State of D’Nile Cruise

27 Nov

Day One- The Lower Your Expectations, the Better Your Experience!

AUC is pretty much the only institution in Egypt that would think about giving Thanksgiving as a holiday, which we are very grateful for. With the weekend and Patrick’s teaching schedule, we figured we had a good 3-4 day window that would be our last chance to escape the city before the baby came. So we fled just as fast as we could.

After some back and forth with travel agencies that took us down to the wire, we finally booked a famous Nile Cruise. These cruises are really popular and for good reason. You pick your boat and the length of time you want to cruise. For a flat price, your agency sets up your accommodations, itinerary, guide, meals, extra excursions, etc. It’s quite a nice deal, especially booking from Egypt as residents.

Despite all this, we had pretty low expectations. This is Egypt, after all. Our travel agent seemed slightly shady, we couldn’t find information about our cruise or ship anywhere on the internet, and we didn’t have a copy of the itinerary so we weren’t quite sure what we would be doing. We dubbed this the Vacation of Low Expectations.

We booked with a couple of friends from church. EB and Whitney are the kind of people who are always a blast to be around. They’re both really funny, extremely intelligent, and are pros at travel, having lived all over the world (they’re sisters and I have to say I’ve never seen sisters that get along as well as they do, it’s pretty remarkable). We joined them and two friends who were visiting for the week, one from DC and one from Dubai. We met them at the airport, where Patrick started the trip on an ominous note by paying 21LE for two juice boxes, then grumbling about the rip-off the rest of the morning.

We boarded our EgyptAir flight, which was the first part of the trip to exceed my expectations. It was an actually jetplane, not a rickety prop plane with ropes to tie the baggage on top like I’d imagined. It was quite comfortable and we had a nice one hour flight to Aswan. We were picked up by a shady little guy named Ali, who was holding a sign for “Mr. Whitey” which we realized was meant for Whitney. After making a baggage handler cry by not tipping him the ridiculous amount he wanted for lifting my 10 lb bag into the van, we were off. Ali started a nonstop monologue about Aswan and the geography of the place (“and 70 km that way is another country, that’s right, there is another country right under Egypt!” No kidding, Ali?). I tuned out and concentrated on breathing the clean non-Cairo air.

We got to our ship, the M/S Carnival and boarded. Ali assured us he had negotiated an upgrade for our rooms. Right. We sensed off the bat that this guy was pandering. We went up to the sun deck and lounged with some karkidae (a great hibiscus drink) while they got our rooms ready. At this point, Ali tried to convince us that certain things were not on our itinerary and we would have to pay extra and he would take us to them. Luckily the juice box incident had put Patrick in a skeptical mood so he took charge and called our travel agent who confirmed that everything was built into our itinerary and our real guide would pick us up from the boat in just a few minutes. Sure enough, Ahmed showed up and Ali slunk away, realizing that he wasn’t going to pull anything over on us.
Cruise Ship

Ahmed led us to a felucca where we started our trip with a relaxing sail up and down the Nile, seeing various sites on the shore, like ancient tombs built into the rock, Nubians leading flocks of goats and camels, and a felucca jam-packed with unhappy tourists in neon lifevests who looked like they were chained together on their way to be sold into slavery. The weather was perfect and the trip was the perfect thing to relax us and get us into vacation mode. It was also good chance to get to know Nicole and Lisa, who we’d only met that morning and who turned out to be really interesting and fun people. Towards the end of the trip, the boatman pulled back a tablecloth to reveal piles of Nubian jewelry and crafts for our browsing pleasure. If there’s one thing there was no shortage of on the trip, it was people willing to sell you things.
Felucca ride

Despite fears of botulism, the lunch buffet was better than expected. The rooms also were much better quality than the cots in the cargo hold that we were imagining. After some relaxing down time, we headed down to meet Ahmed for our tour of the unfinished Obelisk, the Aswan High Dam and the Temple of Philae. On the way down, we met Michael, who owned the shop onboard that sold touristy things and galabayyas, which are Egyptian dresses for men and women. There was going to be a Galabayya night on the cruise and Michael wanted to be our supplier. Little did we know that by having this conversation with him, we would be starting a relationship that would lead us to peer around the hall to see where he was so we could go the opposite direction.

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about the sites, as it’s really hard to describe their hugeness and majesty. Ahmed had arranged all our transportation for us, so we just had to follow him around like little lambs and he took us everywhere and spouted off tons of knowledge and interesting information about each place. The unfinished obelisk was located in a granite quarry where many of the ancient obelisks of Egypt were dug and carved in a painstaking process. Most of these obelisks can now be found in the various cities of the world like London and Paris after being pilfered by colonialists and adventurers. The site was really organized and clean and they even had a National Geographic video playing to give us background on the site. This was the first of many delightful realizations that we weren’t in Cairo anymore.

Next we went to the High Dam which was built in the 60’s to control the Nile flooding. The result was the immensely huge Lake Nassar, which flooded a large amount of land and displaced about 90,000 people. Ancient sites had to be picked up and moved elsewhere so as not to be submerged. It was actually very impressive and interesting to learn about.

From there we drove back north to the Temple of Philae, which had been submerged in the Nile but was rebuilt on an island nearby. This was our first encounter with hieroglyphics and hard-core Egyptology. It took our breath away. The temple was built about four hundred years BC, so it was definitely not the most ancient site we would see, but still magnificent. Here we learned about the stories of Isis and Osiris, for whom the temple was built. Man, that royal/divine family had quite the soap opera story. The hieroglyphs on the walls told the stories as well as explained the purposes of individual rooms within the temple. The setting was amazing. In the first of many Ahmed-led miracles, we pretty much had the temple to ourselves in the late afternoon when the light was perfect and we got to experience a sunset from the temple. So so so cool.

We headed back to the boat, stopping at a shop to load up on snacks first. Lisa was reaching into a freezer to get juice when the shopowner absentmindedly let go of the lid and it slammed her head. Luckily she was okay, just a little ticked, especially when the guy told her her stuff would be free and then proceeded to charge her for it. We boarded and got changed and relaxed a while. Someone had brought cards so we played a few games before dinner and then headed down to another pretty decent meal. While we were eating, the ship started to move. We were off on our Nile Cruise!

In our next installment, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and crocodiles in our rooms…

Also, Flickr pictures will be up soon.

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3 Responses to “State of D’Nile Cruise”

  1. Vicky November 28, 2007 at 9:57 pm #

    oooh, I can hardly wait to hear more about Ahmed-led miracles! A sunset from an Egyptian temple! Sigh.

    Thank you for a wonderful blog.

  2. Dre November 29, 2007 at 6:31 pm #

    Love the haircut, Patrick.

  3. evelyn January 5, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    that’s great i love it

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