Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cruising the Nile! Aswan to Luxor, Egypt


Destination: Nile River - stops in Kom Umbo & Edfu

Number of Days Spent: 3 days, 2 nights

Where we stayed: Oberoi Nephtis - $90 per person including all meals (we booked this cruise the day before it left through a contact our hotel recommend). His name was Waleed Ali - - 002 0102509588. I would definitely recommend Waleed's services to other travelers. He gave us the options that worked with our dates and took us on a tour of the ship. He was very professional during the entire process. Oh and he gave us a great recommendation for a local restaurant in Aswan (see that blog, the restaurant was Maka). Thanks Waleed! The ship itself was good. While it certainly shows some signs of age, it was immaculately clean and well taken care of with a very friendly staff. It also had a pool and its own workout machine...check out the pic!

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Best restaurant: All meals were included. The food was pretty good too, like most cruises we certainly didn't go hungry!

Best of: More outstanding temples, the beautiful contrast of green river banks and dry deserts side by side, realizing that this scene has changed very little for over 4000 years

Worst of: Booking this cruise last minute gave us no opportunity to choose our shipmates which happened to be one large group of French speaking Algerians on what apparently was a honeymoon getaway of some sorts. We felt a bit out of place, but had fun all the same.

Most Memorable: Love it or hate it, the sun is an awesome presence lending a hand in a couple of favorite memories: sipping our beers as we watched it disappear over the horizon and basking in its rays as they illuminated the ancient past.

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Useful Tip: The cabins on the ship come with refrigerators. Bring your own water (and beer) on board to save some serious money. A bottle of water on the ship was 10 EP ($2) which was 4X the asking price in a local stores.

While the Nile stretches for thousands of miles through several countries making it the longest river in the world, this small stretch of a little over 150 miles between Aswan and Luxor receives the lion's share of attention. It is here that the river reaches its widest part, nearly two miles wide and is arguably the most beautiful stretch. The Nile is also thought to be the oldest river in the world and one of only two that flows north (The other being the ironically named New River in North Carolina and Virginia). While the origins of man is a debate for the ages, no one can deny the importance of this river to early civilization. Without its life giving waters, Egypt would not have ever existed and along with it the pyramids, temples and tombs would have never been erected. The world as a whole has changed so much since those monuments were erected and yet little has seemed to change here. Farming is still a major way of life for most of the inhabitants here. Beasts of burden and manual labor still remain the predominant way of cultivating the land. Fish are still caught with hand thrown nets. Children pass the time splashing in the water. Given the limiting options for travel in this area, hopping on some sort of boat is really the only way to see life on the Nile. There are several options in vessels ranging from the feluccas (sans bathrooms, showers, etc.) for about $20-30 per day all the way up to 5-star luxury liners setting you back over $1000 per day. We opted for a middle option since the thought of not having a bathroom for three days combined with the "hidden" charges that a felucca captain entails (not to mention the constant mention of baksheesh) made it worth the few extra bucks.

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Our boat didn't leave until the afternoon, so we had some time in the morning to stock up on a few provisions while docked in Aswan. Feeling in the mood for a couple of beers or wine to celebrate the night, we went in search of the elusive elixir. Alcohol is hard to come by in Muslim countries, but there are a couple of "Egypt Free" Stores that sell a small selection of beverages. You have to have a foreign issued passport and expect variations of Heineken to be just about your only choice as far as beer is concerned. We picked up some Luxor Beer (total crap) and Amstel Light (Heineken brand) and wine, well, better visit another country for that. While they certainly were not the best beers ever, they sure taste good on hot days!

Once all were on board, we set sail for our first stop, Kom Ombo. Resting on the banks of a crook in the river, Kom Ombo is a unique temple in that it was dedicated to two different gods - the crocodile god Sobek and the ever present Falcon god Horus. While the temple was built in the New Kingdom style (from 1550 to 1000 B.C.E. - Ramses II time) it was actually built during the post Alexander Ptolemy times (from 331 till around 50 B.C.E. - just before Cleopatra). Much of Alexander's success in conquering kingdoms was his willingness to not only allow local customs to continue, but to encourage it. Most of the temples that stand today in this area were built during the immediate years after Alexander and dedicated to the Egyptian gods. As a result, he, and the rulers following him were welcomed with very little hostility. The temple contains many inscriptions depicting the crowning of kings by the gods, religious stories of the gods and a few "how too's" on daily rituals.

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After a peaceful night on our boat, we awoke to explore Edfu the following morning. Unlike Kom Ombo, the temple of Horus at Edfu lies right in the heart of the town. The moment you step foot off the boat, the touts come out in full force trying to get you to take a horse and carriage down to the ruins and are quite persistent. While it is a good 30 minute walk from the river, the walk itself can be quite rewarding. While everyone else from our ship visited the temples as part of a tour, we were allowed to do things on our own enabling us to wander the streets just a bit. Buses can't capture the sights and sounds of ordinary people carrying out everyday life. Speak the universal language of money and haggle for a piece of fruit or a fresh squeezed sugar cane juice. Watch the black robed women barter for a couple of tomatoes. Nearly get run over by young teenage boys riding on makeshift carts lead by donkeys. This is real life, the real Egypt.

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The temple of Horus, much like the temple at Kom Ombo, was built during the Ptolemaic (Cleopatra's dad finished it to be exact) times. Dedicated once again to the falcon god Horus, the temple was built on a slight hill away from the Nile river to avoid the yearly floods. As a result, the temple today has withstood the test of time far better than most of it's contemporaries. Once again, the walls are lined with stories of the Gods, mainly centered around Horus and all of his accolades. A couple of complete 2300 year old statues of the falcon god stand impressively as you enter the inner chambers. An oculus giving the sun a chance to illuminate the chambers complete the scene.

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The rest of the time was spent relaxing on the ship. We caught up on some reading, swam in the pool for a bit, and watched the banks of the Nile. The last highlight of the trip was passing through the lock at Esna. Not exactly the Panama Canal, but a lock all the same.

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Having successfully navigated the locks, the ship arrived in Luxor without incident and we were off to explore all that Luxor has to offer!

To see more photos of our Nile cruise click here.

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