Trip Reports

Into The Valley Of The Nile (18-Apr-2002-08-00):
8:00 AM local time, Thursday, April 18 (0600 April 18 UTC) 27 24 N 033 40 E. Temp. 77, Humidity 39%, Cloud Cover 0%. Stiff breeze. Abu Tig Marina, El-Gouna Resort, near Hurghada, Egypt.

To get to Luxor from El-Gouna one travels overland, first south to Safaga along the Red Sea coast, and then west through the mountains to the Eastern Desert and the Nile. In Safaga your vehicle, in this case a large, comfortable Mercedes van, joins up with a group of others to make up a convoy. The convoys run several times a day and the idea is to protect tourists from whatever terrors may lurk along the road. Security is tough everywhere in Egypt. There are airport-type metal detectors and bags are checked at the entrances to all major hotels and theatres, and many stores, and in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo you go through two of them. The convoy is a peculiar idea, since it makes a much better target for whomever we're worried about, while taking public transportation is seemingly less attractive for the bad guys since one then becomes mixed in with locals. Mr. Shrode and Caroline did so. Technically, tourists are supposed travel as part of a convoy, but no one at the bus station suggested to them that there was any problem, and it's much less expensive. My guess is that the main enemy that the convoy strategy is directed against is unemployment. Anyway, the convoy is headed by a pickup truck full of armed soldiers, and there's another similar one bringing up the rear. And so we went on down the road.

Dusk fell as we entered the mountains to the west, which I think were basalt but my request to stop the convoy, so I could take a sample with the geologist's hammer I always carry for such purposes, was denied. As we emerged from the mountains and approached the floodplain of the Nile, I began to notice numerous strange towers befetished with bright green lights on strings, like Christmas tree lights. Only they weren't, because the towers they were on, as I could see the next morning, were the minarets of mosques. Luxor is the current name of the ancient city of Thebes, once the center of Egypt's power and situated directly on the Nile. It is home to the ruins of the temples of Karnak and Luxor among others, the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, and innumerable other antiquities. The gods worshipped by the ancient Egyptians are well represented here, as are the Pharaohs whose power was intimately connected to them. But these gods, a la Nietzsche, are dead. It's always possible there may be, in Bolinas, for example, a cult of Osiris or Amun-Re, but I guess that doesn't really amount to a proof of life. When you think about it, Baal, Apollo, Mithra, and Thor, to name a few, are among a long list of dead gods, so maybe being a god isn't really as secure a career as one might suppose. Networking, that's the key to long-term success as a god.

What makes a god die, wonders the Captain. The death of a god is no small matter. Judging from the history of Egypt, it might be the result of his or her worshippers being defeated in battle, their land and consequently their temples being made available for the use of the conquering gods, which for some is what the substance of the intractable conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is all about. This is just what one sees at Luxor temple, where a mosque stands on the ruins of the temple of the once all-powerful Amun-Re, and in the Agora in Athens, where medieval Christians placed a chapel, if memory serves. Since the ruins of Egypt are so old, and the conquerors so many and varied, the death of Amun-Re at one point becomes, I suppose, an established fact. The vulnerability of the pyramids themselves to marauders was the reason the later pharaohs of Egypt began being interred at the Valley of the Kings, where, instead of being prominent landmarks for miles around and for thousands of years, their gravesites were completely camouflaged so as to prevent any notice of them at all. This didn't work, but it shows what a poor job Amun-Re was doing of defending his people, even when he was alive. The priests of ancient Egypt seem not to have noticed this, or if they did, they weren't about to make it common knowledge and diminish the collection plate offerings.

I won't bother to further elaborate on the ruins of Luxor and vicinity, which are among the world's best known destinations and have been described thousands of times. Herodotus was one of the earlier tourists, and the Captain, one of the most recent, has nothing new to add. A search on google or yahoo, or for you luddites, an encyclopedia, will satisfy the curious. Our hotel in Luxor, the Movenpick, was not a budget accommodation but was still pretty cheap by American standards. When we checked in we noticed on the form that breakfast was "compulsory," and though we think they meant complimentary, we showed up every day just in case. The hotel stands on a large island in the Nile, and walking its grounds was one of our favorite experiences in Egypt. There was abundant bird life, including the cartoon-like hoopoes (Upupa epops), wheatears, pied kingfishers, white storks, white wagtails, bulbuls, and numerous other species. A farmer living in a mud-brick hut, so commonly seen everywhere in Egypt that is not actually in town, toiled in his field using only a water buffalo (family Bovidae) and his own strength for power. On the other side of the island from the Nile, fishermen brought in their catch using small nets cast from their rowed skiffs. On the way to the town the ubiquitous donkey cart was observed, and this is the first country we've been to where people ride donkeys, or, one is tempted to say, asses, since the look of it is so biblical.

