Journal: Thursday 14 November 1996
Sailing between Edfu and Esna is always a joy. It is a peaceful countryside where little mud brick hamlets crouch beside the river, hardly changed since pharaonic times. Straw or fodder for animals is stacked on the roofs, along with peppers or whatever herbs and vegetables are suitable for drying. Most of these tiny villages belong to extended families which portion the cultivated strips of land between them, sharing the produce so that they are fairly self-sufficient. The only sign of a modern world is the occasional roof-top satellite dish sparkling in the sun. Some villages have no running water and still use the Nile for many of their daily tasks. Children are naked or bare-footed as they scamper between the houses and old ladies look after babies in the shade of the courtyards. It could be almost anywhere in Africa.
Before long we arrived in Esna and walked from the dock up the main street of the bazaar to the Temple of Khnum. All that remains of the temple is the Roman columned entrance hall with its inscriptions recording the affairs of the last of the pharaohs up to the time of the Roman Emperor Decius. I particularly wanted to have another look at the ‘cryptograms’ I had read about – rows of carved crocodiles and rams. This was not my favourite temple but it did have many interesting things to look at, now that I knew a little more about the carved reliefs.
When we began this cruise the lock at Esna was closed for maintenance, but now, a week later it had re-opened and we could pass through on our way to Luxor. This meant that each boat went into the lock, the water was pumped out, the lock gates opened and they could go on their way. There was quite a big queue waiting and another forming behind us, so it was not until about two and a half hours later that it was almost our turn to sail into position. Suddenly it got very windy and within five minutes a kind of hurricane had blown up. Palm trees on the opposite bank were bent double and quickly the dust and sand blew so high into the air so that I could see nothing beyond the boat decks. Everyone on our boat was cowering in the main salon for cover as, on deck, it was impossible to stand up straight. Within minutes the conditions had worsened and a fierce electrical storm blew in from nowhere, with huge bullets of rain lashing the windows. These storms seem to be following me around on this trip! It was gone as quickly as it had arrived and within half an hour of it beginning, the storm had passed over and all was calm again. We sailed into the lock and were lowered down into the next level of the river. Onwards to Luxor. It was not until later in the evening that I learned that a cruise boat in the queue behind us had overturned in the storm, with twenty passengers killed as well as four crew members. It was a terrible thing to happen and everyone was very sad for the families of those who had been killed. Cruise boats have flat bottoms and must carry a certain amount of ballast to balance the heavy upper decks. Apparently the boat that sank had insufficient weight at the bottom, and it was unfortunate that this freak weather had caught it. That evening we were all very anxious to telephone home to reassure our families that we were OK, but luckily the news hadn’t reached there yet.