The felucca is a simple sailboat – graceful and smooth that glides with the wind. In ancient times, it was used among other things, to carry those huge granite blocks for the pyramids, all the way upstream – 550 miles of it. With just a single deck and mattresses on the floor, and a canopy above to protect us from the sun’s direct rays, we were going to spend an entire day and night on the Nile. As we admired the beautiful azure water (Azur is blue in Arabic), the two nimble sailors shouted out terse instructions to each other before settling down to a serene journey. The young one dressed in a red sleeveless t-shirt and a blue bandana around his head was at the front and placed a T-Rex dinosaur toy in the middle of the deck. It had a chip inside it which played Bob Marley for a few pleasant hours. To hear the words, “Where is the black man’s paradise?” was quite profound in this setting. The older man in a traditional gelabaya and turban was at the back, steering the boat casually, weaving a rough S-shape through the water to move the boat onwards. He went up all the way up to the tall mast with no harness to fold down the sail when we stopped for the night.
There were no facilities aboard the felucca – we were met by a support boat when it was time for lunch and after pasta and potatoes cooked in a little tomato sauce and chilli powder, it was time for the more adventurous ones to jump off the boat to dive into the river. About 12m deep, the water was not warm. We carried on sailing waiting for the sun to set and moored for the night. The night on the felucca wasn’t as pleasant as we’d hoped. The early morning air was fresh and chill and the previous night’s dinner was beginning to have an effect on many people’s stomachs.
We got off the boat counting the casualties and boarded a bus to visit the temple at Kom Ombo dedicated to the crocodile God Sobek. Our guide Saad, who has a degree in Egyptology reeled off many stories of surgical instruments used in mummification. The stories were all over in hieroglyphs on the wall – birds and symbols that have been interpreted with so much care and detail. That in itself is a marvellous achievement. The temple of Edfu was all about the marriage between Horus and Hathor. An entire wall depicting scenes of Horus crushing the evil uncle Set is illustrated scene by scene – the first story-board known to man.
The Al-Sahaby restaurant in Luxor next door to our hotel has been there for over a hundred years – its speciality camel and pigeon meat. As they’ve been feeding hungry travellers for so many years, the entire street is named after Al-Sahaby. We stuck to the vegetable Tajin and the Mousaqqua!
Our last day in Luxor began for some with a hot-air balloon ride to watch the sun rise over the City of the Dead (Valley of the Kings). The pharaohs worshipped the sun and believed life was on the east of the river. They also thought that the scarab (beetle) pushed the sun to the west each day and decided that the west bank was a city for the dead. We rode on donkeys into this funerary zone – where tombs have been dug into the mountains that have rocks of limestone combined with flint. There are nearly a hundred tombs there and many are closed for restoration and just preservation. We visited three and they were all distinctly different – the one dedicated to Rameses the Third was the most elaborate with the rich blue, yellow and red still intact. Long corridors have panel after panel describing the life of the Pharaoh. Scenes of embalming supervised by the Goddess Isis, sets of musicians to entertain the Pharaoh and just about anything one would need in the after-life.
Close by is the Temple of Hatshepsut – which means father’s loved one. She ruled as a king and is featured as a Pharaoh (with the long beard) much to the annoyance of Moses the Third, her stepson who tried his best to deface her face and her name from the cartouches (plaques in hieroglyphs).
As we left Luxor and caught the flight back to Cairo, we couldn’t help thinking that the Ancient Egyptians who believed in living for ever after have managed to achieve their goal. We are still able to admire their efforts 5000 years after they died.