Heading down the river. Board a traditional dahabiya and you’ll find an escape from the mass tourism that is so dominant here; instead, you can explore the culture, the country and the people from a personal and individual perspective.
The further south we travel, the more beautiful the lush countryside becomes. Lofty date palms and mango, fig and lemon trees line the banks, interspersed by thickets of reeds from which an occasional ibis rears up, spreading its snow-white wings. Villages and houses are now scarcer, replaced by craggy ochre rocks on the river’s west bank; the desert seems almost close enough to touch. We glide silently over the emerald-green water in full sail, the silence unbroken except for an occasional creaking from the rudder ropes. I lie in the hammock, my book long since closed, and immerse myself in the blissful moment. The scenery to my left is reminiscent of pictures from a children’s Bible; I half-expect Moses to appear at any moment, leading his people from Egypt to the Promised Land.
The highlight of today’s programme will be a visit to a market in Daraw. Although our memories of the souks in Cairo and Luxor are by no means positive – insistent traders, cheap rubbish – we cram ourselves into a shared taxi and bump over the dusty roads into the Nubian-influenced town on the east bank of the Nile.
And wow! This spot really is pulsating with life. No souvenirs made exclusively for tourists here; the market in Daraw sells everything the townspeople need and use in their daily lives. Heavily veiled women, often with a swarm of children around their feet, are buying fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, beans and lentils, as well as everyday utensils like pans, ropes and woven baskets. A tiny dark store houses an old man bent over a hand sewing-machine making galabiyas, surrounded by stacks of fabric that reach to the ceiling. In front of the tea-house, men of all ages sit cross-legged on well-worn benches, drinking karkadé (hibiscus tea) and smoking shishas; the bakery is crammed with snacks oozing honey and fragrant flatbreads. Wide-eyed, we stroll through the warren of lanes, occasionally dodging the constantly hooting tuktuks and heavily laden donkeys. The meat stalls are not for the tender-hearted; living chickens are crammed into cages awaiting their final hour and are then slaughtered and plucked before the eyes of their purchasers. At another stall, a toothless man is sawing up half a camel, with a hollow-eyed skinned goat’s head on display next to him. We are never pressed to buy or harassed in any way, and receive smiles in return for our greetings of “Salaam alaikum”. Some ask politely where we come from; the magic word is “Nemsa”, the Egyptian for “Austria” and far more effective than the name “Austria” itself, which seems to conjure associations of kangaroos.
Finally overwhelmed by these impressions, we are relieved to return to the tranquil intimacy of the Abundance, moored before wide green plains. As we get out of the taxi, a farmer is driving cattle and water-buffalo to the river to drink – a snapshot that could equally well have come from some distant century. Tomorrow is the last stage of our journey, taking us to Aswan: a city between the land and the water, between ancient times and the modern day. And, it seems to us, a symbol for Egypt.
The dahabiya Abundance is operated by a company founded by the German-Egyptian couple Johanna Marius and Mohammed Morsy. They bought the pre-owned 35-metre ship in 2017, gave it a complete technical refit and beautifully redesigned the exterior and interior. The five cabins take a maximum of ten passengers, who are looked after by an eight-strong crew. Full-charter bookings are also possible.
As the captain, Mohammed Morsy is always on board. Johanna Marius, who lives with her husband in a village at Luxor on the west bank of the Nile, spends most of her time on land, answering enquiries, dealing with bookings and taking care of press, PR and marketing. On request she will compile individual agendas for visitors along the Nile, and helps to organize hotels, guides or train tickets.
The journey described here comprised four nights on board the Abundance. The price included full board, non-alcoholic drinks, tea, coffee, all transfers, sightseeing tours and entrance tickets, and a German or English-speaking Egyptologist as a guide.
The journey took place in February 2020, just before travel restrictions were imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021 the Abundance will resume travel between Luxor and Aswan; manageress Johanna Marius advises that demand is increasing. To protect guests’ health, the strict hygiene rules imposed by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism are observed to the letter on board. In addition, the dining setting has been changed, replacing the single large table described in our review with several small tables. Travel to Egypt currently requires submission of a PCR test in English or Arabic which must not be more than 72 hours old; however, please note these conditions may change at any time.
Sail the Nile, Tel.: +20 101 3131 886, E-Mail: email@example.com
This article was published in german language in the Yacht-Revue 3/21. Text: Judith Duller-Mayrhofer