RTW Trip Aswan, Egypt Day 57:Highlight in Egypt – Overnight Felucca Ride on the Nile River
If you are only going to do one thing in Egypt, do an overnight Felucca ride. Oh wait, if you are only going to do one thing in Egypt, do an overnight Felucca ride with Mostafa and Nasser. Sure, Egypt has the ever famous Pyramids, the most amazing Egyptian Museum collection with all sorts of mummies, and some really great coral for diving, but who can argue with taking a motorless sailboat, known as a felucca, down the Nile River, overnight, with cooks making you excellent homemade breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
We went down to meet Mostafa 1 and Mostafa 2 by the Panorama Café/McDonald’s at 11am, only to find Mostafa 2. We had read in the Lonely Planet that when shopping for a felucca boat, you should really make sure you check out the boat first, find out what type of food you will have, and what I think is most important, is to ensure that you will be sailing with the people that you expect to see. Many people had complained that when arranging for a felucca ride with specific drivers, other drivers would show up on the day of your departure. This happened to us, because supposedly Mostafa 1 was sick, and had to go to the hospital. In the end, we were very pleased with our felucca team. Here were our crew members:
Mostafa 2: A chilled-out twenty-something Nubian with excellent English, a love for anything Jamaican (of course he loved Bob Marley), good business and felucca skills, with a perpetual smile and the gift of the gab.
Nasser: Mostafa 1’s replacement, a cool and hardworking ex-construction worker, a modest man of few but wise words, with a passion for backgammon and cooking.
There is no motor on the felucca, so it is a very quiet ride along the Nile River. Since we were going downstream but against the wind, we had to move in a zigzag fashion to catch the wind and keep the felucca going. There were times where the waves made me feel a bit sick, but luckily it wasn’t anything too serious.
Most of the time, Mostafa 2 was the one who mostly drove the boat, while Nasser was busy at the teeny tiny kitchen with his teeny tiny stove. We would watch slow Nile River life go by, taking photos, reading books, watching the waves, and listening to Nasser and Mostafa’s stories.
They told us stories about what tourism was like before the revolution. The Nile River would be packed with feluccas, and they would be going out on overnight boat trips every day. Sometimes, they weren’t home for a couple months since they were with tourists on their boats. They shared some handwritten letters with us from past passengers who loved hanging out with Nasser and Mostafa. We definitely felt the same. While I couldn’t tell you exactly what we were talking about over the course of about 20 hours, I can tell you that Mostafa 2 and Nasser were genuine, with dreams just like everyone else. Even though Nasser’s English wasn’t as good as Mostafa’s, we really felt that we could understand him on a deeper level and surpass the small talk.
Let’s talk about the food, people. Okay, you are on a boat, and for some reason, I expected eating some prunes and rice and that’s it. I mean, how much can you cook on the equivalent of a camping stove? Clearly, a lot can be done if you are good at what you do. Nasser was a champion at the kitchen, and made us some sandwiches with falafel, ful, some cucumber and tomato salad, some cheese, and other fresh veggies for lunch. I could have eaten 3 sandwiches, but I stopped myself at two. We were very lucky to receive some of Mostafa 2’s own family’s Eid-Al-Adha sacrificed lamb, along with some bread, flavored rice, some tomato and greens salad, and a potato and tomato stew type dish. All were super fresh and flavorful, and made with love. We shared family style (my favorite!) and literally ate everything up.
While listening to Bob Marley’s Legend on repeat (it was the only album all four of us could agree on), Mostafa 1 tried to teach me how to play Backgammon. I was getting the hang of it, but it was clearly due to Nasser’s strong advice on how I should play. 😉
We had a couple stops, the first one being a bathroom break, and the second one was the long break, where we would have dinner, have a bonfire, and sleep overnight. There was a small village close by, so we saw a couple local men riding donkeys with huge grins on their faces.
There were a couple other feluccas parked by us, so after dinner, our boat joined the Kiwis and Aussies at the bonfire for some traditional Egyptian singing, dancing, and a couple drinking games. When it was time to retire, it was definitely chilly, but all four of us piled into the felucca, onto comfortable futon –like beds with pillows and blankets. We had plenty of room, since there were only two of us. Normally, we heard that there would be 6-8 tourists, plus the two drivers.
By morning, I woke up colder than expected (which later turned into a cold of course), to Mostafa driving the boat at the break of dawn. We finally got up at 6:30am or so, and Nasser had already prepared breakfast. We ate breakfast, said our sad good-byes (I really wanted to extend our trip), and headed to our next destination.
This trip is something that should be on everyone’s itinerary. I always think the best part of travel is when you meet locals and get to know them. The felucca trip is a really unique experience that I am sure would cost way more in any other country (if they even have it). It didn’t feel like a package tour filled with fake conversations that they have over and over again. This beats out anything you will ever do in Egypt as a tourist, so go out there, support Egyptian tourism, and looks for felucca drivers to take you on the Nile River.
Chips and water 15 LE
Felucca ride 550 LE
Total cost: 565 LE = $76.09 / 2 =$38.05 per person
What I learned: Tourism is still very low in Egypt, so you have to understand that riding a felucca will not be as cheap as it was when Egypt was on many peoples’ itinerary. Check out the boat’s condition, review the food, and the staff a few days in advance. Make sure you get the same drivers as requested. Do know that if you are only 2 people, you may end up paying for an entire boat (like we did), since they can’t fill the other 6 spots with other tourists. If you like your guides, tip them. Remember, they are with you for countless hours, and even with a tip and paying for a whole boat, it is quite the deal. Final piece of advice, bring Dramamine if you get nauseous easily.
Actual date of travel: Oct. 30, 2014