Journal: Wednesday 16 July 1997
By the fifth day of our short Egyptian break, and having worked quite hard so far, we felt we deserved a day off. Robin, Jan and I had negotiated a price for a whole day’s felucca sailing in a boat belonging to a friend of a friend. We were on the Corniche by 7.00am and met our captain, Mohammed, on his felucca. He was busy organising boxes of bottled water and other supplies, including a huge block of ice which had arrived on the back of someone‘s motorbike. A young boy of around ten years old, called Ahmed, who acted as crew and gofer, was busily stowing the provisions under seats and in lockers around the boat. We climbed aboard (Jan limped aboard with her sprained ankle) and made ourselves comfortable on the cushioned seats to watch the bustle of the early morning on the riverside. Before long we were ready to go.
The Nile in Egypt flows from the Ethiopian Mountains in the South right through Egypt to the Delta and the Mediterranean coast, making it the longest river in the world. If it was not for the Nile, the ancient civilization of Egypt would never have developed in the way it did and there would be no fertile green strip decorating its banks. The current flows from south to north, but luckily the prevailing wind blows from north to south, a combination which has always made water travel possible in either direction. On this morning however, there was very little wind and as we were heading south, we needed the assistance of a motorboat to tow us out into the river. Once a little way up river we were left on our own and we wallowed in the still morning for quite a while, the breeze hardly causing a ripple on the water. I didn’t mind. It was peaceful and there were birds to watch; kingfishers occasionally diving for fish and insect-eating birds skimming the surface looking for breakfast, while white egrets fed in the marshy banks and in the fields. We saw shoals of tiny fish at the edges of the river and every now and then a crocodile skulked past just under the surface. The crocodiles, however, all turned out to be no more than large floating logs, which was a relief.
I was lying on my back on the cushions under the awning, reluctant to move, totally relaxed, while distant sounds of life on the banks went on. The steady drone and thud of irrigation pumps mingled with the occasional tractor or screeching of birds they but didn’t intrude on my reveries. Then Captain Mohammed had an idea. Music was called for and a cassette player brought out. From that day on I have always associated Bob Marley’s reggae music with sailing on a felucca!
As we sailed on up the river, Ahmed occasionally letting out or pulling in a sail (there are probably correct nautical terms for this activity) and Mohammed correcting the steering now and then, they began to prepare lunch. I watched engrossed as potatoes were peeled and set to boil, fresh tomatoes skinned and braised. Onions fried and rice set to simmer. Pieces of fresh chicken were added to a pot of vegetables and also set to cook. All on a couple of tiny gas stoves! After about an hour and a half, lunch was ready and I have never tasted anything so good. It was followed by fresh fruit and cold drinks from the cooler. Then cups of steaming sugary tea. Absolutely delicious!
We sailed almost as far as Armant. Children stopped on their way home from school to call out greetings and wave at us. Black-clad women looked up from their chores by the banks to watch us sail by. Eventually we turned around to retrace our route downstream, faster now we were going with the current instead of against it. Mohammed brought out his drum and played along with Bob Marley. It was quite a party atmosphere. Sometimes we saw other feluccas filled with tourists or just one or two people and the captains would pull alongside and chat for a while. It was late afternoon by the time we reached Luxor and the sun was going down. It had been a wonderful way to spend a very hot day, relaxing and enjoying the cool river breeze.