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By Margaret Deefholts
For Travel Writers' Tales

I am dodging objects flying in through my window. The first bundle whizzes by my head; a second one thuds against the ceiling. "Whoa!" I shout leaning out of the window. "Stop! Enough!"

I'm aboard the S.S. Orchestra, one of a flotilla of cruise ships lined up to go through the Esna locks on the Nile, and I am looking down from my state room at an extraordinary scene. Like filings drawn to a magnet, swarms of small boats have begun to crowd to the edges of our ship and the late afternoon air is noisy with the splash of oars and the sound of vendors bellowing: "Hallo…Hallo…Look! Beautiful caftan. Nice table cloth. Cheap! How much you pay?"

[1. Vendors at the Esna locks]

The men hold up their treasures for us to see: gold and scarlet embroidered or beaded cotton caftans, flamboyant counterpanes and tablecloths imprinted with pyramids, camels, Egyptian gods and goddesses. They bundle them into plastic bags and chuck the parcels through windows or hurl them up to the passengers edging the railings of the top deck of the ship. Considering that the deck looms ninety feet or more above the vendors' heads the accuracy of their aim is amazing-not a single bundle misses its target. A record that even NBA basketball champions would envy. Fierce bargaining ensues-much gesticulation and theatrical shrugging of shoulders as bags fly up and down-some with linen, others with Egyptian currency grabbed by gleeful merchants.

[2. Scene along the Nile]

Up to this time, our journey down the Nile has been tranquil. We have cruised by scenes that are timeless: a man wearing flowing robes rides his donkey along an embankment, two women pause to chat as they wash clothes on stone steps by the water, we catch glimpses of flat roofed brick houses half hidden in groves of palm trees and boys larking about in the river. Feluccas, their triangular sails outlined against a blazing blue sky, drift lazily by.

[3. Boys in the water]

But the Nile is also as contemporary as any other tourist destination around the world, its waters crowded by hundreds of cruise ships; people laze in the sun by deck-side pools or lean on the rails and wave to us in passing. Along with a group of fellow travellers I take refuge from the gruelling afternoon heat, and sip iced coffee in the air conditioned lounge while surveying the passing scene through glass-tinted picture windows.

[4. Horus]

The blazing sun necessitates early morning tours, or late afternoon trips. We step back thousands of years into history and mythology as we gaze in awe at towering temples dedicated to the Sun God Ra, to Isis, her brother Orisis and her son, the hawk-headed Horus. Lofty pillars pierce the sky, their carved embellishments and hieroglyphs having endured centuries of sandy windstorms and blistering heat.

[5. & 6 Karnak]

The Valley of the Queens, set against a background of fierce ochre crags, contains tombs of royal women, many of them, like Queen Neferati dating back to somewhere between 1224 and 1290 BC.

[7. Valley of the Queens]

In the nearby and better known Valley of the Kings, I step gingerly down into the tomb of King Tut Ankh Amun; the teenaged Pharaoh's small shrunken remains lie to one side of the cave, while his decorated burial chamber is displayed on the other side. It is strangely moving to see the boy-king naked as it were-stripped of all the grand trappings of his elaborate golden sarcophagi, his mummy mask and glittering jewellery that have been exhibited in shows around the globe. Apart from King Tut's tomb (no photography allowed) the Valley of the Kings is a vast necropolis that contains about 63 tombs (we only have time to look at five of these) dating from approximately 1539 BC to 1075 BC.

[8. Valley of the Kings]

Possibly one of the most memorable moments on the Nile, is sailing on a felucca with the warm breeze fanning my face, as we make our way to a Nubian village. En route we are serenaded by a small boy who for a few coins of baksheesh, sings "Yankee Doodle", followed by "Comin' Round the Mountain"!

[9. Felucca]

We transfer to a small motor boat and as we round a bend in the streamlet, I grab my camera. Just ahead is a caravan of at least fifty camels, with tourists sitting jauntily astride them-animals and riders strung out like a necklace of paper cut-outs silhouetted against the sand dunes. "Where to?" I ask. "Overland to the Nubian village," says our guide. "Would you have preferred that to a boat ride?" I shake my head. "I don't think so…not in the white heat of afternoon, thank you!"

[10. Camel caravan to the Nubian Village]

The Egyptian government have re-settled these Nubian families displaced by Aswan Dam construction, and they appear to have settled down well. Yet their existence is precarious and they welcome the cash that tourism brings in. The settlement boasts several flat roofed block-like concrete houses painted in bright blues, lozenge pinks and yellows.

[11. Colourful homes in the Nubian Village]

Our hosts-a family of about eight-graciously invite us to explore their home-the dining room with a colourful fresco on one wall and baskets of multi-coloured plaited straw hanging from the ceiling. In the adjoining bright modern kitchen, tea and home-made bread slices are under preparation.

[12. Our hosts' home in the Nubian Village]

A concrete tub containing one week old baby crocodiles stands in the entrance hall; we are invited to pet them, (which I do with some trepidation). Although it's difficult to read a croc's expression, somehow these don't look very happy, and we're assured that they will be returned to their mothers the following day. The tour wraps up with a visit to a neighbourhood school where I learn to write my name in Egyptian.

[13. Baby Crocodile]

Back on the S.S. Orchestra, a Galabeya party, and a cabaret performance by a troupe of Nubian dancers brings our cruise to a splendid finale. Next stop Cairo-but that's another story!



For more information, contact: OTI Travel Services,
3220 Broadway West, Vancouver BC V6K 2H4
T: 604 738-3433
F: 604 738 7101
Toll Free: 1 800 817-0544

PHOTOS: By Margaret Deefholts.

1. Vendors at the Esna locks
2. Scene along the Nile
3. Boys in the water
4. Horus
5. & 6 Temple of Karnak
7. Valley of the Queens
8. Valley of the Kings
9. Felucca
10. Camel caravan to the Nubian Village
11.Colourful homes in the Nubian Village
12. Our hosts' home in the Nubian Village
13. Baby Croc


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