The island had its own small dock, where feluccas were available for a sail on the Nile, something Theresa and the Captain could not resist. This is a common tourist outing, but that doesn't detract from its charm. Unlike the atmosphere at the temples and tombs, where one is unremittingly fending off touts, the boat is, like all watercraft, a world of its own, separate from the cares of landbound folks. A lateen-rigged sloop, the felucca is a latter day version of the traditional vessel. It's made of steel, not wood, and has a swing keel where the traditional boat had the disadvantage of a short keel which was deep enough so that it was vulnerable to grounding, but on the other hand shoal enough that sailing upwind was frustrating. But still, the newer version is no Express 27. It's heavy, beamy and flat-bottomed, and my best guess, although no compass was aboard, is that it tacks through about 120 degrees. The sailors who sail them have to be good, since without an auxiliary engine they must be clever so as not to leave the tourists stranded when the wind dies and they head for the Mediterranean on the swift current of the Nile. Our captain, Abdul, a funny guy, poled us out into the river and then unfurled his sail, set the boom, and immediately had us reaching along in a nice breeze. When dousing, he merely raises the boom up against the mast using a tackle, but to furl the sail at night he must shinny up the mast and then up the long yard that holds the luff of the sail at about a 60-degree angle to the mast. The felucca is an ancient type of sailboat, and its yard gave birth, we believe, to the square rig. It isn't known whether the Egyptians or Arabs invented it, but in both civilizations sailing predates history.

Our own sail was very romantic, although probably not to Theresa, and got us back to the dock in time to enjoy the most civilized event I have seen since, thirty years ago, I attended a concert by the London Fire Brigade Orchestra at Hyde Park. Perhaps the Captain's use of the word "civilized" could use some updating. Never mind. The hotel set up stereo speakers, for what it called an evening concert, in front of a small amphitheatre on the banks of the Nile, facing west towards the river. There, as one nursed a gin and tonic and observed the "silence please" admonition, he could watch the sun set over the Nile while feluccas glided dreamily by. Once in a while a tired barge would morosely motor up the river, but this did not affect the peaceful ambiance as we listened to violin concertos by various composers. Withal, the scene had a decidedly nineteenth century air, one that Monet would have been pleased to capture.


There has been an Okiva sighting. Veterans of this list will remember them from the boat theft attempt in Papua, New Guinea, the trip up the Kumai River to see the Orangutans, and the rough bash up the South China Sea (see trip reports for those locations). Last we heard they were stuck in Malaysia with engine problems and we thought they might never make it to the Med this year. We've been a bit out of touch because of our inland travel and dealing with repairs, but today I happened to tune in to a net and heard a yacht speaking about a big party in Ismalia, in the middle of the Suez Canal, to celebrate making it up the Red Sea. The party was held on a boat named "Okiva" which was now on its way to Rhodes, so they've actually fixed everything and lapped us. They must not even have stopped to buy beer. So now we're the ones stuck with an engine problem and we're the ones that have to catch up. Had we been here when they passed we might have made contact but since we missed them you can be certain we'll do everything we can to reach them and report back. I must say, this has brightened our day considerably.

Speaking of Orangutans, we understand that locals have raided camp #1 back in Tanjung Putting National Park in Borneo, taken it for their own use, and the rangers have had to abandon it. This does not bode well for the future safety of the Orangutans, of course, as illegal logging will no doubt begin there, destroying more of their shrinking habitat. There are a couple more camps still operating so for the time being, at least, the program continues. One of the cruisers here in Abu Tig contributed some VHF radios when he went through there and has flown back to visit several times since. He's not happy about recent developments, but there seems to be little anyone can do.

The largest boat in the Abu Tig marina where Maverick is med-tied to the quay is a powerboat owned by a brother of Osama bin Laden.

Next report from this location: Night Train To Cairo

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