4 day and 3 night cruise down the Nile
15.02.2010 - 18.02.2010 34 °C
When I was asked this January, whether I would be happy to go on a four day trip down the Nile on a 4 star cruise ship with the nicest group of 9/10 year olds I've ever met, I jumped at the chance. The trip was organised by the year 5 leader and was being run for the 4th year in a row.
We set off very early from school (3.30am) for the domestic terminal of Cairo airport. To my surprise, this terminal was clean, modern and fairly efficient, a far cry from the International terminal! Our flight from Cairo to Luxor was only about 40 minutes, and on arriving at Luxor, we were straight onto a bus to start sightseeing.
About 45 minute's drive, across the river to the other side of Luxor was the first stop for our tour, the Temple of Queen Hapshetsut. The guide was pretty good at simplifying the history for the children, who were then fully aware of the incestuous relationships of ancient kings and queens of Egypt!
The reconstruction of this temple and its statues was very evident and to me, detracted from the ancient feel. There are some very well preserved coloured paintings though, on the second level of the temple.
From the Temple of Hapshetsut, we drove to the Valley of the Kings. This area was completely overrun with tourists and disappointing because photography was not allowed anywhere in the area. A standard ticket admits you to three tombs, which involves joining a long line of people moving at snail speed down into the hot and humid spaces underground. The wall paintings are very well preserved in all of the tombs we visited.
Only 5 minutes drive away from the Valley of the Kings is an area where basalt, malachite and other minerals are mined and carved into various Ancient Egyptian-styled vases, figures and symbols. Grown clearly out of the roaring tourist trade, the shop owners offer demonstrations of the carving process and demonstrate the strength of the 'real' basalt sculptures by dropping them on the floor!
Much to the satisfaction of the children on the trip, we reached the cruise ship in time for them to change out of their jeans and thick T-shirts and have lunch, before visiting the Temple of Karnak in the afternoon.
Karnak is a massive temple complex with a fantastic array of wall carvings, sculptures, columns and obelisks in different styles. We only had about 35 minutes to explore the complex, so there was time only to take photographs and then move to the next part of the temple.
We arrived back at the ship in time to see the sun go down and we spent the rest of the evening relaxing after our long day. The next day, we visited the Luxor souk (market) in the morning before setting off on our cruise.
From where our cruise ship was moored, we were only about 10 minutes walk from central Luxor. On the right was a beautiful view across the river and on the left was the ancient ruins of the Luxor Temple. The souk is very traditional in style, with narrow alleyways leading to vendors' apartments. Geared very much for tourists, it is possible to buy almost anything you would want as a souvenir of Egypt. I found shopping here more enjoyable because I was accompanying a group of 6 business-minded Egyptian 10 year olds! They were great at trying to get as much for their money as possible and didn't fall for any of the vendors' ploys.
Our ship left the docks at around 11am and the children had their long-awaited day at the rooftop pool. At every stage in the journey the scenery was amazing...palm tree lined river banks, grassy islands, half-constructed buildings, with the occasional backdrop of sandy hills.
We stayed up on the deck until sunset and as we reached the lock, the cruise ships lined up to wait their turn. Enterprising Egyptians saw this as an opportunity to row alongside the ships and throw carpets and tablecloths onto the deck for tourists to look at. As the children pointed out to me, I was 'the best' at catching but not so good at throwing, since a couple of things I threw back landed in the water. Thanks to a worker on our ship I didn't buy a tablecloth that he showed me was painted rather than printed meaning that the paint smudged as soon as it got wet!
The next morning we arrived at the busy dock at Edfu. Buses to the Temple of Horus were booked solidly and many people were taking a horse and cart instead. These were a smelly and non-animal friendly way to get there, since most of the horses were sickly and injured.
The Temple of Horus at Edfu is the best preserved temple from Ancient Egyptian times. It was buried under sand for thousands of years and is preserved up to 20 metres high in some places. The inner part of the temple still has a roof and is covered in carvings from floor to ceiling.
After lunch we spent another afternoon on the deck, cruising towards Kom Ombo, where we stopped for about an hour to visit the temple at night. Kom Ombo Temple is split into two halves, one for crocodile god Sobek and falcon god Horus. At the side of the temple is a large well-like structure that used to be used by the ancient Egyptians to measure the water level of the Nile and determine when to harvest their crops.
That evening we arrived into Aswan, where we spent the night and prepared to leave the ship. After an Egyptian dinner and galabeya party (dominated by the 31 year 5 children we had brought along!) we finally went to bed. The next morning we set out on a small boat to visit the Nubian village.
Here the children were able to stroke a baby crocodile, get henna tattoos and spend the remains of their pocket money, while dodging camels on the muddy streets. The Nubian Village is very reminiscent of Tanzania, with dark skinned, African looking people and a wealth of Tanzanian wood carved souvenirs.
We returned to the docks at Aswan, boarded the bus and drove towards the Aswan damn, our final stop before the airport. I was less impressed by the damn than I was expecting. In essence it is a very large, man made concrete hill, with an average view one side, and a better view over Lake Nasser on the other. More impressive as a feat of engineering than for it's aesthetic appearance.
So all in all, we saw some fantastic places and the cruise convinced me that the part of Egypt I live in is not the best place in Egypt to be. In summer I'll be seeing the Luxor - Aswan area again from a different perspective, without children or a cruise ship. I'll see then how the experience differs.