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|
Marshland helps make the transition from river to land:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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'!