Your Hand in My Hand

Who Needs Five Stars
Wednesday 23
rd February 2022

 

Waking up at a normal time this morning felt wonderful. There wasn't an early excursion planned for today. In fact the plan literally was a day of doing nothing, relaxing on the deck of a fellucca as it drifted downstream. It sounded idyllic.

We went down for breakfast. I was quite impressed as they had plenty of choices on the buffet. I filled my boots, as they say. The ful medames was tasty. All the usual toppings were available. It was less mushy than the one I had in Cairo and had a fresher flavour. (Although I still prefer the first one)

I also had grilled vegetables like aubergines and green peppers, as well as falafels. There was also plenty of sweet and savoury pastries available. I was really enjoying my breakfast.

On the other hand, Julie was less impressed. Her choices, whilst not necesasrily limited, appeared to be lesser quality. The slices of cheese and meat were highly processed to the point it was difficult to tell the difference between them. 

At nine o'clock we all gathered in the foyer with our luggage, ready to check-out. We were leaving Aswan today and travelling down the Nile on a sailboat towards Luxor.  It was too far to complete in a day so we were even going to be sleeping on the boat.

Boarding was the first challenge as we literally had to walk the plank to get on. It was Julie's worst nightmare. One false step and it could be an early morning dunk in the river! With the help of Hany from behind and Sappiro the captain from in front she safely made it on board. 

Once on the boat we were asked to take our shoes off which we then placed into a large bucket for safe keeping and then made our way inside onto the deck of the boat.

It had been entireley covered by a spongey mattress and a bright patterned fabric.  The roof was low. You had to bend in half if you intended to walk over the floor. It was easier to crawl across. The homemade conversiont had this child-like charm about it, like a tree-house or a den you had just built.

 There were six posts down each side which was convenient as it gave each one of us a place to sit up against. We chose the first two posts as we entered so we didn't have to crawl too far.  

About 9:30am we set off, solely powered by the sail and current. Sappiro sat at the back of the boat controlling the rudder directing us across the river to the opposite bank. When we reached the other side he swung the sails accross and we returned back to the East bank. All the while the current was carrying us down stream.

There wasn't much traffic on the river. With the exception of a few other fellucas the only other vessels that Sappiro needed to avoid colliding with were the occassional cruise ship.

Wow. They were ugly things.

Gone has the elegance of the Nile cruise as described in Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile". That boat has long sailed as they say. Nowadays they are nothing more than a barge topped with a three-storey appartment block. 

After a whie we moved onto the roof where they had lay down a rug and a few cushions to sit on. It was better up here as we had a full 360 view of the river. The only downside was that everytime we reached the East or West bank we had to duck as the boom of the sail swung over our heads. 

Every time it happened we would roll flat on the deck, and wait for the pole to swing over our heads, only to get up and see the likely lads of Hany, Sappiro and the new ship's mate Sydney laughing at us. They found it so funny!

We weren't travelling much distance. There was nothing more than a gentle breeze pushing us from side to side, zig-zagging us down the Nile. At times it felt like we were going backwards but it didn't matter. We were in no rush to get anywhere. 

It was so peaceful, especially the West Bank which was mostly lush green with trees and patches of small scale agricultural land. We saw very little livestock, it was mostly crops grown in the fertile soil, grown and harvested as it had for thousands of years, by hand and carried on the back of a donkey.

We returned inside for a while, and sat gazing out through the lattice work at the bank drifting closer then further away. It was quite hypnotic. Our minds calmed, all thoughts dispersed. It was like sleeping with our eyes open. 

We continued to float slowly downstream. By midday we had only travelled three or four miles but it didn't matter. There was no urgency. Instead it was all about letting go of that mad rush to get somewhere and embracing the stillness. It was a perfect pause in the middle of what was a full-on itinerary. Wonderfully indulgent.  

Every now and then we would be woken from our mediatation by a change scene, like a pair of fishermen who had hung up their nets and were on bended knees in prayer. Just behind the trees, out of sight were the villages of the West Bank, like Nagel Gulab and Nagaa Al Hamdlab.

We continued to sail away from Aswan as the scenery changed with the arrival of dramatic cliffs of limestone. It wasn't long after when we pulled over and moored up. It was almost time for lunch now. 

Ever since we left this morning Mohammed had been busy in the "kitchen" preparing the food, cooking on a gas burner to the front of the boat. We were sat the nearest to him and had been watching him boil potatoes, chop tomatoes, carrots,

Lunch was served on the floor. Hany rolled out a sheet of lino, the sort you would use as a wipe clean table cloth and we all gathered around. There was plenty of  food to go around.

We had a version of a shashuka with onions, bell peppers, chilli and tomatoes slowly cooked then with egg quickly whisked through it. I really enjoyed it whilst Julie did not. It was an egg thing. I mopped it up with bread similar to a Moroccan Kobz, about 6 inches across, an inch thick, and really tasty.

The potato and carrot mash was also delicious. This was Julie's favourite dish. It had been pureed and flavoured with veg stock cubes. I know this as I was keeping a close eye on the cooking to make sure he didn't slip in some "wafer thin ham" into the dishes.    

There was a simple salad of tomato and cucumber with a lump of cheese that looked like feta but was far softer. And we had hummus. 

We were moored for quite a while. The wind was changing directions and getting a little stronger so Sappiro suggested we stayed where we were until it settled down. Hany asked if anyone was going to go for a swim? 

When he said there were no crocodiles, I knew it to be true but he didn't mention schistosomiasis, a parasite worm that lives in freshwater snails. It is endemic to the Nile, but its more common much further South.

