Friday, August 14, 2015

EGYPT: NILE CRUISE

When I've fantasized about someday cruising on the Nile River (because I never ever thought it would happen), I have conjured up visions of opulence, decadence, and relaxation. I pictured a dazzling view from our window, exotic locales, luxurious accommodations, luscious cuisine, glamorous shipmates, and fawning wait staff. Reality was not far off from my fantasy, except our shipmates were no more glamorous than I, which means they were very ordinary, run-of-the-mill (and very nice) American tourists.
We boarded our ship, the Nile Smart, in Aswan and sailed (floated? motored?) downriver to Luxor, a distance of about 112 miles as the bird flies, but a little longer on the slithering Nile.

We spent three nights and two days on the cruise, with stops in Philae (reached by bus from Aswan), Kom Ombo, Edfu, Luxor, and Karnak. Another day or two of being pampered on the world's longest waterbed (4,258 miles) wouldn't have hurt my feelings. There are cruises that go all the way to Cairo, but they take 10-12 days and the bulk of the tourist spots are in the Aswan to Luxor area, so ours was the more typical cruise.
Carriages lined up to meet us at the dock
If it were a little more crowded, this could almost be a view of Istanbul
Coca-Cola, the international beverage
Soon we slipped away from the cities and signs of modern civilization:
. . . while still enjoying the all comforts of the internet age in our cabin:

Marshland helps make the transition from river to land:
It looked like there are farms, or perhaps fishing rest stops, on some of the marshy islands near the shore:

This little island had a field guarded by scarecrows who also watched over a tethered cow grazing on the grass:
We shared the river with lots of little rowboats (none had motors), but we didn't see many other cruise ships, more evidence of low tourism:



I have never seen so many colors of blue.  Close to our boat the water was a deep peacock blue, and further in the distance it was brighter, almost cerulean.

Fingers of light blue stretched into those far patches, and along the shoreline the reflection from the trees and the marshes made the water a greenish brown.

Now and then we floated under large power lines that looked like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and one of Pharaoh's pyramids. Strangely fitting.
Along the way we heard many sounds: the occasional mooing of a cow, children crying "hallo!"as they waved to us from the distant shore, the chatter of the other passengers on deck, the gentle catlike purr of the motor, and, under it all, the soft tones of piped-in music, mostly New Age-y flute, but occasionally "The Theme from Romeo and Juliet," "The Sound of Silence,"  or, strangely, a Christmas carol.
There were smells--the unique scent of the Nile, not exotic, really, but distinct.  Now and then we passed smoke rising from the shore. Burning trash or clearing land, perhaps? Later we learned it was part of the sugar cane-growing process. The pungent smokiness fit in nicely here at first, but soon became an olfactory irritant.

Occasionally the wind kicked up just a bit, causing ripples in what had been a glassy surface. Still, our wake was like gentle rolling hills, grazing land for fish. Closer to shore, the water retained its glassy surface, looking simultaneously hard and ephemeral:
The two banks rarely appeared to be part of the same climate zone. On one side it might be lush green:
. . .   and the other side would be an arid desert brown:
Today, life on the Nile, its erstwhile temperamental mood swings now mercilessly checked by two dams, seems to be bucolic:



We did see other cruise ships when we pulled into port. Some looked occupied, but many clearly were not:
The ferry boats used for day trips or to cross from one side of the Nile to the other . . .
. . . were bright and cheery and welcoming:
. . . although there were a few I wouldn't set foot on:
As we got closer to Luxor, we saw more signs of civilization on the shore:
Some of these structures looked a bit like ruins themselves:


Whenever we returned to our boat from a shore excursion, our crew seemed especially happy to see us. I wonder if they were worried that we might not come back.

Once we put out to sea/river again, Chris took this picture of our intrepid, stalwart, resolute navigation team hard at work:
The kitchen team had been creative while we were gone, which resulted in these gourd masterpieces:
There were lots of goodies on the upper deck, including fresh-squeezed lemonade  and the best guava juice I've ever had. I think it was laced with sweetened condensed milk. 
The nectar of the gods.

