A Nile cruise surely has to be part of any Egyptian itinerary. The huge cruise ships were not for us though. After our homestay at Elephantine Island, we spent the following two days aboard a felucca, lazily zig-zagging our way up the Nile towards Luxor.
A felucca is a traditional wooden boat with sails and oars. They have been used around the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and along the Nile since ancient times. Felucca have to zig-zag up the Nile, catching the breeze as they go. Our felucca crew were able to make precise turns at exactly the same angle each time (we plotted the course on GPS). The boats are small, transporting only 10 to 15 people including the crew. Below the deck there is only a small space for storing provisions, and no bathroom facilities. Even though each of us drank 3 litres of water a day, nobody needed to use the bathroom whilst on the boat, which was just as well.
The boat was a comfortable place to be as the deck was covered by a large mattress and an awning protected us from the sun. Two days sounded like a long time to just sit or lie on a tiny boat, but it provided a much-needed rest and respite from the sweltering heat. We read, talked, and watched life along the Nile.
We passed other felucca, children splashing about at the water’s edge, and dodged the huge cruise ships heading downstream. The heat sucked the moisture from our bodies and the welcome breeze was like a hairdryer blowing in our faces. Mirages appeared along the river banks in the distance as the sun blazed in the sky. In spite of the temperatures, our captain and his mate worked tirelessly, pausing to fill their bottles from the river. I couldn’t believe that they could drink the river water with no adverse effects.
As the sun descended, Mohammed and Ravi searched for a suitable place to stop for the night. We set up camp moored amongst the reeds along the river bank. The men put up the tent for our washing facilities at short distance away from the boat.
At first our site seemed deserted but we soon noticed a face peering at us, bemused, from a tiny house camouflaged amongst the reeds. Mohammed and Ravi made a delicious dinner for us all and we passed a pleasant evening talking. We slept on the deck under the stars, the silence punctuated every so often by a loud, strangled noise. Nobody could think what it could be and our heroes were reluctant to investigate. The next we discovered that it was just a chicken (possibly a mutant, judging by the sound) and probably owned by the face in the rushes.
After breakfast on the second day we risked a swim (well, a paddle) in the Nile. Initially my thoughts turned to the pet crocodile we’d met on Elephantine Island and his bigger, wild brothers; however what sent me scarpering back to the boat was the donkey dung bobbing merrily past us.
That morning we stopped to get ice from Daraw, which is a small town off the tourist radar. Daraw is famous locally for its camel market, and so of course we wanted to take a look. We did have to jump out of the way of a camel stampede as the animals were herded towards to market. The market itself was a large, walled area which could hold hundreds of animals, although there were only a handful of camels when we visited. It was interesting to see a non-touristy town and we felt as though we were somewhat off the beaten track.
We continued, passing by the temple at Kom-Ombo and stopping at Edfu temple. Edfu temple was built for the god Horus and is one of the best preserved ancient temples you can visit. There is a hypostyle hall, a large pylon and all of the walls have been covered in beautiful hieroglyphs. You should definitely try to peer into the darker corners of the temple as you will find beautifully preserved colours on the walls and pillars.
Eventually, on the afternoon of the second day we arrived in Luxor. We said our goodbyes to our felucca crew, and feeling refreshed from our rest, set out to explore the city.
Read about Karnak temple and more in our Luxor post.