Going with the flow of the Nile

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Morning along the Nile in Aswan, with the Mausoleum of Muhammad Shah Aga Khan in the distance.

What bliss to “go with the flow,” as I did recently, especially delightful as the flow is Egypt’s Nile River and I was aboard the Zein Dahabeya, a luxuriously reconfigured sailing boat, during a two-week trip to Egypt and Jordan.

On board the yacht, with cabins for only 12 people, my small group of six was treated to delicious over-abundant meals and attentive friendly service from the staff as we floated for four days between Luxor and Aswan. One evening, especially for us, the crew hoisted the sails which originally powered the boat.

The Sanctuary Zein Nile Chateau, a traditional Dahabiya, refurbished by Abercrombie & Kent.
My cabin, “Philea.”
The King Farouk suite.
The lounge.
Ahmed and Mohammed unfurl the sail.
Our Dahabiya under sail as it was originally powered.
View from the top deck.
The Egyptian plateau and the Nile as seen from the deck.
Fishing for dinner.
A cooking demonstration with Ahmed and Chef Hussein.

Frustrated not being able to take a photo, the ever-accommodating boat manager Khalid put us aboard the accompanying tugboat so we could circle around and snap away.

During the journey, we passed through the lock at Esna and explored some of the awe-inspiring wonders of ancient Egypt, including the temples at Karnak and Luxor, the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and a carriage ride to the Temple of Horus at Edfu.

Amazingly, some paint still exists on the upper portions of the columns at Karnak Temple, built between 2055 BC and 100 AD.
80-foot-high columns at Karnak. How they erected so many, so close together is a mystery.
The Great Court of Rameses II at Luxor Temple.
14th-century Abou al-Haggag Mosque outside Luxor Temple; Statue of Rameses II, c. 1279 BC.
Pylon of Ramesses II at entrance to Luxor Temple.
Valley of the Kings, Ramesses VI, in a tomb now known as KV9. Shaft length — 117 meters!
Burial Chamber in the tomb of Ramesses VI.

Our excellent guide, Mohammed, deluged us with information and statistics, some of which I managed to absorb, including the great trivia fact that there are 14 million Egyptian men named Mohammed. So if ever in doubt, try “Mohammed” and you’ll probably be right.

Hitching a ride in Edfu.
Street Scene, Edfu.
The Temple of Horus at Edfu is one of the best preserved shrines in Egypt.

In Aswan we reluctantly left the boat, but were delighted to move on to the Old Cataract Hotel, famous in fact and fiction. Built in 1899, it is wonderfully situated by the river, and awash in atmosphere. (A 1978 movie of Agatha’s Christie’s novel, Murder on the Nile, was partially filmed there. Fun to watch and a great cast.)

The lounge at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan.
Legendary 1902 Restaurant in the Old Cataract Hotel.
The hotel’s hallways are all painted Nile Green.
The view of the Old Cataract Hotel.

In Aswan, at a vast granite quarry, we were fascinated to see a partially finished obelisk in the rock. A crack found made it unusable so it was never completed, but 3500 years later we were lucky be able to see it close up.

How the ancient Egyptians managed to carve, build, transport and erect these monumental structures and figures has been the subject of endless speculation. Some suggest it had to crafted by extraterrestrials, which seems to me the only reasonable explanation!

Unfinished Obelisk, Aswan.

We took a small boat to the well-preserved Philae Temple on the island of Agilika and a sunset sail in a felucca.

Passing an inevitable gauntlet of souvenir vendors before boarding a small boat to the Philae Temple.
Philae Temple on the island of Agilika.

We had a somewhat pretentious dinner in the famous, but empty 1902 Restaurant at the hotel. The meal was delicious but pretending to live grandly as they did 100+ years ago was a little embarrassing. Passing thorough the awninged porch which overlooks the gardens and the Nile, where people were comfortably sitting for dinner, seemed much more appealing to me.

Legendary 1902 Restaurant in the Old Cataract Hotel.

Toward the end of the trip, we flew to Abu Simbel to see two massive and masterfully carved temples. There are photos which show the truly monumental task of moving them from the edge of Lake Nasser (the largest lake in the world) as it flooded after the great dam was built. The pictures are from the 1960s so this time we know for sure it wasn’t aliens who accomplished the feat.