Not hard to get used to. Not hard at all.

READING (AND WATCHING):
It's been years since I read an Agatha Christie novel. With our upcoming cruise on the Nile in mind, it seemed like a good time to read Death on the Nile, written in 1937. Most of the story takes place in a hotel in Cairo, on a cruise boat on the Nile, and at attractions alongside the river. The story includes Christie's usual assortment of interesting characters, including an heiress who steals her best friend's fiance and then becomes the first murder victim during the happy couple's honeymoon to Egypt. Of course the spurned original lover is also on the cruise, along with ten or so additional characters, each of whom at some point has a compelling reason to commit the aforementioned murder. Enter Hercule Poirot, who seems to always be in the right spot at the right time to overhear key conversations and whose power of deducement is legendary. Not high literature, to be sure, but a fun romp on the Nile nevertheless.


A few months after our trip I ordered the movie version, released in 1978, from Netflix. I was intrigued by its impressive cast that includes Bette Davis, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Mia Farrow, Maggie Smith, George Kennedy, Olivia Hussey, and Peter Ustinov as Inspector Poirot. It was campy and caricatural, just what you would expect, and I loved it. It was also very fun to see some of the places we had so recently been to.


On a much more serious note, Letters from Egypt is a collection of letters written by Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon, a British aristocrat who spent a few years in the 1860s cruising up and down the Nile in an attempt to cure her tuberculosis. Unlike most Europeans of her day, she integrated herself fully into Egyptian life and seemed to have no trouble traveling as a woman on her own. Sometimes the reading is a bit slow, but the author's insights into the beauties, lifestyle, racism, political issues (including British rule), history, and culture of Egypt are fascinating. Lady Gordon died and was buried in Cairo in 1869.
Letters from Egypt excerpts:
 [The Egyptian] cream tarts are not very good, but lamb stuffed with pastachio nuts fulfills all one's dreams of excellence.

Yesterday I saw a camel go through the eye of a needle--i.e., the low arched door of an enclosure; he must kneel and box his head to creep through--and thus the rich man must humble himself. See how a false translation spoils a good metaphor, and turns a familiar simile into a ferociously communist sentiment.

He told me he had married another wife since last year--I asked what for. It was the widow of his brother who had always lived with him in the same house, and who died leaving two boys. She is neither young nor handsome, but he considered it his duty to provide for her and the children, and not to let her marry a stranger. So you see that polygamy is not always sensual indulgence, and a man may practise greater self-sacrifice so than by talking sentiment about deceased wives' sisters.

The men work seven hours in the day (i.e., eight, with half-hours to rest and eat), and seven more during the night; they go home at sunset to dinner, and sleep a bit, and then to work again--these 'lazy Arabs'!


5 comments:

  1. Fun to have only pictures from the boat. Comparing our Nile cruise to our Rhine cruise, the boat and food on the Rhine was better, but the scenery on the Nile was much better, so much more diverse and full of interest. I never got enough of the contrast of the brown desert and the thin band of green that rimmed the Nile. Also the locals seemed to be more connected to the Nile, evidenced by the small boats on it and the animals along the shore.

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  2. Somebody left a set of Agatha Christie movies in our apartment library in Ghana and Death on the Nile was clearly the best of the batch - n'est-ce pas? Ours was the BBC version with David Suchet playing Hercule Poirot. I enjoyed sharing your cruise down the Nile. It seems so sad that tourism has dried up and deprived so many people of their livelihood - but it certainly made things more pleasant for your group. This sounds like an epic journey that will be a wonderful memory for you and Bob.

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  3. I agree with Bob--the Rhine was better food and boat, and the scenery there was lovely, but nothing beats the views out my cabin of the Nile. One of those "pinch me" experiences. You've got lots of great pictures to prove it.

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  4. Great to see the Nile, at least through your eyes. And I vote for the David Suchet version of Death on the Nile--a fav.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I haven't seen any of that series, but it's on my list now!

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