We glide listlessly, aside for a gentle about-turn each time we approach the river’s banks. A smooth pirouette, and we catch the wind again, slowly zigzagging our way northward.
The Nile – and our meandering journey upstream towards Luxor in the traditional felucca – is peaceful, despite Egypt’s tumultuous recent history, and our whimsical journey on-deck proves as relaxing as any beach holiday. We’re all piled lazily upon cushions, a contented band of travellers in a heat-soaked daze.
At one point we’re joined by two local children, bobbing alongside us in an ageing canoe – one in charge of paddling, the other frantically scooping water out of their leaking vessel. They laugh gleefully as they go, the challenge of keeping up with us – of even keeping afloat in the middle of the great river – a playful game, a simple pleasure.
Our own journey is less active. We lie idly on deck, baking ourselves in the late afternoon sunshine and sipping chilled beers as we snake along the dark green water. When the heat becomes too much, we still the sails and dive into the river to cool off. Climbing back aboard is a challenge – notions of elegance are left dripping in the water along with our dignity – but it becomes increasingly hard to view any element of this journey as anything other than fun. When we can summon the energy, we challenge ourselves to perform the most elaborate dives possible.
As night begins to fall, we moor on the western bank and watch the sky grow dark; the opposite riverbank aglow with the distant city lights. Chatter from a nearby Nubian village is interspersed with prayer calls from surrounding mosques, and we fall asleep on the mattress-laden deck – all of us sprawled amicably side-by-side – to their melodic song. The air is cool, the water quite still apart from the slightest rocking motion lulling us to sleep.
We’re woken the next morning by the less harmonious cry of a donkey that a local has mischievously left to graze next to our boat. But it’s hard to stay grumpy for long when our waking view is of sunrise across the water, as the temperature gauge starts its daily ascent.
Our time on the Nile is fleeting – part of a bigger tour of this most historic country, racing from temple to temple and from pyramid to tomb. But it is undeniably worth taking a day or two to slow down and see Egypt from its famed watery highway. It offers an intriguing view of this ancient land at a steady pace in its ever-changing current.