A Journey

Basil & Tracy's Travels Abroad

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Floating to Luxor

The day of our postponed felucca trip down the Nile is here. We arrive at the quay hopefully well prepared with bottles of water and extra fleeces and shawls (we expect it to be cold at night and it proves to be so). The boat is larger than our friend Zukma’s wooden felucca and has a steel hull but is otherwise completely traditional, with a canvas sail and wooden mast and blocks, we later discover it is one of the fastest boats on the river due to its large sail area. Captain, first mate and cabin boy are typically welcoming. We are an international crew, a PhD student from China studying physics in London, a Bangladeshi and his wife also doing a physics PhD but in Switzerland, a seasoned German traveller with tales of secret Sufi sects in Cairo, two Frenchmen, one an archaeologist, and a New Zealand teacher with his two sons. The captain asks if we will want any beer on the trip, we all decline, apart from the French who are most upset to discover the boat is dry when they arrive later.

We have a lovely sail down stream and moor for night by a sandy palm grove. After dinner a fire is lit ashore and we all sing and dance around it to the beating of drums. The next day we drift aimlessly backwards and forwards across the river, which is very pleasant, but we all wonder when we will start properly along the river again. Lunchtime, then the crew have a smoke and doze for the afternoon. All the felucca crews seem to have Bob Marley as a hero, which is reflected in their laid-back lifestyles. Finally, about teatime, we set sail and continue down river, the sun sets and the full moon rises majestically over the opposite bank, a magical moment.

Next morning we awake at dawn to see the moon setting again, the captain is up and we are already drifting on with the current. We moor for breakfast and are then (with swift farewells to captain and crew) whisked away to the sights of the day. Kom Ombo temple with its mummified crocodiles and sacred well, followed by the grander Edfu Temple before completing the journey to Luxor by minibus. In Luxor the last two days of our organised tour consist of whistle stop visits to Karnak temple and some of the west bank temples an tombs. We later re-visit these places at a more leisurely pace, being the first visitors to Karnak at 6.30 one morning and able to enjoy its impressive scale and artistry in a more peaceful atmosphere.

We settle into a leisurely routine in a relatively smart hotel ‘The Merryland’ with roof-top views across the Nile, which we negotiate for a bargain 55 Egyptian pounds (£5) a night. Tracy has some editing work to do and days are spent wandering in the bustling soukh shopping for lunch and dinner that we cook on our balcony with our somewhat temperamental diesel powered primus stove.

We discover the real price of the pitta breads produced continuously by the local bakeries is 5 piastres (½ p), apparently the price is fixed and subsidised by the government, which allows even the poorest an affordable staple food.

Basil has some trousers made to measure by a very friendly local tailor, Mr Ageeb.

We hire bicycles and take them on the ferry across the Nile to the Theban hills on the west bank where we visit the beautifully painted Tombs of the Nobles, their colours still incredibly bright after three thousand years, helped by the dry climate and the mixture of egg white, ground mineral pigments and wax that was used.

We visit the Luxor museum, which is quite modern and houses a perfect sized collection of beautiful statuary, artefacts and a couple of mummies, which confirm our suspicion that the pharaohs had unusually long toes.

The highlight of our stay in Luxor is a hot air balloon flight at dawn over the Theban hills, a perfect Christmas present from Edwin and Jason. The balloon (which was made in Bristol) is very big and can take up to 30 people in its king-size basket. We lift off gently and float silently over the countryside apart from the occasional roar of the gas burners. There are special vents to rotate the balloon and we have incredible panoramic views of Gurna village and the hills beyond.

Suddenly we are very high, way above the other balloons, and can see over the hills into the Valley of the Kings.

Then we drop again and appear to have a near-miss with some power lines, but all is under control. We float back over the Colossi of Memnon, now miniatures below, and are skilfully guided back to a landing site, a harvested sugar cane patch. The hour-long flight has been an unforgettable experience.

So now, after 2 weeks in Luxor, it’s time to move on again, back to the Red Sea and south to Mersa Alam to investigate the possibility of some more diving.

Link to balloon photos

Link to other latest photos


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