Abu Simbel on Lake Nasser, the world’s largest lake.
Rameses II temple was covered in sand until 1813.
Temple of Hathor at Abu Simbel with statues of Rameses II, Queen Nefertari and their children.
Happy travelers by a 33-foot-tall Rameses II.
Inside Rameses II temple.
Rameses II, measuring 32 feet high, at an outdoor museum in Memphis, near Cairo.
Fallen statue of Rameses II. The exquisite carving is plainly visible. The statue is so heavy that they built the museum around it rather than attempt to move it.
A beautifully carved hand of Rameses II.

Our last day was spent in and about the Great Pyramids in Giza. When our guide described the low, narrow and steep passages leading to King Khufu’s burial chamber in the middle of the great pyramid, it was with some trepidation that we clambered up the huge stone blocks to the rough entrance to the tomb. Not nearly as challenging as we feared, we were exhilarated to have done it!

First glimpse of The Great Pyramid in Giza.
The scene by the Pyramids.
A beautiful white camel in the midst.
And one in need of a little moisturizer.
The little gash above the umbrella tip is the opening to Khufu.
The pyramids were oringally covered with slabs of highly polished white limestone.
Most of the casing stones were removed long ago for use in other buildings such as mosques and fortresses.
Navigating the long steep tunnel to King Khufu’s burial chamber.
Climbing through a short passage toward the burial chamber.
I made it! Going down the steep tunnel at the end was as tricky as going up.
Paydirt! Freshly baked na’an near the pyramids.
A last look at The Great Sphinx of Giza and The Great Pyramid of Giza.
Inspired by the sight of the pyramids, I visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Pictured here (l. to r.): A 4000-year-old seated Scribe, much more compelling and lifelike (and younger) than the Louvre’s Scribe; and Seneb, the head of Royal Wardrobe, with his loving wife and children, carved in limestone 2520 BC.
A honeybee hieroglyph. Records of beekeeping in Egypt date back to the days of the Pharaohs.
Night shopping in El-Ataba Square in Cairo.
Lobby lounge at Four Seasons Hotel, Cairo.

Before Egypt, my trip included Jordan, also fascinating and rife with biblical references.

Early morning at the Kempinski Hotel, Aqaba, Jordan, looking toward Israel.

Petra was, of course, a highlight. Jerash, a Greco-Roman city thriving in 249 AD, outside Amman, has enough remains of columns, theatres, stairways to temples, to easily imagine charioteers dashing through the main street.

Wadi Rum, known as the Valley of the Moon, ancient dry river bed, and desert landscape in southern Jordan.
Champagne at sunset in Wadi Rum.
Tucking into our luxurious desert camp for the night.
The next morning: In the canyon approaching Petra.
Our first glimpse of Petra.
The Treasury at Petra, actually used for burial preparation— No treasure there.
Other tombs and monuments in Petra.

In Jerash, I came upon three Jordanian Army musicians playing “Yankee Doodle” with drums and a bagpipe! What a great surprise! Who knew the bagpipe was invented in Mesopotamia before the Scots thought of it?

Jerash, an ancient well-preserved Roman city near Amman, Jordan.
The South Theatre in Jerash, where the band was playing “Yankee Doodle.”

We saw the Red Sea from Aqaba, and the Dead Sea which was an adventure, smearing ourselves with the restorative mud. My skin felt soft for days. But it was a very odd feeling, trying to get a footing as the water is so salty that you have to fight to not float; maybe the weightless astronauts feel the same. Sadly, the Dead Sea is receding rapidly. Jordan, a very dry country, is also suffering from a current drought so the government is preventing what water they have from flowing back into the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea in the late afternoon.
Kerri and Chris enjoying the benefits of the Dead Sea.

My only frustration on the trip was the impossibility of showing the colossal enormity of the structures and statues. People are so small and the temples, figures, and columns are so BIG. You just have to go and see it for yourself.

Upon returning to New York, I was greeted by a funny sign in the JFK Delta terminal: I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

Me, too!

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