IMAGINE BEING PAMPERED FOR FIVE DAYS aboard a luxury, triple decker, pool-topped cruise ship … riding silently, hour after hour, on the wide, still waters of the Nile … interrupted only to eat, drink or sightsee … while the peaceful shoreline slips past in slow motion.
Imagine plots of maize and sugarcane, date and banana palms vivid-green against the harsh desert. Imagine pencil-thin minarets thrusting high above the treeline in even the smallest village … and the sound of muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
Imagine boys in leaky boats throwing fishing nets in search of a meal… women at the water’s edge washing robes and pots while their kids splash and squeal … sun-black men ploughing rich soil with tired, plodding water-buffalos.
Imagine a thousand scenes forever-changing, and yet unchanged in thousands of years. Just imagine …
This famous old river goes back a long way – into central Africa, winding northward through Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan … and into ancient history, when fertile silt washed down in the annual floods kept Egypt from starving.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that countless Egyptian deities (I’d already met Osiris, Isis, Seth and Horus in Wilbur Smith’s novel, River God) were linked to these watery cycles. And it’s no surprise that the pharaohs chose the banks of the Nile for their spectacular monuments.
Back in Egypt’s days as a British colony, only the nobs could afford a romantic Nile cruise. But today the river seems crammed with boats – from luxury affairs (like ours) to budget wooden feluccas (with broad canvas sails). And every tourist and his dog seem able to hitch a ride.
Our cruise was heading upriver, from Luxor to Aswan. And it was noon when we were welcomed aboard the 5-star Nile Romance. After oohing and aahing and unpacking bags, we washed our sweaty underthings in the shower and hung ‘em out the cabin window to dry on the warm Nile breeze.
We then pinched each other to make sure we weren’t dreaming, and snuck upstairs to the dining-room. While the crew cast off and steered into the current, we ate lunch (I tasted my very first pomegranate – yum!) and took a vote on what to do next.
It gets hot in these parts (like 40° plus), and my wife opted to spend the afternoon sprawled poolside with her head in River God. But I chose instead to explore the first township we moored alongside. I had no sooner disembarked than I was mobbed by scruffy little urchins pleading for money: “Baksheesh?” And I’d barely got rid of them when a tall barefoot kid fell in beside me.
“I know you,” he said, faking recognition. “Where you going?” I tried ignoring him. “Excuse me,” he said. “I just want talk.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going for a walk – on my own,” I replied, hoping he’d take a hint.
“You want come to my house? For cup of tea? For marijuana? Whisky?” I shook my head firmly. “Okay. I wait here for you,” he said.
“Shukrun (thank you),” I muttered.
I must’ve looked like a first-class sucker, in my t-shirt and nerdy “I’m From New Zealand” cap, because on the way back to the boat – via a different route! – I was waylaid by another youngster who tried to sell me this huge grey (dead-looking) lizard.
Over dinner that night we compared stories and tried to out-do each other. But I lost to Bruce, an Australian, who confessed that he’ been offered 100 camels for his wife!