Serene. Soothing. Relaxing. Our week-long cruise on a Dahabiya was wonderful. This was not a 100-150 passenger boat for tourists, but a comfortable sail boat with eight cabins, each with its own toilet facilities.
Unfortunately the two sails seemed only for show. We were towed by a tug. We and 12 other passengers repeatedly asked our jovial crew when we would be under sail. Finally
they gave in to pressure. One sail was hoisted (quite a procedure) but stayed up for a very short time.
No matter. Now I can relate to a comment by my friend Lynne, who spent much of her youth living on a boat. “There is no place I’d rather be than on the water.”
The Nile is calm. The only sounds for us were the purr of the tugboat motor and the occasional call to prayer from a mosque on shore. Meals, delicious and copious, were on the open upper deck, but under a roof (the Egyptian sun is powerful). Our cabin mates came from six different counties. The Egyptian staff were friendly and helpful.
The Nile is the world’s longest river, originating in the highland lakes of Uganda and Ethiopia, and flowing into the Mediterranean. For centuries civilizations have settled along the fertile Nile Valley. The rest of Egypt is mainly desert as we saw on our long ( four hours) and boring ride from Hurghada on the Red Sea where our charter flight landed.
We cruised from Luxor up the Nile to Aswan, then back to Luxor. We disembarked for part of most days to visit Egypt’s wondrous sights, ancient temples and tombs.
The Valley of the Kings just outside Luxor with its richly decorated royal tombs is astonishing. For a period of some 500 years (16th to 11th century BC) ancient Egyptians buried the mummies of pharaohs in secret, elaborate tombs here believing they would
thus be saved for eternity. Sixty -three tombs have been discovered; eight are open to tourists, but not all at the same time. The most famous is that of Tutankhamun, discovered by Howard Carter in 1922. It was closed during our visit.
Descending shafts into this underworld of murals depicting gods, goddesses, kings, queens, symbols, snakes, beasts and battles is a mesmerizing adventure. Guides give lessons on Egyptian mythology, explaining who’s who, but keeping track is a challenge. Hats off to Egyptolgoists.
On our return to Luxor, we visited its other treasures: Karnak and Luxor Temples, as well as it bazaar. In between we made shore visits to the temple of Sobek at Kom Ombo, Esna and its temple of Khnoum, the temple of Horus at Edfu and the temple Philae on the island of Algikia.
From Aswan, an optional tour to Abu Simbel was offered. I remember being blown away by this monumental sight with is gigantic statues on a previous visit to Egypt many years ago. I wanted Bob to see it.
He could have done without it. The trip by car from Aswan is four hours through the desert. To avoid the heat, we had a 4 a.m. wake up call. And, even though we arrived at 9 .m. the sun was already blistering. Throngs of Chinese tourists with cell phone cameras clogged the narrow passageways inside the tombs.
What is really remarkable about Abu Simbel, and several other huge temple complexes, is that they were all moved to be saved from drowning under the waters of Lake Nasser, the world’s largest reservoir created when the High Dam (the second dam) was constructed on the Nile. Between 1964 and 1966 Abu Simbel was hand sawn into 1041 blocks weighing up to 30 tons each. It was reassembled 210 meters behind its original site.
We visited the dam and the impressive Soviet-Egyptian monument honoring cooperation between the two nations in the dam construction.
Another optional tour – to a Nubian village — was also disappointing. Nubians, the earliest settlers on the Nile with their own culture and language, still live in traditional villages in southern Egypt. Unfortunately, the one we visited was primarily a collection of shops selling the usual souvenirs. However, it did include an entertaining visit to a school where a “teacher” stood at a blackboard and instructed us in how to pronounce our names in Nubian. Lots of laughs. This time we were surrounded by Taiwanese. They loved it.
We had hoped to end our visit to the Nile and its sights with a balloon ride. British passengers on our boat had been enthralled with views of the river, the Valley of the Kings, the desert and more.
Another 4 a.m. wake up call. We were driven to a field where huge colorful, deflated balloons blanketed the ground, surrounded by groups of eager passengers. It was cold at that early hour. No refreshment stands offered coffee. We waited, and waited, and waited, about three hours, for the signal that visibility was OK and we could soar up into the sky. Sadly, visibility never improved. No balloon ride.
But, the boat was bliss.
More on Egypt – the beach and the Red Sea — coming soon.
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