We arrived in Aswan late at night after a beautiful train journey along the Nile River. Budget backpackers may seem cheap by never flying anywhere, but they get to see the countryside that jet-setters simply miss out on. Aswan is a stunning city set on one of the most scenic areas of the greatest river in the world, so we knew we wanted to have a view from our room.
We found a nice hotel right on the Nile with huge windows that opened up to let the breeze in with a perfect Nile vistas. We bargained the manager down to a price we like to pay and as always in Egypt it includes breakfast. Who said you can’t get great rooms on a backpacker’s budget?
We spent a few days just enjoying the pace of life on the Nile and checking out a few of the markets. Aside from the scenery, Aswan has a great charm, but it’s somewhat dulled by what budget backpackers call: “tourist pricing” and the general tourist prejudices that come with it. It’s hard to get a fair price for anything (even passport photos) and everyone is out to get a buck. Fortunately we weren’t here for haggling, we were here for the felucca (sail boat) ride down the Nile River to Luxor.
We had agreed to meet our friends, Bernie & Toni at a Nile side restaurant at a certain date and time, and had offered our other new friends Michel and Chisa to meet us there as well if they liked. Turns out everyone showed up and got along well. 5 Canadians and a Japanadian, of course we got along, we’re all fellow budget backpackers!
In fact, somehow Michel and Chisa had already met Bernie and Toni. Anyway, Michel had met a few other Canadians in the Western Desert who had already taken the felucca journey and recommended a good captain. So a couple of days later we met the captain, Magdy, and went over the specifics. He only seemed a little dodgy, so we thought we’d go with him.
He insisted that we make up the menu for the 3 night 4 day trip that was to follow. As we read out our somewhat extravagant cuisine selection he nodded and agreed with each and every unlikely ingredient we had requested. We thought “Sweet! Whatever we want”. Of course our time in Egypt could have rendered clues that this was not going to turn out how we expected but we carried on anyway to take a look at the boat with our new captain.
Sure enough, the boat looked glorious! Its sparkling new sail gleamed proudly in the moonlight. We thought, “Great! That boat’s way bigger than we thought!” Then we accompanied the captain, Magdy, back to his house for sheesha, he confirmed that sheesha would be free and there would be many flavours on the boat. We bid our farewells after a seemingly productive night of preparation and planned to sail two days later.
So the day came and we all got ready in our hotel and sure enough the captain was there on time. Only the first of many problems arose on the way to the taxi. He didn’t buy enough beer. Ok, no problem, he went to the beer store and replenished it.
Then we get to the boat and it was a COMPLETELY different boat, it’s sad sail dangling dirty and frail in the morning sun. Then as we hopped on the boat our supposed captain waved goodbye from shore! Ummm WTF? haha, he had left us with a completely different crew then the one we had met prior. We all complained and grumbled a little bit, becoming all too aware of the scam which was unfolding. However, we weren’t going to let a shifty captain, new crew and a haggard boat ruin this amazing experience.
We sailed to the police check point (as all boats do leaving Aswan) there was some problem and it took awhile but we eventually began sailing again. The views from the boat were breathtaking. The Nile is like glass in parts and the village life remains as it has for thousands of years on each of its banks. As we pulled away from the City of Aswan and into the more rural regions a curtain of modernity slowly lifted revealing the age old, timeless traditions of farming and harvesting. Kids ran along the banks waving hellos, while their sun weathered elders stood, doubled over, picking stocks of grain from the ground in the lush green farmland that stretched to the horizon.
After our first couple of hours sailing, our first lunch was being prepared by Ayeman, our deckhand/cook. Ayeman was nice but spoke little English so couldn’t quite answer when Bernie asked, “what’s for lunch?” Bernie has learned to speak what he calls “Nubanese” which is a sort of slow, cave man English which he believes is more understandable for locals. “What cooking there?” Bernie asked. “Potato? Potato GOOD, Lunch ready soon? We hungry”.
We would all find his speech to be as effective as it was hilarious over the next few days. So we looked back on our planned menu to see what it was we were smelling. Okay we all agreed, today should be tuna salad, dates, banana, melon, and bread. MMM.. can’t wait. What came out was still delicious but it lacked any protein, meat or fruit. Hard to complain at this point though, looking out at the Nile we ate the delicious potato veggie stew and talked and laughed amongst each other.
After a great day of relaxing and watching the Nile go by, we prepared for dinner. Our menu suggested we would be having a roast chicken meal with potatoes and veggies. Needless to say it was a surprise when the falafel and bread hit the place mat, but again it was tasty, we all ate it up and continued chatting.
When it came time for bed we pulled up on shore at a slightly noisy village and the crew of Ayeman and Jimmy (Jamal) closed us in to protect us from mosquitoes. Only problem was the 6 foot gaping hole in their protective cover. I guess it would siphon out all the mosquitoes that are too dumb to follow their nose to the massive opening, but for foreigners from a country with bug born illnesses with names like “the West Nile virus” we weren’t to happy to be on the Nile exposed to the bugs.
Luckily Ayeman remedied this small draw back by using mine and Dariece’s blanket to cover the hole. Being such spoiled foreigners we explained that we needed a blanket to sleep, so with a polite apology Ayeman ran into the village and brought us back a blanket. No matter how many things were to go wrong over the next couple days we soon came to realize that it was not Ayeman or Jimmy’s fault. They were also duped by Magdy and would do whatever they could to help us feel more comfortable.
So, Ayeman ran into his home in the village and grabbed us a new blanket. All we know is that somewhere in that village a camel was cold that night because Ayeman had taken it’s blanket to give to us. The blanket smelled like feet so we pushed it aside, but we were still touched by his generosity.
We all slept pretty rough on the 2X4’s with couch cushions that night and woke up to the sun rise a little stiff. But as soon as we moved our blanket and peaked out the hole in the cover all our complaints were washed away by the morning sun. The village we were parked at was just waking up too. Donkeys and goats walked along the banks followed by young boys with sticks. Men dressed in traditional jellibas (dress length collared shirts) and head wraps sat on their porches having morning tea. Little school kids skipped their way to school or work and the glass calm Nile reflected the sunrise perfectly, its colors danced in the sky and on the waters surface with equal beauty. We all started to see how epic this trip would be. This is what backpackers live for.
To Be Continued…