View Egypt Photography
My only knowledge of Egypt really comes from an unlikely source – Charleton Heston. I can still remember my family all sitting around the one TV we had and watching the Ten Commandments…it was a huge event for us – we were even allowed to eat in front of the TV. The movie was cutting edge – it had amazing special effects – such as the burning bush, turning a staff into a snake, and who could ever forget the parting of the Red Sea – only to close onto the Pharaohs army…that was my favorite scene. Plus, it was a two night event – my first memory of a cliffhanger was probably the Ten Commandments. Granted – the movie is not necessarily about Egypt – but it is set around the Nile, Pharaohs, the Red Sea, and of course Mt. Sinai – all of these things were on the itinerary for my trip through Egypt – so it didn’t surprise me that my memories of the movie came flooding back to me as I traveled the country.
Photo: Kids at work
The movie wasn’t my only source of knowledge of the Nile River though – I have 4th Grade geography to also thank. Sure – the Nile is the longest river on the globe at 4,100 miles long; and it runs south to north – that makes it unique and memorable. However – I still have this image burned into my brain from the Ten Commandments movie where the Egyptian princesses, Miriam, was bathing, washing, and socializing out along the Nile River when a little basket came floating by amongst the reeds with a baby in it…Moses. Therefore the Nile conjures up images of the decadent royal lifestyle, gold jewelry, and femininity…peaceful, yet grand. This is one of the reasons why I chose to tour through Egypt and not simply go to see the Pyramids. I wanted a river cruise adventure on the Nile!
We spent 2 days and 2 nights on a felucca on the Nile. A felucca is a single mast wooden sailing boat commonly used along the Nile. I’m positive that Moses had to have ridden on one during his decadent Egyptian childhood! We were to sail down stream (to the North) from Aswan to Luxor. Actually – come to think of it – is it really called downstream any longer if you are going from South to North? Or is that considered upstream? I will probably never know that answer to that question – so I will move on…
Photo: Our felucca on the Nile
Upon my first view of the Nile – it was way different than my childhood memory – first of all – it was much, much wider than the movie set river they used for The Ten Commandments! There were no Eygptian women dressed in gold head-dresses doing their wash in it. However there were plenty of cows washing in it – as well as donkeys and young Egyptian boys swimming in it! Seeing that pretty much sealed the deal for me – I was not swimming in the Nile. There are a number of things written in travel books about swimming in the Nile – most recommend against it due to the fact that it’s rather dirty and full of bacteria. The last thing I wanted was to acquire some parasite from the Nile, however it takes an immense amount of self control to be surrounded by cool water for 2 days in 110 degree heat and not jump in. As I continued to see the myriad of animals bathing, eating, and shitting in it – I decided that I could indeed have self control! So – the Nile wasn’t really a royal river anymore – but it was still the Nile and it was our home for 2 days/nights.
Photo: Deck of the felucca – close quarters
A felucca isn’t necessarily a posh sailboat with a galley – instead – it’s a big wooden sailing boat with a flat deck area – and ….well….that’s about it. There are no other compartments of space. There are no bathrooms, there is no kitchen, there is nothing below deck, there is just a deck. The deck is about 300 Sq ft. – it’s covered with cushions and has a big tarp covering it to protect you from the shade. The tarp was great – as it kept it somewhat cool on the boat – however it was a hindrance too. Since there was a tarp – this meant that you couldn’t actually ever stand upright. You had to walk around on the little cushy pads (across the other people laying there in their little space) hunch backed. In the brochure, it all sounded rather pleasant – not posh, but pleasant. However, when you get there and think about how you are going to fit 15 people on this 300sq feet of space for two days…with no bathroom, and no way to stand up you tend to panic. We were to eat, sleep, rest, read, lounge, socialize, and dress on that deck area…amidst 14 other people…this would certainly be an adventure!
Photo: First Mate and Cook!
We had a crew of two who operated the large felucca. They were the captain and first mate; plus the cooks, and the entertainment. I was actually surprised at how much wind there was on the Nile pushing us along; only twice did they have to actually get the oars out and paddle! The dinners they put together were quite good – considering they only had 2 gas burners and no kitchen space. They had a little cutting board which they used as a kitchen counter preparing everything. We also had two large coolers full of drinks that served as our bar with water, booze, and juice. Yeah – thank God for booze!
