Sailing The Nile

It's time for us to sail the river Nile and nowhere is it done better than in Aswan. Down here in what is known as the Nile's First Cataract, the water is much cleaner and the scenery is postcard-pretty. After a five minute walk from our hotel loaded with our day packs and sleeping bags, we got into our felucca - Egypt's traditional boat with broad canvas sail. While there are now faster motor boats and bigger river cruise boats for visitors, we are very happy to sail on a boat that solely relies on wind power - our home for the next two days!

Our felluca is manned by two Nubian crews - Mohammad and his brother Mustafa. Mohammad is hoisting the canvas sail as the wind kicked up and we were set to go where the winds will slowly bring us to. No one's complaining about the pace: since the time of the pharaohs, sailing on a fellucca has always been an environmentally-friendly way to travel.

The marriage of a blue sky and a white sail made a perfect nautical look . . .

. . . as I lay there on the padded deck completely absorbed reading a book while my feet were caressed by the winds. We all declared this was the most relaxing part of our Egyptian journey.

After zigzagging our way, we arrived at a quiet cove on the West Bank of the river and had lunch prepared by our felucca crew: a simple affair consisting of flat bread, tomato & cucumber salad, gibna beyda - soft white cheese made from goat, kofta - grilled ground meat peppered with spices, and fuul - mashed beans with spices and olive oil. We dunked bits and pieces of everything into the bread resulting in a pleasant medley of flavors and textures - the lightness of the cheese went well with the tartness of tomatoes and the heaviness of the mashed beans.

Sailing further on, we stopped by a sandy hill on the West Bank and walked our way up barefoot. The view from the bottom of this sandy hill reminded me of the huge sand dunes in Morocco's Erg Chigaga. Before the completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971, the yearly flooding of the Nile brought silt to the banks which made it very fertile for farmers to cultivate. Now that there's no more silt, farmers have to use fertilizers.

From the top, we could see why this part of the Nile is called the First Cataract. There's about six of them all the way down to Sudan. Cataracts are shallow sections of the Nile with numerous boulders and some rocky islets where the water turns to rapids.

In antiquity, these cataracts impeded sailing along the southern length of the Nile. From source to mouth, the Nile is 4,184 miles long but only about 900 miles is actually in Egypt (the country that has benefited the most from the river out of the 8 other countries where the river pass through). Perhaps in the future, if I can't possibly see its entirety, at least seeing where the river start would  just be as good.

Before going back down to the river and to our felluca, the setting sun cast long shadows of ourselves in the sand. It may sound cheesy but what the heck, there will always be cheesy moments in a trip and taking our picture right there is just one of them.

Our felluca stopped for the night in Sehel Island, a big island in the Nile just south of Aswan, to visit the Nubian village where Mohammad - our felluca captain - lives with his family. In ancient times, this part of southern Egypt along the Nile down to northern Sudan was an independent kingdom called Nubia. In the 1960s during the dam's construction, most of the low-lying Nubian villages were abandoned as the waters of Lake Nasser kept rising and many Nubians resettled around Aswan.

The Nubians are typically darker and taller than the average Egyptian but what truly makes them unforgettable is their hospitality and friendliness. We listened to their traditional music with its undulating rhythm accompanied by ululations from their women. Soon after, we all found ourselves dancing to the beats of a douff - a shallow drum.

Meanwhile, the girls in our group couldn't help but put Nubian culture literally in their hands with a henna tattoo done by one of the village women. For a fee, of course.

Our dinner came served in several bowls but not after the ladies of the house made a dramatic entrance bringing them in their usual way on a large tray balanced above their heads. There was no table which is typical of a Nubian household - we simply sat on cushions on the floor while eating traditional dishes. We had vegetable salad, goat kofta, stewed potatoes and some others that I really couldn't remember. It was filling but not really the kind of dishes that I will look forward to eating so soon in a New York restaurant.

After eating and dancing, we walked back through the village and into our felluca. The exposed sides of the boat were already covered as we settled in for the night and into the warmth of our sleeping bags. Someone snored loudly but it certainly wasn't me (I'm glad I had my ear plugs on!).

I awoke the next morning after sleeping straight for 9 hours (my longest in this trip!), helped perhaps by the gentle rocking of the moored felluca. My first objective after stretching myself outside was to pee and Waleed pointed at the bushes nearby. Oh, ok. It wasn't as uncomfortable as I initially thought about urinating in a spot that might be someone else's vacant property.

Mohammad's brother Mustafa went into action and fired up his stove to boil some water for coffee and tea. He also whipped up a breakfast of fried eggs with lots of tomatoes that went well with cream cheese and bread. A simple breakfast like that was all I really need and the gentle early morning breeze drove my appetite more.

Local men started the day early by rowing their boats just like this man . . .

. . . while we continued on with our journey on this legendary river, happy with the thought we were sailing just like how ancient Egyptians did it. Without the Nile, there would have been no Egypt. And no great civilization in this part of the world that we now know.


  1. You really had one heck of an Egypt trip. I should really consider joining a group like this one. Does it give you more bang for your bucks?

  2. from riding donkeys, to hot air balloons, and it's now travel over water. a very interesting travel journey indeed! blue skies, blue waters.... and the sand looks so soft i could roll in it. My fav photo... the tall shadows cast on the sand!

