In 2003 we had an unforgettable experience on a felucca up the Nile (Click Here). It was so wonderful, we wanted to share the experience with the girls. It took a little sleuthing, but I found the same captain we had in 2003: Captain Jamaica (his site is here).
The boat was different. This boat had a hard top which allowed the girls to go up deck as we sailed. It also had a bathroom, which meant no more pit-stops along the banks to find absorbent sand behind bushes. We were ecstatic to be on the river again.
I was a little worried that the kids would get bored with forced down time. After all, there was very little to do. No wifi, no electronics, just quietly sailing up river for two days. However they loved it!
The sleeping section of the felucca was the size of six king size beds. We spent all our time there. In fact, Alyssa described the experiences as floating on a giant bed. During meal time, a cloth was put out and we ate. It was simple and luxurious. The boat fit 8-12 passengers, but we were the only ones booked. So we had the boat and the Nile to ourselves.
Pausing on the banks of the Nile
In 2003, it was a formative experience for me to see young boys trying to make it on their own. When we pulled up on the bank of the Nile this time, it seemed the culture had changed slightly. Many boys approached us with their donkeys and asked if we wanted a ride (for a small fee of course). They would wave and then turn their hand over and ask for money. What a difference 17 years makes.
One thing that was the same was the abuse endured by the donkeys. The boys would whip and strike the donkeys with full swings, just because. We saw a boy repeated try to jam a stick up the donkey’s rear. We asked Mustafa: “Why do the boys abuse the donkeys so much?”
“They are young and they do not understand how much work the donkey does for them. Also young Egyptian boys are wild.”
Hamida worked full time cooking. He immediately started prepping, then cooking, then serving. During meals he’d smoke on the bow. He’d return after the meal to clean, and start preparing the next meal. The food was stellar! 17 years ago with a boat full of backpackers, people complained that there wasn’t enough food. That was not the case this time, even with Kylie eating.
We couldn’t let the girls get away with this situation so we put them to work.
The first couple of meals the crew ate on their own; however it was better when we all ate together!
Mustafa has been with Captain Jamaica for 15 years. When not in charge of a boat he works for the family cafe on Elephantine Island. He was generous, kind, and open.
He let Kylie and Alyssa try their hand at steering the boat and tacking.
“How many trips down the Nile do you do?”
“Maybe one every other month. There are so little tourists here now since the revolution. Very few go down to Kom Ombo, most do a ride for a few hours, or maybe an overnight and then taxi back to the city.”
He wasn’t kidding. 17 years ago our launch set off with at least four other feluccas. We saw several others on their way down and up. However this time we saw only one other felucca on its way down and one on its way up.
“Many people do Nile cruises now. I hear the tour guides get more money from them so they tell people feluccas aren’t safe.”
In trying to find a company to book our felucca ride, two agencies tried to convince us to take a cruise because “felucca are dangerous”. If we hadn’t done a felucca ride before, we might have been inclined to believe them. The first day we only saw one cruise ship. However, when we reached Kom Ombo, we saw a conga line of over 20 cruise ships in a row. For most of our trip we had the Nile to ourselves and it was spectacular.
“People are so concerned about Egypt since the revolution. I don’t think safety is that bad.” Indeed. There have been a handful of security incidents in Egypt since the revolution; however the violence is no where near the violence in any urban center in the US. The homicide rate for Egypt is 2.5 per 100,000 and that of the USA is more than double 5.3 per 100,000. Sexual violence is more prevalent in Egypt than the USA with 98% of women reporting some level of sexual harassment at some time in 2008 (Source) compared to the USA where one in three reporting sexual violence at some point in their life (Source).
“I think part of the problem is that if it bleeds it leads. News likes to sensationalize events so they can get more subscribers or clicks. A few bad news stories in Egypt takes a long time to destigmatize. ”
Speaking of violence, Mustafa played a mean game of backgammon and totally destroyed me.
“Are things better since the revolution?”
“Yes, mostly. Some people are finding that politicians they elect don’t do what they say they will do.”
There were two types of cruise ships that would pass by. The more common was a steamboat-like cruise ship. The other was a luxury barge with two big sales.
The “luxury” one with two sales made us laugh. “The sales don’t move the boat, its too heavy. It needs to be pulled up and down river by a tugboat. The larger boats seemed so out of place. Every time we saw either one we would say: “They don’t know what they are missing.”
Mustafa agreed. “I love sailing down the Nile, it is so relaxing. I don’t know why people go up and down in those boats. ”
At night the boat pulled up riverside, and we all slept right on the boat. Even though we had sleeping bags, they brought out extra blankets and pillows. They wrapped a large cloth around the boat to protect us from wind and weather.
In the early mornings I’d sneak off the boat and watch the kingfishers fish and the sun rise.
How we did it
I contacted JJ Jamaica directly from the internet. Going through a captain knocked off $20-50 from tour prices we were quoted online. I also walked along the Nile banks across from the Nubian settlement on Elephantine Island (Between Makina Cafe and KFC). Multiple captains approached me giving me prices from 400 – 600 (EGP) per night for our group. We met the Captain Jamaica by the ferry in front of the KFC.