40 for 40: Day 10 – Swimming in the Nile and cruising to Kom Ombo

Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more of a deep sleep than after Abu Simbel yesterday, came this morning. We had to check out of the lovely Philae Hotel in Aswan, but something even more lovely was on the horizon.

Every trip, you have to have a “splurge”. All through the planning process of this trip, I kept reading about sailing on the Nile, and had originally thought we would confine ourselves to a couple of felucca rides at sunset, but the more I read, the more I felt that was shortchanging the experience, so I’m currently sitting on the deck of a boat called the Louliya, cruising up the Nile to see some temples.

The Louliya is a class of boat know as a dahabiya, or “Golden Boats”, which were originally floating party houses for the rich Egyptians to take their friends until Nasser instituted a mass redistribution of wealth in the 60s, at which point many of them fell into disuse. The trend over the recent years has been to refurbish them to give an option in between the large Nile cruisers and the small feluccas. Not wanting to relive my Big Ship days, and wanting more comfort than the floor of a felucca, this was the option.

After being driven to the boat by Abdulla, who is going to be our Egyptologist for the trip (actual title), we were given a drink of hibiscus tea and shown to our room, a lovely little space that’s been made to look 100 years old, but is actually quite new. Due to the direction we’re going, we’re going to be towed more than we will sail this trip, but even the light hum of the engine isn’t taking away from the relaxation. We had a chance to swim in the Nile in a clean, crocodile-free zone, before having a fantastic Egyptian lunch of everything delicious.

After relaxing onboard a while longer, we were off to our first official stop of the trip, the Kom Ombo temple. The temple was built over 3500 years ago and, unlike other Egyptian temples, it’s linked to two different gods, Horus (the falcon god) and Sobek (the crocodile god, who is also the god of fertility, who is also one of the few male fertility gods I’ve seen). The temple is amazing, with some of the original paint still on the temple ceilings.

Now, we have forgone the services of “guides” on this trip, and by guides, I mean people who have randomly approached us at temples and offered to “guide” us, or people who tried to show us obvious or not-so-interesting stuff for baksheesh. However, we have a trained Egyptologist, six years at the University of Alexandria, along for this one, and having (another) temple all to ourselves with somebody who knew everything about the temple was amazing. Abdullah was actually able to answer questions from some photos I took at the temple, explaining a picture of an original Egyptian god, a lion eating the feet and hands of slaves, and a Greco-Roman statue that was found and placed in the ruins.

The temple is also attached to a Crocodile Museum, with a few dozen mummified crocodiles, representations of Sobek, and decorated crocodile eggs.

The experience of being four plus a guide (and, of course, some caretakers who made their presence known once the guide left us alone) definitely helped justify the dahabiya choice, as did seeing SIX ships coming in from Luxor, each of which would hold 200 people at peak capacity, though Abdullah told us they were probably at quarter capacity now. Still, not having to negotiate those ruins with even 300 other people was pretty great.

Back to the boat for 5 o’clock tea (very classy) before we docked outside of the ruins of Gebel El-Silsila, which we will be visiting in the morning. Another fantastic dinner, and I have to tell you, I don’t know what other spectacular sights Egypt will present, but this experience may become the thing that defines it.

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