The Nile is the largest river in the world, stretching over four thousand miles. Any excursion to Egypt is not complete without spending some time on these iconic waters. Last month I spent four days cruising from Luxor to Aswan on a relatively small (thirty cabin), air conditioned boat complete with swimming pool, bar, restaurant, dance floor and fitness room. It was a slow, majestic ride offering in-depth views of the agriculture and the subsistence livelihoods of the Egyptian population who lived along the banks, as well as a glance of the towns and small settlements whose existence depend upon these waters, and have done for thousands of years.
A few years ago over three hundreds boats cruised up and down the Nile delivering tourists to the temples at Luxor, Karnak and Aswan in addition to other less well known yet equally stunning sites. In 2017 many of these vessels lay dilapidated and neglected as their ranks declined along with the tourist trade following the Arab Spring and events of 2010. This rotting flotilla is not pretty and acts as a reminder of better times. But once travelers escape the grave yard on one of the few boats still operating (which, while serviceable, have seen better days), the romance of the Nile is rekindled and the fun starts.
Upon leaving Luxor the expansive river changes in width, giving way to numerous islands, complete with reed inhabited huts and grazing cattle. Red sandstone rocks and escarpments are passed revealing deserted small temples and shrines. Locks are navigated. Cows, camels, horses, men and boys can be seen bathing in the waters while women wash clothes. Noisy archaic pumps extracted water from the river to feed the adjacent fields. There is always something to see. And when the sun sets the moon and night sky show the waterway in another magical nocturnal light, devoid of artificial illumination. Unchanged for centuries.
As we cruised along small boats tied up along side and their adept occupants noisily showed the cruise passengers their wares; t shirts, towels and table clothes. These items are placed in plastic bags and thrown up to the passengers to catch and review. If the customer approves money is placed in the plastic bag and thrown to the entrepreneur below, but not, of course, before the compulsory haggling. My cruise included many women from North America, a culture and sex known for its ability to shop, consequently the businessmen in the little boats did a good trade, while entertainment distracting from the Nile’s waters was offered to all.
My four day cruise provided a welcome contrast to the intensity of Cairo and relief from the pollution, noise and turmoil this city of over twenty million creates. Anyone visiting Egypt should ensure time is taken away from the pyramids and temples to experience the world’s longest river.