CHAPTER 1 – Toilet Break
The stage is set…
A motley crew of international ne’er-do-wells. A Japanese guy; crazy and happy; constantly (maybe?) drunk and with just enough a lack of English for hilarity to ensue. An Australian family with their daughter and her British boyfriend (about to do a stint in the army). A slightly hippieish couple from San Francisco. A very down to earth (are they ever not?) Canadian husband and wife; taking a break from their smalltown internet company to tick off a “must do” from the bucket list. An English guy; aspiring Geography teacher; come to learn a little about what he’ll be teaching. An Argentinian girl, but living in America, with a distinctly Irish name. And of course a geekish Irish mid-to late twentysomething lad with a penchant for the over-imagination. Place them all in Egypt, sailing down the Nile in a traditional felucca sailboat with their happy-go-lucky Egyptian tour guide and a couple of locals to help out and you have the perfect recipe for a horribly awful monster-disaster movie…
I’m broken off, mid stream, by a camel looking me up and down. He chews his cud with a bored, deadened stare. I can’t piss when there’s a fucking camel staring at me.
To anyone considering coming to Egypt I would highly recommend doing so as part of a tour group. Groups like Gap and Intrepid do tours all over the world but I thoroughly enjoyed traveling with Intrepid on this one. One has to remember that Egypt is quite a poor country, and, although safe enough (tourism is too important for anyone to rob you in the traditional sense – after all,you don’t shit where you eat…*) there is a tendency to try and make as much money as possible out of us idiot westerners. And the many, many people of Egypt can spot western naiveté a mile away and swarm down upon it like raptors. It’s a good place to have a guide; a guide to help you with the subtleties of the Muslim religion; on the subtleties of street traders and restauranteurs and cab drivers and boat drivers and hoteliers and… well, everyone, really. It’s also good not to have your face constantly buried in a DK guide book, to not have to worry which fucking platform is the correct one, about how to book that bus to that place tomorrow (or is it the next day?) or which is the best street for a halfway decent meal that won’t come back to haunt you half an hour or a day later (like the street-roasted pigeon that one of my fellow travelers has at one point). I wouldn’t recommend a guided tour for all and every place you visit in the world, but I definitely would if and when traveling in Egypt.
*On second thoughts, maybe that’s not the best turn of phrase.
Re-sheathed and back on the beach I survey my surroundings. We’ve moored on a beach on the edge of the Nile, a sandy patch before a chunk of reads leading up to a couple of trees and then beyond. Toilet break. A nomadic farmer and his wife are sitting in a clearing, their herd of cattle and camel also moored in the reads around us. Chewing and staring. Chewing and staring. The farmers wife, dressed head to ankles in black but for a sliver for the eyes, untethers a couple of the beasts and leads them down to the water to drink next to the boat. Her indifference to these foreign invaders speaks volumes of the traffic of similar strangers she’s so used to seeing. She also refills her yellow plastic water bottle, which she carries on her head (how quaint).
Although my Intrepid tour of Egypt is a careful mix of amazing historic sights, back-street bazaars and restaurants, and local history and people; I have to say that this one day felucca trip holds a special highlight in my travels. The Egyptian government is very strict as to what crafts it allows travel up and down the Nile. Other than the scattering of local fishermen in their simple rowboats most of the traffic is overtly-opulent, crass, unsightly riverboats, bedeckchair-ed with orange and red octogenarians, flaunting their wealth in relative nudity (speedos don’t really count when your orange belly overlap them) on this poor and religiously conservative nation (in an all-too familiar western preening kind of way). The only other craft allowed to travel are the traditional felucca.
A very simple sailboat with a shallow under-deck for storage and enough space for about 10 people and the three crew under an open canvas (which could be brought down at night so that we could sleep) the felucca was equipped with all that we needed for a day on the water. Food was cooked by our crew, eaten in a big circle (and tasting just as good as any restaurant), the dishes washed in the river afterwards.
Most of the day was spent dosing in the shade, zig-zagging up the river, avoiding the riverboats, dipping our feet in the water as we went along, lowering the sails for bridges and just watching the world go by. In fact, the only disadvantage to this kind of travel was toilet breaks which happened routinely, pulling up on the waters edge.
“David Beckham, David Beckham,” three kids come down the beach, riding on the back of donkeys. Each kid is wearing the jersey of their favorite western football team. They have, as one can quite easily do, mistaken me for an international soccer star. One of our Felluca guides for the day waves me back on board, we’re going to set off soon. I look down the beach and see the women returning from their trip to the toiles (just because we’re in Egypt now doesn’t mean that the rules have changed – women still toilet in teams) They walk as if in a slo-mo sequence directed by Michael Bay on a long lens with the heat rays shimmering in the noontide sun.
See, I fuckin’ told you it was like a movie, didn’t I.
Other Egyptian adventures include: