If you’ve been reading my Egypt coverage so far, you know that my felucca ride up the Nile was the absolute highlight of my time in mainland Egypt. Boarding in Aswan and sailing towards Luxor, my Travel Talk Tours group spent two nights and two days of breezy bliss watching the world pass by with our fingertips dragging in the river.
The seeds of this trip were planted years ago when I read Angie Away’s blog posts about her own trip here. I became captivated by the idea of sailing down one of the world’s most fascinating waterways using the same kind of boats and sails used by the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids. What could be more cinematic?
It was a dream come true to finally make it happen. The felucca experience was the tipping point that pushed me over the edge in the decision to book a group tour rather than travel mainland Egypt on my own, and from the moment our group boarded our three boats in Aswan, I knew I’d made the right choice.
Our group sailed as a caravan of three feluccas and one support boat, weaving around and past each other while on the move, and tied up together on the banks of the river for lunch and while docked for the night.
Feluccas are simple boats — during the days we slept, ate, and hung out all day on a big communal mattress on the deck. Need some privacy to change? You could crawl into the tiny bow of the boat and wiggle around in the dark. Need the bathroom? You could wait until we were docked and use the one onboard the support boat, or you could take the more adventurous option — leap off into the Nile with the boat still moving, grabbing a rope thrown overboard, and climb your way back onboard once you were finished.
Need entertainment? I brought a book and a pile of crossword puzzles ripped from the back of New York magazine and stockpiled for occasions just like this, but I never cracked into either. Instead we passed the hours chatting, daydreaming, drinking the cheap Egyptian wine we’d brought onboard, soaking up the sun, dragging our fingertips in the Nile and marveling at surreal sights like a local kid bathing a camel on the shore.
The previous four days had been some of my most intense travel days ever, and so I savored this brief “vacation” interlude in between. While our guide Sam mostly relaxed alongside us and to our delight, just became one of the gang, my mind did keep wandering back to a few facts he’d slipped in. While we lazed away, watching the world pass by with time told only by the height of the sun, I thought about how Sam had told us that the ancient Egyptians watched the sunrise and sunset and watched the life cycle of crops along the bank of the Nile and they concluded that humans must reincarnate too. And thus, a belief system was born, simply by observing the natural world around us.
When we were docked on shore together, things got a little less reflective and significantly more silly. Jumping off the top deck of the support boat was the order of the day, which I had to use every ounce of self restraint that I had not to join in on. I was still recovering from the shoulder injury I’d sustained the last time I’d leapt off of something tall into a body of water, and with my yoga teacher training coming up, I simply couldn’t risk making it worse.
Assuming the role of photographer — and flying my drone — was my only salvation.
And since I know if I don’t address it, it will be the first question in the comments — no, there are no crocodiles in this part of the Nile. They all reside in another section of the Nile, cordoned off from our flailing bodies by a large hydroelectric dam. At least that’s what they told us, and as no one wanted to believe otherwise, we gratefully accepted the explanation as gospel.
I admit, the felucca experience is not for everyone. I’d compare it to camping by river — or, perhaps thanks to the support boat, we could stretch and call it glamping… but not really. You’re sleeping out in the open, in very close quarters with people who were strangers mere days ago. There are bugs and there are sunburns and you are at the mercy of the elements.
But I loved it.
Our first night turned into a celebration, where everyone traipsed between boats by torch light to mingle with friends on other boats, share local liquor rations, and smoke hookah generously provided by the Nubian boat crew. We stayed up late but woke up early to the sound of a local mosque call in the distance, and the morning light peeking through the canvas sail flaps.
It was time for another perfect day.
Somewhere along the morning, through the felucca grapevine, I heard a crazy tale that had happened after I’d turned in the night before. While Travel Talk Tours is primarily for travelers age 18-35, they do make exceptions, as they had for one girl who wanted to bring her mom along with her. How cool is that?
Her mom, poor thing, had slipped and fallen between the boats in the middle of the night and smashed her head into the deck, requiring serious stitches on her forehead. One of the crew immediately scooped her up and they had to trudge up the riverbanks in the dark, all the way to the nearest road, where he called someone to bring them to a clinic where a doctor was waiting to stitch her up. Now, it’s the middle of the night, you’ve just split your head open and had to move heaven and earth to find medical attention, and you’re finally all set. I think even I might be tempted to check into the nearest hotel and tell my daughter I’d see her in two days! But not this lady — she came right back to the felucca!
With such an absolute legend in our midst, there was little we could do but party on in her honor.
One of the highlights of the day was finally overcoming my fear of jumping off the boat while it was moving. Clearly, as a lover of leaping from things, it wasn’t really the jump I’d been avoiding — it was full submersion in the shockingly cold Nile! But I’d slightly overdone the Egyptian morning mimosas and with the support boat nowhere in sight, a pee jump was inevitable. Erica and I decided to tackle the challenge together, since everyone knows girls can’t go to the bathroom on their own, and on the count of three, we went for it, coming up shrieking with giggles and grabbing for the rope.
The boat had felt like it was traveling as such a lovely, lazy pace — until we were dragging behind it! Suddenly it felt like we were on a motor at full speed! I couldn’t stop laughing, and feeling the force of the Nile rushing past as we dragged behind our felucca is one of my favorite memories of those two days.
Before we knew it, a day had passed and we were docked again for sunset, dinner, and a night of surprises ahead. This time we docked on a low beach with a few Nubian huts in the distance, and a few of the locals came over to say hi.
In the distance, fancy Nile cruises passed by, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to being doing it the old fashioned way — at least this time.
The crew had some incredible surprises in store for us that final night. After another beautiful meal of simple local food and a perfect sunset over the sand dunes, they gathered brush from across the banks to make a bonfire. Next the drums came out, the singing began and soon we were dancing in circles around the fire to the most incredible local music I can recall hearing on my travels.
It was the kind of night that felt like a scene from a movie, and I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. (Except the parts that I already forgot due to the aforementioned Egpytian wine spritzers.)
The next day we woke to the sound of enormous Nile cruises chugging by, a sign we were getting closer and closer to reaching civilization again. We shared breakfast, our final meal on the boat, before setting off for one last sail.
As we said goodbye to our crew, who had taken such great care of us, I only half-jokingly begged Sam to let us stay one more night.
This was, hands down, my most magical moment from mainland Egypt. Is it sad that I loved this even more than seeing the pyramids? Whatever, I guess it’s no secret that I’m a lady who loves herself some leisure. If you don’t mind a few nights of roughing it — I know from some readers that also did this that they felt quite differently about it, ha — than I cannot recommend this experience more highly.
I know that my time in Egypt would not have been the same without it.
Next… onto the Sinai Peninsula!