Sunday, October 29, 2023

Four Nights on the Nile

Trip date: December 2022

After spending 3 days in Luxor last December, we boarded a dhahabīyah, a traditional Egyptian sailboat (the word actually means gilded barge), for a 5 day/4 night cruise down the Nile River to Aswan. We had booked our cruise through Real Egypt Tours based on them being mentioned in my guide book/their availability/and the reviews of the boat. 

We were picked up at our hotel in Luxor and driven 1 ½ hours to the town of Esna where the boat was docked. Immediately upon boarding we were all surprised that the communal space was much larger than we expected. It looked like the perfect place to spend 5 days relaxing while watching the banks of the Nile slip by. 

Our boat, the Sacred Lotus, had 10 cabins and 22 passengers. Caitlin and I were sharing a room so had booked one of the 2 suites onboard. The room was much nicer than we had expected, with a large bathroom, king bed, 2 walls of windows, and a balcony to sit outside!

When we booked we were told that the boat didn't serve alcohol (dry country) but that we could bring our own on board. But when we gave our provisions to the bartender Moe, he mentioned he had some wine and beer for sale also. Just an fyi if you are booking something like this, they may make their decision on alcohol based on the passengers; the others on board were all American.

It was Christmas day and we were the first to board, so we had our little gift exchange in one of the common rooms which had been decorated with a Christmas tree. Our guide (the boat comes with one) Ahmed was very curious about our celebration (Muslims don't celebrate Christmas) so we shared our candy with him and told him all about Christmas tradions.
With everyone now on board we were served lunch (all meals were included and served buffet style) and then all went for a short walk to the Temple of Khnum. Khnum was the god of creation and the source of the Nile River. It felt fitting to visit this 3000 year old site before our cruise commenced!
The only part of the temple that is accessible is a hall actually built by the Romans around 150AD. The rest of the temple is still buried 29 feet under the town of Esna! This temple is also the last Egyptian temple to be decorated with hieroglyphic texts.

Back on board we set sail at sunset; it was gorgeous!
We stopped in the small island village of El Hegz to meet a local family and to hear about their water storage system which provides them fresh water for drinking and also for irrigating their farms. The family served us tea and also invited us to check out their home. They were proud of their village and also the woman speaking was very happy to speak in English as she had been practicing. 

The next morning we arrived at Elkab where we were shuttled by a couple of vans to a set of tombs cut into the rocks, believed to have been built around 1550–1295 BC. 

Inside, the well-preserved walls were adorned with stories of the buried. There were tales of politics, battles, families, etc. It was great having Ahmed explain the drawings and have an understanding of the lives of some typical citizens of the ancient village. 

As our dahabiya had no motor, most of the trip we were pulled by a tug because of lack of wind. But this time, back on the boat, the sails were raised and we all relaxed on the deck enjoying the beautiful weather. We also had another delicious lunch! The meals onboard were really great!
Our next stop was Edfu, where Ahmed offered everyone a short walk to tour the temple. Forest, Caitlin and I decided to stay on board with some wine and the sunshine. Because we were moored in this tiny conservative town Ahmed suggested that we cover up (I was wearing a tank top dress) and we keep our wine out of sight of the town people. It's was nice of him to suggest this as offending people in other cultures is definitely not what I want to be doing!

That evening, after drinks on Caitlin's & my balcony and another tasty dinner at the communal table, we were all invited to come ashore where we were docked for the night and enjoy some traditional dance and music. Now to me this sounded pretty hokey and is one reason I don't always like an organized tour. But we went and it was fun and the music was interesting. 

After a short sail the next morning, we tied up on the banks of Bisaw Island and walked to the village for breakfast. We were invited to stop and watch one of the women roll out the feteer meshaltet, a multilayered bread made with ghee that has a sort of crepe-like texture. Then we sat down to a big table of that delicious bread (which you slather with salty cheese and sweet molasses) as well as ful, falafel, eggs, and mint tea and enjoyed a really great meal!

Afterwards, Ahmed walked us around the village where we saw another type of bread being made, the local school, and a pickup soccer game. It was all interesting and I'm sure that the village receives money from the tour company for compensation, which is great.

As we walked back to our boat we were told that we could go fishing with the local men who have lived off the Nile river their entire lives. I decided to stay on board, relax in the quiet, and watch from a distance. 

When everyone was back, we waved goodbye to Biswan and set sail for our next destination. Guess what was for lunch? 

That afternoon we tied up on the west bank of the Nile at Gebel el-Silsila, a site known for its sandstone quarries. This area was absolutely fascinating! This is where much of the stone for the Temple of Karnak and other temples had been cut out and then moved on the Nile.

Carved inscriptions of the names of Pharaohs, shrines, and chapels dating from 2034 to 1650 BC are everywhere. You can also see holes carved to loop rope through in order to pull the huge slabs of sandstone onto the waiting boats. 

There were even fossils of shells and ancient footprint drawings by the coptics who had hid out in the these quarries. Seriously fascinating! 

Before reboarding our ship we visited the Speos of Horemheb, a temple for the last King of the 18th Dynasty (1323–1295 BC). And then we continued our sail down the Nile, the views of the quarry from the boat absolutely beautiful!

On our last full day on the Sacred Lotus, we docked at Kom Ombo and walked over to the temple of the same name. The temple here is quite unique as it is a double temple dedicated to the gods Sobek, the crocodile god, and Horus, the falcon headed god, built in 180–47 BC.

The temple is beautiful, sitting right on the banks of the Nile, and is absolutely symmetrical with its reliefs of both gods. And some of the reliefs are just massive in size! Interestingly most of the decor was finished by Cleopatra VII’s father, Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos.

Next door is the Crocodile Museum which has quite an amazing collection of mummified crocodiles!

From here we jumped in the back of a couple of taxi-trucks and took a very bumpy ride on mainly dirt roads to the town of Daraw. It was quite an experience seeing the menagerie of transportation on the road; tuk-tuks, donkeys, trucks, motorcycles, etc.! 

On Sundays, tribes come from all over to sell their camels at Daraw's market. Since it was a Wednesday there were only a few young camels waiting for the weekend. Most of these camels have made a 40-day trek from Sudan and other parts of Egypt. Camels at the market go for anywhere from $450 to $1600!

Afterwards we went to the center of town where the regular market is and were given time to check it out. I love a market so was very excited! Caitlin and I set out to explore the stands which had everything from vegetables to camel meat, cushion stuffing to spices.

We also noticed one of the guys who works on the boat following us. But when we asked him he said he just happened to be in the same area. Turns out Ahmed had sent him to tail us as it is very unusual for the locals to see two Western women out and about on their own (the other families had men with them). And even at the coffee shop we all met back at, it was only men. Ahmed said that local women would never come to the coffee shop but it was fine if we were there. Just very different culturally, but we never felt unsafe.

By the way, all of this was before lunch!! Once we were back on the boat, the crew hoisted the sails and we had an entire day of relaxing on the deck watching the scenery.

At sunset we watched them take the sails down for the last time, we had one more happy hour on Caitlin's and my balcony, and one more great dinner. 

We packed and settled up our tab and put tips in envelopes. We spent the last night moored just outside of Aswan where we could see the city's lights in the distance. What a fantastic journey this had been!

The next morning we disembarked our Nile cruise and set off for the next Egyptian adventure!

All photos from the Nile here.

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