  3. It's like the Desert Safari tour here minus the boat ride (the dune bashing instead). It looks like every minute of your Egypt trip was well spent!

  4. your post isn't only a feast for the eyes but informative as well.
    all i know about cataract is the cloudiness in the eyes; my oh my, LOL! and then there's your felucca.
    i like the 8th photo here- it has the great capture of the air, land and water.
    btw, it's a nice thing for you to share a personal identity in most, if not all of your trips --the photo of your relaxing feet.
    (i recall you also had their picture taken/posted when you went to cloud 9/siargao)

  5. The Nomadic Pinoy9:30:00 PM

    Yes, it was worth every penny especially because I got a good discount. I'll see what travel deals I can get later this month during the New York Times Travel Show.

  6. The Nomadic Pinoy9:31:00 PM

    The variety of transport in this trip just made it more fun. The hot air balloon ride was the best!

  7. The Nomadic Pinoy9:33:00 PM

    I've heard about the desert safari in UAE. Was almost tempted to stay at least a night the last time I flew via Dubai but I really was short of time.

  8. The Nomadic Pinoy9:35:00 PM

    LOL on the cataract=eye cloudiness!!! I'm amazed you remembered my lower extremity exposure during my Siargao escapade - it only means you're a very observant doctor!

  9. The food looks so interesting.. I am so glad that I can travel to Egypt with your posts! :)

  10. Whoa, this Egypt trhip (awel lactually all of your trips) are awesome! I got drop jaw envious.

    btw, I'll linked you up! Ü

  11. The Nomadic Pinoy8:31:00 PM

    Thanks for traveling vicariously with me Micki!

  12. The Nomadic Pinoy8:32:00 PM

    Thanks for the link up Chyng. Hope you could visit Egypt in the future!

  13. kahanga hanga talaga tong tour na to. is this a package trip? hope you can share it here.

  14. The Nomadic Pinoy8:30:00 AM

    There's no toilet Bert so I had to pee outside hidden behind the bushes! It wasn't rough sailing at all, in fact it was so smooth it was my most relaxing boat ride ever.

  15. The Nomadic Pinoy8:33:00 AM

    The felluca ride was part of my Gecko's trip (www.geckosadventures.com) and it was one of the highlights for me.

  16. Bravo! Your Egypt travelogue reminds me of great Lonely Planet series! The words and pictures are all excellent! Love them all, tukayo!

  17. The Nomadic Pinoy8:57:00 AM

    thanks for dropping by Lady Green Hopper!

  18. wow nice!! i plan to visit egypt next year :) wish the weather would be great... but i heard the people is not that friendly... wish to get a local to bring me around... and the one thing i wont miss is sailing around nile river!! hohoho

  19. You're right, very relaxing indeed. Ang the food, simple but tasty. A day to day menu here in the Middle East. Ingat lang sa fuul, ang lakas sa "gout" at arthritis.

  20. I always wanted to go to Egypt...after reading your travels there... I am sure I will go !

  21. a slow afternoon cruising the nile is, shall i say, an ultimate dream.
    i'm soooo jealous, hahahhaa!


  22. Wow nice adventure! I don't think I can survive that trip without peeing for straight 9 hrs or so hehehe. I love all your shots especially the sail shot against the sky which reminds me of nautica's logo hehehe and the best shot was your feet LOL. Thanks for sharing your photos and adventure.

  23. Breathtaking! Can't find other words for your photos and the scene in Egypt... :)
    I'm still celebrating Chinese New Year in Malaysia. Thanks for your greeting! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

  24. The Nomadic Pinoy8:27:00 PM

    Glad to see you're back tukayo. And thanks for dropping by. Will check your site later.

  25. The Nomadic Pinoy8:30:00 PM

    Visiting Egypt is best done in winter (December-February). Locals tend to be friendlier in Aswan and Luxor. Cairo has a lot of aggressive touts but they're mostly where tourists are like the Pyramids.

  26. The Nomadic Pinoy8:30:00 PM

    Ha ha ha, I'm glad I didn't eat much of fuul. Mas gusto ko yung salad nila.

  27. The Nomadic Pinoy8:31:00 PM

    You're in a great position to do it Sidney. You'll never regret visiting Egypt.

  28. The Nomadic Pinoy8:33:00 PM

    That dream will turn for real one day Ron. And you'll not just want to sail but also try to ride a hot air balloon above Luxor.

  29. The Nomadic Pinoy8:34:00 PM

    We spent some time onshore where we had a chance to use regular toilets too. However, sailing on a felluca isn't really for those with faint-of-bladder ha ha!

  30. The Nomadic Pinoy8:36:00 PM

    Thanks for the appreciation Cecil. Hope to see your year of the tiger filled with more photographic adventures.

  31. Oh nice! I see you're a Lonely Planet fan like me!

  32. The Nomadic Pinoy8:30:00 PM

    LP is my default choice but if my local library doesn't have any, I borrow whatever guide book is available prior to a trip.

  33. huwaw! sana makarating din ako dito.. i fell in love with Egypt when I saw an iMax documentary about it as part of a museum ticket. haaay! galing mo naman!

  34. Water sharpens a stone, making it’s smooth. Water washes stone coast, making its soft. Life will teach everyone, capable of learning.

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  35. Is the felluca fitted with a toilet? Did the sailing get rough enough for anybody to get seasick? I don't think my wife will enjoy this kind of trip but I'm game.


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