The taxi passes between the last buildings of Aswan and the huge cruise ships that clutter the shore of the Nile and then continues on a calm deserted road, drives along the green riverbanks and finally stops. Two lively smiling young men take hold of my luggage and swiftly climb down the herb covered slope towards the Nile. The dahabeya is there, a discrete white bird with elegant lines.
When I enquire about the other passengers I get my first surprise : there aren’t any others. Will I have this beautiful 35 meter long boat, slender and gracious with its two big sails, all to myself ? Well yes, during 3 days and 3 nights, I will be the Queen of the Nile, the solitary voyager, like in a dream, never getting tired of watching the Egyptian landscape passing by in front of my admirative eyes, slowly and silently.
Before I describe the details of this wonderful landscape, I first want to take you on a visit around this new habitat of mine. And that is where the second surprise comes in : I am on a real floating palace : the corridor paneling, the decoration of the 5 rooms (I know that I should say cabins, but I cannot resign myself to this reductive designation in this context), the dining room, everything is organized and decorated with delicious taste and with an obvious concern of perfect comfort. Each cabin room has his own personality, induced by objects, fabrics and paintings chosen with the care of an aesthete, giving space and pride to Egyptian most refined art and craft. Therefore, I knew I wanted to meet the person who had created this jewel, most probably Johanna with whom I had already had the pleasure to communicate concerning my reservation for this trip. But the absolute highlight is the “suite” at the rear end of the boat that I am generously offered since I am the only guest on board : a large room having 4 windows with white roller shutters and a lounge corner, but first and foremost the balcony to which I have exclusive access, at the stern of the boat, hence round, equipped with a couch which will delight my hours.
“The bearded palm trees, grouped in threes, soar graciously into the sky. They watch over low clay walls where a brown galabeya is sneaking in between.
Egrets, ibises, herons, wild ducks peacefully go about their aquatic and terrestrial activities. The banana trees, little brothers of the palm trees, set foot in the shade of their elders.
Ancient Egypt, the silent country, is all there beneath the calm breeze of the Nile. The fringes of the tent that protects us from the sun are like discreet dancers. The crew silently bows in front of the majesty of the landscape which whispers stories of their very early roots into their ears.
Quiet, quiet, the water, the reeds and the hidden boat, recovering my respiration.
Afar, a mooing gives rhythm to the silence.”
The caring and smiling presence of the 9 crew members turns indeed out to be yet another delight, a friendly and tightly-welded crew composed of very lively young men, showing refinement and a good sense of humor, the noble sons of the majestic Nile. The service is perfect. Ramadan serves at table, the most silent of them, probably shy but what elegance in his gestures and his smile. The cook, Saber, asks if there is something special I would like to eat, and my answer is a “cri du coeur” : Molokheya. And thus, I was going to get every day my bowl of Molokheya besides many other dishes, tajeens and salads. Ali, the French speaking guide keeps me company during the meals. I appreciate it.
Frequent stops are planned, either for visits of ancient sites with Ali or simply to stretch our legs. I adore walking in the trails between the mango trees and the sugar cane fields, surprising some birds like the “hoodhood” (the hoopoe) and the numerous ibises, discovering the “sabils” offering fresh water out of large pitchers to the passers-by and the field workers, seeing up close the small farmhouses surrounded by small clay walls, encountering farmers on their donkeys.
I spent the rest of the time contemplating this millennial landscape passing by at the slow and silent pace of our beautiful sailing ship, the blessed shores of the Nile with the buffaloes going to drink there in the evening, the reflections of sublime dawns and the arrival at Esna, rustling of thousands of calls for prayer in the misty sunset.
Lulled by the waters of the Nile, I had regained peace of heart. Egypt reminded me that the world is beautiful, that there exist on this earth simple peoples who are beautiful, elegant and generous although they are not rich. Hoping that the poor country of Lebanon where I come from will regain his child’s soul.