Nile Travel Story

Arriving in Cairo by taxi from the airport, I was startled by the realization that I was crossing over the Nile, the same river which had borne Moses' basket and Cleopatra’s barge but which is now flanked by modern buildings and girdled by several bridges. The city has grown over the river and two large islands in the Nile are now part of the metropolis. The city has also grown out to Giza, virtually to the edge of the Pyramids. You have seen pictures of them, for sure.

Tourists can still enjoy a trip on the Nile at Cairo. Cleopatra’s barge is long gone, but there are dinner cruises and floating nightclubs available. Egyptian music is quite pleasant and of course one finds entertainment on board.

Traffic in town is legendary. It is made bearable only by the unfailing civility and good nature of the Egyptians who bear the delays patiently. Of course, no one pays any attention to lane markers. Why stay two cars abreast when three or four will fit? And no need to stop at red lights if there are no crossing cars. Even if a policeman is there, go right on through if he is not signaling a stop; he will pay you no mind.

Nowadays, tourists fly south to board their tour boats at Luxor. We were startled to discover that although we had signed on for a five-day cruise, the ship was to remain at the wharf for the first two days and serve merely as a luxury floating hotel.

The stay-over at Luxor was used to visit some of the nearby archeological sites, most notably the temples at Karnak, shown here, as well as the Valley of the Kings, and others. You have seen pictures of them, too.

We also hired a horse and carriage for a ride to the local markets ...

and a felucca for a sail to an island in the Nile. Sailing on the Nile is strange, at least if you’re not used to river sailing. The boat glides along ever so smoothly, as if it were on ice.

The island really was not that interesting, save maybe for this group of locals smoking a native product.

At last the ship headed up river (which, strangely, is south) towards Aswan. The sights included some of the many other boats on the river. A few, like this one, look like they date back to an earlier era.

Mostly, however, one watches the succession of small farms and villages, all clustered close to the bank, and wonders about the lives of those that live there..

At Aswan, one must go to the Cataract Hotel to sit on the terrace where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile. Even those who don’t know about Hercule Poirot will admire the view of a beautiful cove on the Nile.

At many places, as here at Aswan, the desert comes down to the west bank of the River. On the west side, but hardly visible in this photo, a camel caravan is heading off into the Sahara. It's very dry here; we were told that there is no memory of rain at Aswan.

Another serene ride on a felucca took us from town to Kitchener Island for a stroll through a Botanical Garden. Other islands contain archeological sites, and one has the tomb of the Aga Khan. The group of small islands and rocks south of Aswan is called the First Cataract.

A little further south of town is the Old Aswan Dam, built by the British, and one can hire a boat to take one to the sites on the islands above the dam.

The best is Phyllae temple, dedicated to the cult of the goddess Isis. After the construction of the first Aswan dam, the temple was half covered by the water. When the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to complete the submersion, the temple was moved to a higher island by UNESCO and that island was reshaped to conform to the original.

It is only a short bus ride from town south to the High Dam. Photographically, it is difficult for a tourist to capture the dam. It is too big. Besides, photos are forbidden, apparently to forestall terrorist acts. I got this one before I was told I was breaking the rule. The picture was taken from the top of the dam looking south over Lake Nasser, which was created by the dam. That's a large power generation station in the lower right of the photo.

The climax of the trip is a flight south to Abu Simbel, which is just 4 miles north of the Sudan border. In a famous archeological rescue operation, the temples were raised more than two hundred feet to protect them from submersion in the lake created above Aswan High Dam. An artificial mountain, duplicating the original was created to replace the background. It is hollow and one walks back underneath, through a massive, girdered structure, to return to the bus to the airport.

Back in Cairo, all flights west to the US leave in the early morning. So it’s early to bed after a long look at the Nile at night.

Page maintained by L.S. Taylor, Created for the University of Maryland World Course Program: 8/10/96 Updated: 8/19/96