Riding a Felucca on the Nile
We had spent several days traveling around Egypt at a rather frenetic pace, and our group was beginning to wish for a little time to relax. We had ridden camels at the Pyramids, toured around Cairo, taken a night train, attended the Abu Simbel Sun Festival, toured around Aswan and visited a Nubian village. It was time to try a more sedate pace and riding a felucca on the Nile for a few days, as it turns out, was just what we all needed. Well, half of us anyway.
Our On the Go tour group divided in half at Aswan, with ten electing to go on the Luxury Nile Cruise and half of us choosing the felucca on the Nile. I had a choice to go luxury or for the felucca and I wanted to try something a little different and more uniquely Egyptian so I opted for the latter. I actually like being put in situations where the only thing to do is interact with unfamiliar people and watch the scenery. It is even better when those people turn out to be fellow world travelers with a sense of humor and a taste for adventure. Sometimes you have to choose between comfort and authenticity, and we all were happy with the choice.
The youngest in our group was 30ish, and I think the oldest was mid-50ish. I may have been the oldest, but there were others near my age, and we didn’t really talk about it. In the group were medical professionals, travel agents, computer programmers, and gap-year nomads. What we all had in common was a love of travel and an ability to step out of our comfort zones and try something new. A few of us were unsure what a felucca was, but everyone was up for trying something out of the ordinary.
What is a Felucca?
For the record; felucca is a traditional wooden sailing craft of a type that has been plying the Nile for centuries. They have no motor and depend on wind and currents to travel. Our felucca was basically a hand built, single-hulled, single-masted, lateen-rigged craft covered with a cloth sunshade under which a lot of sleeping pads were laid out on a flat deck. In many ways, it felt like visiting the lounge room of a Southeast Asian hostel. When you laid down you could see that the sunshade had depictions of talking cartoon cars woven into the fabric who gave us transliterated advice like, “Slow drivers, do your duty, make sure no one else can go fast. Get in front of you, anyone going faster than you, and slow down.” Or, “Take care, take care, until she is ready.” It was a never-ending source of amusement.
Our felucca was accompanied by a motorboat that had a kitchen, a couple of bathrooms, a big community dining table and a deck on top where we stored our suitcases and everything we didn’t use on the felucca. Every few hours we would rendezvous with the motorboat for snacks, meals, and so people could take care of things of a more personal nature. The crew of four was Nubian and, although they didn’t speak a lot of English, they clearly had wicked senses of humor and were fun to be around.
What is there to do On a Felucca?
We had a few beers, we talked about the woes of the world, we read books, and we told bad jokes. But, we spent most of our time watching life on the banks of the Nile and soaking in the atmosphere. We were a little unsure if he was serious when Alam, our guide, asked if anyone wanted to jump overboard and be towed through the water behind the felucca with ropes. A few, Nirmalya and Liz, didn’t require much convincing and plunged straight into the Nile, clothes and all. It looked like a lot of fun being dragged through the cold water, and I wanted to participate, but alas, someone had to take the pictures. Noooo, it didn’t have anything to do with the water being way too cold for me.
At the end of our first day, we tied up on shore and walked up the bank to a Nubian house. It was a beautiful sprawling place painted in bright blues, reds, and oranges. We all had tea, a few of the ladies got temporary henna tattoos, and a few of us took a few hits of flavored tobacco on hookah pipes. The family that ran the place was lovely, and they went out of their way to make sure we felt welcomed and had a good time. We left their place tired from all the fresh air and sunshine of the day and the fun of the night. We returned to the boat and, after dinner, collapsed onto our sleeping pads and fell asleep being gently rocked by the passing Nile.
The next day we woke with the sun, and after breakfast, set sail for another day of relaxing on a felucca. The wind was cooperating, and Nirmalya took a turn at the helm. I won’t say he was the best boat captain, but the crew was skilled enough to see that he kept us safe. We sailed for a few hours and then stopped for lunch and a swim. Even in February, it was warm enough that I worked up sufficient courage to go for a dip. The water was too cold for me to stay in, but I had finally been able to say with all the other crazies, “we’re in deNile, we’re in deNile.” Get it?
That night we discovered that, in addition to being proficient Nile felucca drivers, our crew had an assortment of other skills that not only included preparing meals during the day but playing musical instruments at night. Alam demonstrated that in addition to his tour guiding talents, he also has a pretty good belly-dancing shimmy and he danced along with the crew/performers. Soon everyone tried to join in, some with more success than others, but everyone had a good time, and again, we were exhausted when we went back to the felucca to sleep. It was great fun and I recommend it if you are up for something a little out of the ordinary when visiting Egypt.
The next day we got up early and rejoined our fellow travelers in our group. They said they had a nice, comfortable journey on board the luxury cruise boat, but I think they were a little jealous of our adventure riding a felucca on the Nile.
I was riding a felucca on the Nile as a guest of On the Go Tours on the Abu Simbel Sun Festival Tour, which is an easy, and a very enjoyable way to experience Egypt. Also, On the Go is offering an exclusive deal for LifePart2 readers – save $100 off any Egypt tour with On The Go Tours! Head over to their website to find your perfect itinerary and get in touch, quoting “LifePart2” to get your discount.
You can see more photos of my trip to Egypt here.