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                                                  By Diana McLeod                                               2006

        Egypt! Fascinating, exotic and ancient -a land lucky enough to have the spectacular remains of one of the world's oldest and most famous civilizations as their heritage. We had travelled south, all the way down to Aswan, so that we could journey to Abu Simbel, the famous temple on the Southern border of the realm of Ramses II. And now, it was time to return to Cairo. The question was: how would we get there? I watched the little sailboats flitting around the Nile, and I learned that some of them go on overnight cruises, all the way down the river to Cairo. This was my idea of true adventure! We signed up for a cruise.

        Our felucca sailboat was about twenty feet long, with a lanteen rigged sail. It was primitive - no engine, no toilet, and nothing in the way of amenities. The deck was flat, with thin, futon-like mattresses to sit or lie on. Our luggage, and that of our six companions, was all stashed belowdecks. The felucca was piloted by our wiry little turbaned and mustachioed captain, Mohammed. His crewman was also the ship's cook. He didn't speak English, and I have now forgotten his name. There were eight tourists on board including ourselves.

        We sailed off down the Nile on a bright. beautiful late morning. The Nile's slow current gave the felucca's graceful sail extra impetus as we cruised downriver. It was so pleasant to be under sail! The quiet enchantment of the natural sounds of the boat and the water soon gave way to lively conversation as we got to know our fellow adventurers.

        We sailed for several hours, stopping for lunch at a rather colorful camel market in a small town. At sunset, we tied up at a secluded spot along picturesque palm-lined sandbanks, and we all had a fine dinner under the stars. Cold beer even miraculously appeared (for a price) and we talked for a long time with our new acquaintances. Later, bedrolls were brought out of the hold, and we tourists bedded down on the deck. Mohammed and his companion disappeared for the night. Maybe they had a shack nearby.

        The next day, I got up the courage to ask if I could steer the boat. This took some nerve, as there were tourist cruise ships all over the river. They were huge, multistory behemoths, towering over our tiny sailboat, and they went very fast. We had no engine, only our sail to keep us out of harm's way. It was unnerving to dodge them. But I loved the challenge, and Mohammed kept a careful eye both on my steering and on the river traffic.

        The second night, they tied us up at a sand bar island in the middle of the river. There were about six feluccas there, each one with a load of tourists. After dinner, a huge party got underway. Because we were in the middle of the Nile, there were no authorities there, so it soon got pretty wild. The boatmen built up a large bonfire on the beach. Loads of cold beer appeared like magic, and the college age kids were all smoking marijuana. Somebody started playing a drum, and everyone sang together. I remember harmonizing on a rousing chorus of "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight." The "a-wim-a-way" part got quite out of hand.

        I was tired. The night before, I had not slept well. The desert got really cold at night! Feeling the chill once again, I resolved to turn in early and get some needed sleep. Dave wanted to keep partying, so I left, and went back to the boat.

        I curled up in my bedroll, and drifted off to sleep. After a while, Dave slipped in beside me. He got under the covers and snuggled in close to my back, wrapping one arm around me, which was very pleasant because of the cold desert night. I went back to sleep and snoozed for at least another hour or so. And that was when it happened. By the light of the moon, I saw Dave walking onto the boat. He got into his bedroll and settled in, right in front of me. I could see the outlines of his face in the darkness.

        And that was when it hit me... If Dave was over there, facing me, how could he be behind me at the same time? Holy cow! ... I was snuggling with somebody else! I was floored. For a second, I just lay there. Then I sat up in a hurry, grabbed my pillow and prepared to attack.

        It was captain Mohammed! I smacked him with the pillow and kicked him out of my bed, which I did very quietly, not wanting to wake anyone else, especially my husband! Mohammed gave me a sheepish and somewhat toothless grin and crawled off to his own blankets. I couldn't believe that Dave never noticed! He'd had to step around me in the dark. How did he fail to see that telltale white turban?

        The next morning, we sailed for an hour or so until we saw the enormous pillars of Kom Ombo mirrored in the Nile waters. What a wonderful way to reach an ancient Egyptian temple - by feluccca! The ancient stone steps beside the Nile still served their original function, and we docked there, entering the temple grounds in the very footsteps of the Pharoahs, who would probably have come by ship. Our felucca wasn't exactly Cleopatra's royal barge, but still... We spent about an hour or so at Kom Ombo, marveling at its impressive architecture, and then we moved on.

        The final stop was the magnificent temple at Edfu. This time, we had to leave our boat behind to enter the town. The Temple of Horus at Edfu was really breathtaking, especially because there were actual rooms inside the huge edifice that were perfectly preserved. The detail of the hand-sculpted stone wall murals was absolutely exquisite. These were the inner sanctums of the temple, and we were seeing them just as the Pharoahs must have.

        Outside, in the courtyard, giant statues of falcons, representing the god Horus, stood guard. One, sadly, was showing signs of significant wear from thousands of tourist selfie shots. Horus was the god of the sky, and the god of hunting and warfare. He was most often depicted as a man with a falcon's head.

        Afterward, we returned to the boat to pick up our gear. I took a moment to give Mohammed a stern lecture, trying to explain to him that his actions could have serious consequences in other peoples' relationships. He didn't care in the slightest. He just gave me a snaggletoothed smile and a shrug. No doubt he couldn't wait to cozy up to his next batch of unwitting female tourists. As we left, I talked to the other girls on the cruise. Apparently he had visited us all. Nobody was seriously molested, but we were all still quite offended.

        I recommend this tour to anyone who is willing to rough it a bit. Just watch out for naughty captains!

        Thanks for reading, Diana McLeod

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