I first heard of travelling the Nile on a felucca sometime in my twenties. In those days I thought of living on one for a couple of weeks, but never managed to make it happen.
Finally, here I am. It is for two hours rather than two weeks, but I am content. I am sailing into the sunset on a felucca on the Nile and I feel as if I’ve come home. It is the realization of a dream 40 years old, and I dissolve with delight into the serene reality.
There is an easy graceful four-part dance that happens between the captain, the boat, the wind, and the water: a transcendent intermingling as if all four are one body. The captain so fully reads and understands the water and the wind that he can manoeuver his craft with the same elegance as a bird in flight. The felucca gives him wings.
I’d studied ancient Egypt in high school and it inspired a longing to see the real thing.
So, after years of independent travel, my husband Don and I chose Intrepid to guide us through Egypt. The organisation and itinerary were perfect, steered by Hoda, our peerless and fearless leader, and the perfect person to take care of all our needs. Intrepid’s 12-day “Egypt Experience” was better than anything we could have imagined.
And it was all the sweeter age 65, having been delayed for so long.
Aswan was our first contact with the Nile. The river is lazy and wide, its blue waters caught between ochre sand and islands green with tropical plants. Our felucca trip was followed by a three-night Nile cruise.
The boat was a floating hotel complete with shops, a restaurant, and lounge chairs and café on the rooftop deck. Our cabin was luxurious, with large windows. Three nights in luxury cruising down the Nile. I could barely contain my excitement.
That first night we were docked at Aswan, and departed late the next morning. Finally we were cruising, moving effortlessly down the river. Following lunch in the dining room I spent almost all the afternoon leaning out the huge open window of our cabin watching the world go by.
It was a quietly joyous experience cruising along the Nile Valley with its green tropical foliage and golden sand dunes. In places the shore on either side was lush with palm trees, fields, and crops. Beyond them was nothing but the sand and bare mountains of the Sahara.
The river is up to 36 feet deep, and up to two miles across. It is the lifeblood of the nation. To the ancient Egyptians, the Nile was believed to be a sacred river that came from the stars. From one end of the country to the other it cuts like a dream through the hot, harsh desert.
We saw glimpses of daily life as we passed by – villagers bathing and playing on the shore, grazing camels, water buffalo, white egrets, and farmers riding tractors.
Then, suddenly, a heart-stopping moment: a huge flock of pelicans flew by and settled on the water. The world is open here: the blue of the wide sky and the blue of the wide river, the low green banks, and the pelicans, hundreds of them, that exploded from nowhere. They floated on the air, then floated on the water, and then they were gone as the boat continued on down the river.
The cruise continued as night fell and we all met for dinner. The food was plentiful and the company wonderful, one of many excellent meals with our new friends on the tour with us. After dinner, and after dark, Don and I made our way to the bow of the ship and stared out into the liquid darkness, our hearts full of joy.
I wrote gushingly about the magic of the moment, I just couldn’t help myself:
In the darkness the water slips by on each side of us like long black velvet ribbons. In front of us the river is a broad expanse of inky blackness, reflecting the occasional lights that flow by on the banks far off on either side. All is silent except for the splash of the water and the hum of the engines. The river is spacious and deep, the night is a dark secret, and we are standing alone in the bow of the boat, as close to the very front of it as we can get, taking in the moment. We are on a cruise boat on the Nile. We can hardly believe it is real. It is a dream come true.
At about ten o’clock we pulled up to the wharf at Edfu and tied up for the night. Very early next morning we travelled by horse and buggy to visit the Horus Temple, returning to the boat for breakfast. After breakfast I hung out the window again as we continued downstream. It was smooth, quiet, and peaceful.
On the banks, children played in the water, and waved and shouted as we went by, farmers rode donkeys or tractors along the shore, and fishermen concentrated on their catch.
64 kilometres south of Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile, is the town of Esna. Suddenly the peace was shattered. It was mayhem. The cruise boat was surrounded on both sides by merchants in small boats, all of them shouting at us to buy a variety of cloth goods – bedspreads, towels, tablecloths.
Everywhere there was a commotion as they vied for our attention. Some people on the cruise boat were interested in buying and cloth items were flying through the air up onto the top deck. Prices were negotiated; some goods were hurled back down again when a sale was not completed as others went flying up. And as suddenly as it began it was over and we were through to the other side of the lock.
A couple of hours later, close to sunset, we docked in Luxor. It was our last night on board. Our Nile cruise had ended. It was a peaceful, joyful, and exciting experience. It was the fulfillment of a dream 40 years old. The reality was better than anything I could have imagined.
Tempted to visit this stunning country? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours in Egypt.
(All images c/o Alison Armstrong at alisonanddon.com, except first felucca image c/o Gillian Millett and photo of Alison c/o Jeannette Porter.)