Journal: Thursday 21 November 1996
My friends and I had arranged to spend this morning on a felucca trip. We’d met Abdu a couple of days before and we had promised we’d go sailing sometime on his felucca, Titi, so today was the day. Everyone visiting Egypt should experience a felucca trip. The felucca is a sailing boat, traditionally made of wood, with a very tall mast and huge lateen sail to catch the smallest breeze, but they are also light enough to be rowed when no wind is available. In Aswan the boats are often large and take a dozen or more passengers, but the smaller ones in Luxor can be hired by individuals for short trips. They have a heavy centre plate, used as the keel, which can be raised or lowered depending on the depth of the water. This means that they can drift into the shallows close to the river banks or more easily negotiate sand banks. On board there are benches along the sides of the boat, usually spread with flowered cushions and an awning overhead to keep off the sun in the hottest part of the day.
This morning there was very little wind, so we had to wait to be towed 4 km upriver against the current, by a motor boat. We were going to Banana Island, perhaps the only island in Egypt which is attached to the land! Banana Island, or Gezira el-Mozh, was a small, lush plantation of fruit trees (mostly banana) and sugar cane. The owner, Mr Lovely, made a landing charge of LE5 each person and ran a shaded café and bazaar in the middle of the peninsular. He was obviously an entrepreneur, subsidising his agricultural enterprise with tourism, but the fee did include a bunch of the small delicious bananas grown on the island. Stepping off the felucca into the trees was like stepping into a hot and humid jungle – complete with mosquitoes! The track wound around through the trees and shrubs, vibrant with colour, huge wide banana leaves forming a canopy overhead and creating a tunnel effect. We took a tour of the plantation, accompanied by several indigent dogs, the guide pointing out the bright pendants of banana flowers as well as fat clumps of ripening bunches. There were also many colourful birds I hadn’t seen before in Egypt. The trail ended at a café in a clearing and we all had a cold drink while we were fed endless bananas by the staff. We met Mr Lovely himself, who insisted we went into his bazaar – which was actually quite interesting with lots of more unusual crafts and all rather dusty and neglected. There was no a hassle policy and as we were told, it was all ‘Asda price’.
Back on the felucca an hour or so later and we were able to sail back downriver towards Luxor. It is so peaceful to sail the river with no noise except the wind in the sails and the gently lapping water against the bow. We reclined on the cushions and I trailed my hand in the water. The traditional boats have largely been replaced by faster, reliable, motor boats – even some of the feluccas have engines now, but that morning, lying relaxing in the sun and drifting slowly down river, I thought it was the perfect way to travel. I became hooked on felucca sailing. The three hour trip had cost us LE15 each.