We made rest stops about every 3 hours – where we crawled out and stretched our legs for a bit, made friends with the donkeys and cows around us and peed in the bushes – if we could find any. The inaccessibility of peeing spots, made it rather difficult to drink all of the beer we had brought along in the two coolers. There was this fine line of drinking too much too fast and then you were miserable because your bladder felt like it was going to explode and you had nowhere to go! I actually spent most of my time enjoying the vast view, and reading a book – something that I seldom get the time to do!
We stopped for the first night along the banks of the Nile…along with a few other felucca’s that were doing similar trips to us. We had a lovely view…of cows and donkeys. This also meant that getting off the boat and going to the bathroom included a deadly walk across landmines of poop. To top it off, we had a very curious donkey. He would graze around our little make-shift toilet (basically a hole with some tenting around it), and would peek his head through the tenting while you were in there doing your business. I have to admit – never in my life would I have envisioned myself talking a live donkey while squatting over a toilet…in a field in Egypt.
As nighttime fell, I realized that sleeping on a deck with 14 other people had its challenges…a donkey making a jackass sound in the middle of the night 10 ft. from your boat…well, that required ear plugs. That night we enjoyed a bonfire with the passengers and crew from other boats and listened to the Nubian locals play drums and sing for us. I settled down with my sleep sheet, ear plugs, eye mask, and enjoyed my first night of sleeplessness on the Nile.
Photo: Butcher shop in Daraw
The second day of floating down the Nile like Moses included some stops along the way to see temples and a camel market. Unfortunately – there was no camel market that day – so it just looked like a dirt field with a fence around it. Too bad as I was ready to purchase me some camels! Actually – a number of times I had already been offered camels for my hand in marriage – so I guess the market wasn’t really necessary. Had my father been traveling with me – I’m a little worried that he may have accepted some of the camel proposals and sold me off to an Egyptian in exchange for 30 camels that he could raise on his land in South Dakota…it certainly wouldn’t have surprised me! Even though the camel market was not operating that day, we still walked around the small camel trading town of Daraw.
This was ‘real Egypt’ – a town with no tourists where we were stared at as if we had just stepped off a UFO as opposed to a felucca. We stopped there for some sugar cane juice and were able to walk around the small town and explore for about 30 minutes. This was probably my favorite location in all of Egypt…because it was real. Rosaline and I walked around the market and soon we had a group of school children following us begging us to take their picture. In addition, the men from the fruit and meat stands all wanted us to come over and take their picture. What made this town real was the simple fact that they didn’t ask for money after I took their picture – they simply wanted to look at it.
Photo: Man with eyeball
They were still virgins to tourism – they didn’t know that the rest of Egypt was asking for money every time you took a picture of someone – instead – they were just genuinely happy to view themselves on the screen. My favorite was the butcher – he wanted to pose for me with his knives in front of the meat…he was so proud…it was priceless. We all gathered and got back in our hot taxi wagon, I was the last to get in as our leader, Mohammad, practically had to push me into the truck as I didn’t want to leave this little oasis of culture! As I got in, this man came to the back of the wagon and had a big round object in his fingers, and he was holding it up yelling something in Arabic. I all of a sudden realized that the big round object was a cow eyeball…and he was holding it up to his eye and laughing. He proceeded to hold it in his mouth as I shot pictures of him as if he were Elle McPherson…he was a star! You can’t beat a cow eyeball pose! That night was stayed on the felucca again, docked by another donkey and cow and had a feast of pasta. Our captains even played drums and sang songs for us afterward. Our time on the felucca was memorable, claustrophobic at times, but worth it! Moses would have enjoyed it…it was much better than a basket!
Don’t let the cramped space and the cow eyeball scare you off! If you don’t feel like ‘roughing’ it on a felucca, then there are plenty of other options for Nile River Cruises!
Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of Briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice.
Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at Ottsworld.com.com.