Sailing Down the Nile

[Author’s note: we’re back to the blog after a long hiatus.  The issue was that for the last few weeks we were in China where, it turns out, we could not view or edit our blog.  It appears that all blogs hosted on and other blog services, like Blogger, are blocked behind the great wall of China.  Anyhow, going forward we should be able to post more regularly.]

January 28-30, 2009

From Aswan we proceeded north towards Luxor.


There are two basic ways to do this trip: by land or by river.  Whichever way you go, there are a couple more monuments to visit on the way: Kom Ombo and Edfu.   If you go by river, you can either join one of the many cruise boats or you can go on a traditional sail-boat called a Felucca.

A traditional Felucca sails in front of a modern cruise ship (looks like an office building, no?):

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Pnina and I decided to go for the sailboat.  The thinking was that it should be more relaxing on a quiet sailboat than on a busy cruise ship.  Also, it’s cheaper.  It was just over $30 for the two of us including 3-days/2-nights on the Felucca with all meals included (by contrast most of the cruise-ships cost about $50/each per night).  The difference is that a cruise-ship can manage the 200+ km voyage in a short span of time, whereas the Felucca can’t go quite that far, even though it’s heading downriver.  So, as a compromise, the sailboats take you part-way on water (to Kom Ombo), then drop you off on land to go the rest of the way by minivan.

We boarded our Felucca around noon on Jan 28 and met our captain, Atta, and his assistant/cook, Muhammad.  The boat was basic but comfortable, with thin mattresses covering the surface and a shade structure above.  It was a great setup for lounging.  We pulled out our books and enjoyed the lazy motion of the waves.

Pnina getting comfortable on the Felucca with her book (Oil! by Upton Sinclair):

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Shahaf relaxing with his book (Snow Falling on Cedars)

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A bunch of other Feluccas all around:

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We stayed at the dock for five more hours before taking off.  Why so long?  First we had to wait for some food to be delivered.  Then we had to wait for the three other passengers to arrive – they went on the Abu Simbel tour and were on their way back.  This was moderately annoying; why did they tell us to show up at noon when they know that the Abu Simbel tour never returns before 3 or 4?  No matter.  We had our books and it was a comfortable place to hang out.

Our boat-mates finally showed up and we took off.  They were Nicole, Kyan, and Han, all of them from Taiwan.  Nicole works for Toyota and is well-versed in English, so she served as our translator.  It was interesting to learn random bits about Taiwan from them.  For example, they have their own flag, but they were not allowed to raise it during the Beijing Olympics last summer.  Kyan is a graphic artist who spends 6 of every 12 months traveling.  Before leaving on this trip he made his own “travel book” by arranging maps, hotel listings, and other info into a booklet.  He said it took him 3 days to make it.  It was very impressive.  In general we noticed that Taiwanese and Korean travelers in Egypt are very well prepared.  They pass info from one to the next, such that they rarely overpay.

Our boat-mates – Kyan, Nicole, and Han:

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The food on the boat was pretty good; nothing fancy, but good.  We had salad, hummus, and pita for lunch, and for dinner we had something similar to koshary (rice/lentils/etc).  All of this was spread on a simple mat in the middle of the boat.  It felt like a picnic on water.

Lunch was like a picnic on the boat:

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Some dessert we brought along (Halawa, mmmm):

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During the night it got really cold.  We wore every warm layer we had and we borrowed some comforters, but it only helped so much.  When you’re in the open water you eventually lose all your heat.  Towards morning we lied awake waiting for the sun to emerge and warm us up.

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The Taiwanese only signed up for a 2-day/1-night tour, so the next morning we dropped them off to go the rest of the way by van.  Once again, we stayed at the shore for 2-3 more hours.  When we asked the captain why we’re not moving he said not to worry, that he can get us to Kom Ombo in less than 3 hours.  The view along this shore was not particularly exciting and we wished he would move along anyways, but we let it go.  Eventually we did head downriver for 1-2 hours before stopping at the opposite bank for lunch.

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After lunch we started sailing again, and this time the wind was pretty strong.  We zig-zagged our way down the river and with each turn the boat tipped strongly to one side or the other.  We got the feeling that the captain was overdoing the turns, trying to scare us into asking him to pull over and wait for the winds to die down.  But Pnina and I really enjoyed the ride.  At one point the boat tipped just a little too far and we got a good splash of water.  There was a canvas painting rolled up on the side, one that Pnina and I picked up in Tanzania, and it got wet.  Again, kind of annoying.  I don’t know the first thing about sailing but Pnina did an intro sailing course at the University of Washington, and she says that the captain has a lot of tools in his disposal to keep the boat from going too fast or leaning too far over.  But the captain kept saying that the wind was too strong and insisted on pulling over.  He then let the wind carry the boat slowly backwards to the same place where we had lunch!  We stayed there for the night.  And the next morning we basically crossed the river and hopped off the boat and onto the minivan.

In other words, Pnina and I didn’t advance much more in our extra day than the 3 Taiwanese who only had a 2-day tour.   What kind of crap is that??  In retrospect it makes a lot of sense.  The captain knows he needs to head back to Aswan for his next trip, so he has no incentive whatsoever to make a lot of progress down the river.  Instead he wasted a lot of hours by the shore, and when he sailed he made sure to go slowly and when possible to head backwards.  Also, the captain had a really grumpy attitude, an attitude that only lifted briefly at the end when he smiled and asked us for a tip.  We gave him none.  We did give a tip to Muhammad, the cook, who was really good, but we made sure to tell him not to share the tip with Atta because in our opinion he just didn’t deserve it.

We spoke with a few other people about their Felucca trips to Aswan and we heard mixed reviews.  Some people had a good experience: a friendly crew who took them way down the river, treated them well, built a bonfire at night, etc.  Others had a bad experience, though ours seems to be the worst.  It’s a good thing we at least brought along some good books to pass our time.

If you plan to make this trip from Aswan to Luxor we would recommend either splurging for the cruise ship or going all the way by van.  If you really want to get the Felucca experience you can hire a boat for a 1-2 hour sunset trip at Luxor.  It’s much cheaper, you avoid freezing at night, and there’s no conflict with the boat captain about how much progress to make.

Kom Ombo & Edfu

The minivan took us the rest of the way to Luxor, stopping at a couple of sites on the way: Kom Ombo and Edfu.

Kom Ombo was right at the water’s edge, so we saw the cruise ships we chose not to take pull right up to it.  Structurally, the temple was crumbling.  But it had some of the best wall carvings we’d seen so far.

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Edfu was similar in shape to Philae, but much much bigger.

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Someone had obviously defaced some of the wall carvings (literally); we never got a clear answer about who’s responsible:

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By the way, here’s a handy guide to all the different gods of the ancient Egyptian beliefs.

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3 responses to “Sailing Down the Nile

  1. Eric Richmond

    Welcome back!

  2. Glad to see you back posting again!

    Yeah, our Falucca tour was a very similar experience. Our boat spent a lot of time basically drifting at a really slow speed, and we kept wondering if we’d make it to our destination… only to find out later that the 2 day and 3 day tour basically goes to the same spot… the 3 days just goes really ssslllloooowwwww.

    Well, at least you weren’t suffering from stomach ameobas while on the falucca tour, like I was.

  3. Jo Pajor-Markus

    Hey hey!
    I was looking forward to the return of normal transmission! I kept checking in every fews days, just to see if you were back!

    Can’t wait to see you in Sydney in a couple of months!

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