camel bazaar. Now, this is not a huge amount of money - only $2 - but when there were nine passengers paying for a short trip, that is a large sum of money in Egypt. We were being taken for a ride both literally and metaphorically.

When we reached the "camel bazaar", it turned out to be a dingy courtyard, with ten very poorly cared for camels. All of us found the situation uncomfortable and bizarre, and requested to leave quickly.

We returned back to the small village where we picked up the taxi, so that we could replenish on water, fizzy drinks, snacks and beer. It was a strange place, where we all felt very uncomfortable and out of place, as locals shouted obviously derogatory comments for their amusement. One boy came up to an Argentinean gentleman in our group and simulated cutting his throat. We were all glad to board our boat and head away from that unfriendly place.

Some cross words were said to Mohammed by some of my fellow travellers, who were overly angry about the price for the taxi and the reason for taking us to that hideous camel bazaar. Personally, I was not that bothered, because it was not so much money and it was another unique experience.

We spent a damp night on an island. By this time, we all looked forward to a cold shower and a good feed.

At 6:30, we all got ready to disembark and say our farewells at the temple ruins of Kom Ombo. There had been some problems with another felucca that joined us, between her captain and two Dutch tourists that were dissatisfied with his behaviour, so this also tempered the mood between our felucca crew and us. We handed our tips and that was the end of our time on the Nile.

For all the little hassles, the felucca trip was a fabulous experience that I would love to do again some time. It was extremely relaxing to lay back and watch the ancient scenery go by, especially with such excellent company as the friends I made onboard.

The ruins of Kom Ombo do not cover such a large area, and were certainly not as impressive as the sites I had seen earlier on the trip. Ptolemy IV, one of the later Greek pharaohs, built Kom Ombo. The temple is dedicated to both Horus and the crocodile god, Sobek. It certainly had some grand features, with large columns, but the temple was not in good condition.

After a short journey by minibus, we reached the town of Edfu. Within this small bustling town is the magnificent Temple of Horus. It was built, like Kom Ombo, 2000 years ago under Ptolemaic rule. In fact, it was Ptolemy III's attempt to replicate the grandeur of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, who preceded him by two or three thousand years. His attempt clearly succeeded. It is a grand vision that startles the approaching visitor, with its gigantic pylons, engraved with impressive images of Horus and other gods. Within, there is a maze of passageways, columns and antechambers all engraved with beautiful hieroglyphics and godly scenes.

Part Five Coming Soon!

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Travel Guide - Travellerspoint