An open-air sailboat ride on the Nile: the aspect of the Egypt trip that I dreaded. To me, nothing about sailing down the Nile sounded appealing. I thought I was going to be sleeping on a very large mattress with up to 21 of my new ‘closest friends.’ The fact that there would be a large mosquito net surrounding us gave no comfort: it just meant there were going to be a lot of mosquitos. After our experience on the sleeper train, I was even more concerned. Was it too late to switch to the extra night in the hotel?
We boarded the felucca in Aswan in the early afternoon and our luggage was tossed to the top of the crew boat. I was certain at least one suitcase going to take a swim in the Nile. Our group was divided into two, with about ten people on each felucca. A crew boat also stayed with us at all times, housing the bathrooms and kitchen. Not long after boarding, we were served a Nubian feast. Plate after plate of food was placed on the plastic Disney tablecloth, which ran down the middle of the open space. After munching on all of the delicious food that I could not identify (and grapes), the boats took off. While we didn’t find a beach until much later, we came across some water buffalo!
|Water buffalo drinking from the Nile|
In the evening, the boats docked next to a small beach. About half of us got off the boat and went in the Nile. I was hesitant to go all the way into the water–a burn from my summer job had opened up and I wasn’t too keen on the idea of getting a flesh eating bacteria or some other terrible thing that I couldn’t imagine. At some point, the moment took over. Everyone was living for that moment and absolutely nothing else: our minds were nowhere but that small beach. Five, four, three….I dunked my head under the water and experienced a coldness that I hadn’t felt in days. Within seconds, it changed from cold to comfortable. We were swimming in the Nile!
|The cleanup, a fuzzy photo taken by Fuzzy (a member of our Nubian felucca crew)|
While some of us swam, the Encounters staff began cleaning up the beach. They asked us if we could just grab a bag and pretend to help–but no one was standing for that. We all grabbed bags (and gloves!) and filled them with trash. Someone asked where it all came from: was it the tourists or locals? I was shocked to hear that it was mostly from tourists. When many tourists go on felucca tours, they throw their trash overboard. I cannot imagine knowingly throwing trash into any body of water…let alone the Nile. A member of the Encounters team filmed us as we filled the trash bags; the footage will be used to encourage Egyptians to take care of their environment.
After the cleanup, everyone met on the second level of the crew boat for another meal. The food was delicious, the adrenaline was pumping, and everyone chattered away. The plates were cleared and Sheriff started his belly dancing lesson…something I’m still not sure was genuine or a lengthy joke.
|An unexpected and memorable birthday celebration (Photo by Michael Whalen)|
As Sheriff wowed us with his dancing, the Nubian crew came up singing and playing the drums…with a birthday cake! I got to celebrate my birthday on the Nile with people who truly were my closest friends in that moment. After the cake, dancing ensued, which I stealthily avoided by hiding behind my camera.
|Spontaneous song and dance|
Eventually the music and dance died down and Sheriff began sharing his story. He openly answered questions about anything and everything, a truly enlightening experience. As the night went on, we broke off into groups. I spent hours talking with a brother and sister from Australia and two brothers from Richmond, Virginia. Suddenly it was midnight and the crew wanted their deck back so they could go to bed. I often wonder how late we would have stayed up that night if they hadn’t, essentially, kicked us out.
That night on the Nile defined the rest of our trip and changed my life. It could never be recreated exactly how it was. The photos don’t do it justice. You had to be there. All are cliches, but all are so incredibly true.