Rebecca had earlier warned us of picking up some horrible water borne disease and continued to tell us of the time she was extremely ill after swimming in a river in Burma. (I think)

 I trusted Hany's judgement. If there was a risk he would have told us about it. So I went for it.

 We had moored near to the shore. I could tell it wasn't deep. that I would be wading rather than swimming, which was a good thing as I can't swim.  I climbed down from the boat,  tentively lowering a leg into the water until my feet sank into the muddy riverbed. I stood there with the water just above the knees.

I waded out to where it was a little deeper. "Don't go too far out" shouted Hany warning about the strong currents. The boat was moored square to the shore protecting me from the fast moving waters but I could see beyond the boat's bow how rapidly the river flowed.

Once I was waist deep I bent the knees and submerged myself. It was cold but so refreshing.  I bobbed around a bit, pretending to swim. 

Then Anthony decided to join me in the Nile.

He stood there with the water above his knees building up the courage to take the punge. "Just do it" I said with words of encouragement. "Count to three, then bend the knees". Then Michelle piped up with "Anthony, how white are you?" which knocked his confidence.

He returned to the boat, a moment unfulfilled.

No sooner had the dishes been washed Mohammed was busy preparing food for supper. Doris asked if she could help and she got stuck in chopping the courgettes.

Sydney was also a do-er and after we had returned to sailing down the river he helped steer the boat. The wind was now with us so we could sail straight down the middle of the Nile. No zig-zagging required. His style was a little unorthodox, stradling the rudder but Sappiro had all confidence in him, enough to leave him in control. 

We were approaching the New Aswan City Bridge which, after some words of encouragment, Sydney sailed solo beneath its suspended span. The bridge was built in 2002 to connect a proposed new city being built in the desert to the Aswan - Cairo road.  The first phase of the New Aswan City has only just been inaugurated in 2020. 

Whilst Sydney was safely guiding us between the stantions of the bridge Sappiro was preoccupied playing a card game called Uno with Hany, Marilyn, Teresa and Anthony.  I'd never heard of it before. It was a pack of cards with numbers from 0 - 9 in red, blue, green, yellow, then there were countless other cards, skip cards, wild cards, reverse cards. The rules seemed quite confusing. I think you won by getting rid of all your cards and scoring points by adding up your opponent's cards. First to 500 wins.

I was bust doing nothing, more than happy to continue my gazing and lazying about.   There was nothing else to do. Perhaps in hindsight today could have done with a good book to read. Time passed slowly.

We relocated to the top deck as the sun was begining to set. With us now sailing a steady course down the middle of the river the sail wasn't swinging from side to side so we could simply sit there and soak it all in.  The view also remained constant so we didn't have to turn like sunflowers to worship the sun.

It was incredibly peaceful here. With the sun setting the river traffic had reduced next to nothing. For the most part we were literally the only boat in the area. 

It was soon time to moor up for the night. Sappiro brought us nearer to the West bank looking for sheltered spot, one he must use regularly on this trip.

We arrived there at the same time as another much larger boat heading South. They were also looking for somewhere for the night, and had their sights set on the same spot as we had our eye on. We had the advantage of being nearer the riverbank but they didn't give up. There was a bit of a stand off, some trading of abuse from their crew towards Sappiro, who just laughed it off.

We overheard one of their guests say "Can't you just push them out of the way?"

Eventually they gave up and weighed anchor just a little bit further up, their dirty diesel engine belching black smoke as they moved on.

We dropped anchor and Sappiro went ashore to tie us down for the evening. I took the opportuniy to stretch my legs and also got off the boat for a short stroll along the riverbank. Julie stayed onboard, the plank was especially long and narrow.  

We seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but it wasn't long before a couple of kids turned up from the village of Nagaa Baqlawis, layed out a mat and filled it with items to sell. No one else seemed interested in getting off the boat so I decided to go and buy something.

It was getting dark. I had to use the torch from my phone to see what they were selling. There wasn't anything I wanted but I bought a carved wooden Ankh, the symbol of life and a small bracelet of beads.

The kids started with a price of 100 lei, I countered with 40 lei to which they said "OK".  They were worse at bartering than I was. Or were they? I felt sorry for them and paid 50 lei for things I didn't want. 

Supper was served again on the floor. Oddly enough there was a lot less of it than what was served for lunch. Tonight it was just a light broth and boiled rice. There was plenty of it although we were left thinking it was just the starter, and they had forgotten the main course.

 Apparently that's how it's done, the main meal is in the middle of the day and the evening meal is something light.

After supper Sappiro began wrapping the sides of the boat with a cover to protect us from the elements and keep the heat inside. Warm furry blankets were placed in a pile in the middle for us to help ourselves. 

 

It was only 7:30pm, too early to think about sleep, so Julie and I collected our bottle of wine from the cool box and sat on the roof. It was a corked bottle not a screw top and we hadn't packed a corkscrew. Unpreturbed I borrowed a spoon from the kitchen to push the cork into the bottle. Mohammed was amazed that it was even possible to do that!

We sat beneath the stars, wrapped in our furry blankets, enjoying our bottle of Omar Khayam's white wine. "Who needs five stars when you can have them all" I said like an Intrepid Travel tagline. It really was a lovely moment.    

We returned down to our quarters and settled down for the evening. We had packed sleeping bags especially for tonight but they were in our missing bag. To be fair we didn't need them. Even if I was open to the elemnts the furry blankets were more than warm enough.

I was so glad we had chosen our spot.  Whilst everyone else was in the dark I had a front row view of the night's sky.  I fell asleep gazing out into the universe. 

The only thing that wasn't perfect was the chugging engine noise in the background from the other boat but that stopped shortly after 10pm.

  Next Day >>>  

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