Our sunset sailboat ride became one of our favorite things to do in Egypt.
We headed down to the jetty from the Old Cataract Hotel. A barefoot man in a long coarse robe padded over to us. Thankfully I had asked the woman at check-in how much a felucca ride would cost. So when the man said, “200 for one hour…per person,” I shook my head no. “Per boat,” I said. Hey, he had to try. Then, just to make sure, I said, “Egyptian pound.”
He nodded. “Yes, yes, 200, plus bakshish, tip.”
A boy ferried us across to the other side of the Nile, where our vessel, the weather-worn Jellika, awaited. I almost tumbled off the narrow bench when I first sat down, and spent much of the rest of the ride clutching the wood beam above me.
We headed off toward outcroppings of gray stone rounded smooth by thousands of years of water lapping against them. Always in the distance, perched above us in a barren landscape, stood the Aga Khan Mausoleum.
The Jellika had no motor — she was entirely dependent upon the wind. We’d cruise along slowly, calmly, for most of the ride, though there were moments when the breeze would pick up and we’d gain a considerable amount of speed.
We rounded Elephantine Island, its temple ruins visible in glimpses. Some say the island got its name from the large rocks at one end that aren’t too difficult to imagine as bathing pachyderms — though it might have more to do with the fact that it was once an outpost of the ivory trade.
Here and there we would pass a Nubian home at the water’s edge, painted in bright colors: turquoise with pink trim, or sunny yellow and mint green.
Our captain was a weathered man who had lost the use of his right side, keeping his arm bent over his stomach, maneuvering the vessel with one hand — and the help of a skinny dark-skinned teenage boy who darted from port to starboard and back again to unfurl the sail or help the felucca tack into a turn. He’d mutter under his breath when the captain barked orders at him.
The boy pointed out attractions to us — the mausoleum, various temples — though I couldn’t understand him. Duke would repeat the words for me.
“Botah neek gah deen,” he would say, pointing to a large expanse of greenery.
I’d nod politely, then look over at Duke, who would quietly say, “Botanic garden.”
There were moments when I was sure we’d crash into a rock or the shoreline — but our captain would turn the rudder just in time, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief.
Aside from these near-death experiences (I have a flair for the dramatic), our sunset ride was unbelievably peaceful. The only sound came from the water that rippled as our small sailboat cut through the Nile, punctuated by the occasional motor of another boat, the barking of a dog, the bleating of a sheep.
I leaned down to put my hand in the water, fluttering chevrons of glimmering gold and teal. I couldn’t help but smile. This has to be the most gorgeous stretch of the entire Nile. –Wally