There were a few warning signs, but we chose to ignore them.
I had always wanted to do a felucca trip up the Nile, I knew people who had been and it seemed like it would be one long slow party in the sun. Sure the felucca is very basic, a flat wide traditional boat with just enough height at the front to squeeze our packs under the ‘deck’, and just enough space to roll up on the deck at night in our sleeping bags. It’s the traditional way to travel and no self respecting backpacker is going to do it any other way.
Just in case you have the same romantic vision of the felucca ride, here’s my list of 8 warning signs that maybe you will get the felucca trip from hell instead.
- When it is cold and windy. Egypt is generally known for hot weather, so even though February in Egypt is winter, we were expecting it be fairly mild. If you hear the words “coldest winter in decades”, and it is cold and windy outside, and it snowed last week, you might want to reconsider. You won’t get a suntan, you’ll be shivering in the breeze instead.
- When only one felucca in the whole of Aswan is prepared to go, and the captain tells you it’s a large felucca that can take all nine of you instead of the usual six. Don’t believe this just because it has a cool name like “Kiwi Magic”. All feluccas are the same size. No-one else is leaving because the weather is not good.
- When your cook is able to tip over the portable gas cooker and set fire to the wooden boat – twice, on your first afternoon. You will then get to watch bucket loads of Nile water being thrown over your packs (although that is better than seeing them go up in flames too). You will see your dinner, in its early stages of cooking, going over the side as the cook ditches it to use the saucepan to get water to put out the flames.
- When you find find nine people in sleeping bags having to fit into a space designed for six. You will top and tail, and all nine of you will have to turn over at the same time. No, make that eleven of you, your crew will try and squeeze between any two girls they can, even though they have their own sleeping area.
- When you wake up to find a WATER RAT RUNNING ACROSS YOUR FACE. This will make you yell and will wake everyone else up, who will be annoyed. You won’t care because you can’t possibly go back to sleep now anyway. You think that maybe you don’t want to sleep in the open air, at the waterline, tied up to a riverbank again.
- When your captain casts off pre-dawn into a thick fog. For a few minutes it is an amazing feeling floating along with the current along in thick fog. Until a huge Nile cruise ship appears out of the mist about 100 metres from you, heading straight at you and seemingly unaware of your existence. You will have the excitement of screaming, paddling wildly with your hands and grabbing any poles you can find, to try and keep your boat a mere couple of metres off the side of the monster.
- When your captain is stoned and still capable of getting aggressive. After a wonderful time exploring Kom Ombo and a relaxing lunch on a river bank, our captain challenges the only other felucca we have come across to a race. After we have won the race, the captain of the other felucca turns his boat into us and rams us at speed, putting a large hole in the hull. We start to take on water. Our captain is incensed and proceeds to try and ram the other boat.
- When your captain carries a foot long knife and a large leather strap to sharpen it. Not content with ramming, our captain pulls his knife, jumps onto the other boat and starts slashing at the competing Captain. The two of them leap backwards and forwards between the two boats while wildy flailing the knives around within inches of our heads, as we cling to the deck. Our captain is now frothing at the mouth in anger as we all watch our felucca sink closer towards the waterline. We are wondering if it is better to drown or die from a vicious knife cut. The cook eventually separates the two of them and gets us to the riverbank to carry out some repairs, but our packs, (and sleeping bags), under the deck are soaked through again.
By this point we decide that when we make our evening riverbank stop, which will be at a village, we are going to get off the felucca and find our own way onwards to Luxor, even if we have to walk! This is not an easy thing to announce to an angry captain who is still sharpening his knife. Luckily for us, when we reach the village, the matriach of the captain’s family hears what has happened, and offers to put us up for the night in her compound of mud brick houses.
We have a great dinner and enjoyable evening with the extended family. Because they have to squeeze us in, three of us are given a room with a frail looking double bed and mattress – no problem, more topping and tailing! The door to our room is unattached to the door frame, so we just lean it over as best we can, and are ready to sleep. As we nod off, the bed collapses beneath us. We decide we don’t care and sleep on the mattress on the debris of the old bed frame.
As the sun comes up next morning, about thirty chickens wake up in the compound. The rooster crows, and then the chickens find the gap at the bottom of our door frame and push their way in to say hello. As we sit up we scare the chickens who start flapping their wings and dropping chicken feathers and poo everywhere. We start laughing and can’t stop, rolling around in chicken feathers, trying to shoo them out of the room until breakfast is ready. We decide we really like Egypt, and we are ready for another day.