Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 8 – Goodbye to our felucca

Two thirty in the morning, and the breeze has almost died down. Somewhere in the distance a muezzin chants a prayer. The full moon shines over the bank of the river, where a fox stands immobile, looking at the sleeping felucca. But not everyone is asleep. I am fully awake, taking every sound of the night, smelling the cool breeze (the desert air is gone, replaced by the fresh wind from the Mediterranean), and looking at the fox as it turns on its heels looking for a more interesting view. I don’t want this magic to end, but I know that shortly after sunrise we will disembark and say goodbye to our friendly crew. Staying in my sleeping bag is no longer possible, so I get up and step on shore.

The great river flows slowly past me, invitingly. I cannot let this opportunity pass, and under the full moon go for the coolest swim I have ever had. The water is so refreshing.

My swim has apparently woken Reis Awat, who discovers the barky is stranded high on the sand. This is not good and he promptly gets ready to put it afloat. A quick bark and the boys drag themselves from their blankets; I, as the cause for this early activity, get drafted as crew. At the word of the Reis we all put our backs against the hull and heave . . . heave . . . heave. The first couple of efforts were futile, but at the third push we feel the heavy vessel start sliding. More pushing, much more grunting, and finally we are floating free on the water. Without a word the Reis and his crew go back to sleep, and I am left alone one more time, free to contemplate this magnificent river.

But all good things must come to an end, and after a wonderful breakfast with French Pita (just like French Toast, but with pita bread instead of toast), we say goodbye to our friends and aboard the minibus that will take us to the next stage of our journey.

First we stop for only half an hour at Kom Ombo, to see an interesting Ptolemaic temple. The Ptolemys ruled Egypt from 323 BC (the death of Alexander) to 30 BC (the death of Cleopatra), but in these 300 years they were busy little bees who built many temples in a most curious mix of Egyptian and Greek architecture. Kom Ombo is a fine example of such mix, and its location at the bank of the Nile is without equal.

Then we stopped for an hour at Idfu (aka Edfu), at the Ptolemaic temple to the falcon god Horus. Now, this temple looks 100% Egyptian, and because it is so recent its bas-reliefs are beautifully preserved. I remember thinking, when visiting Machu Picchu, how odd it was to find such a piece of monumental architecture without a carving, a statue, or an inscription. Well, at the Horus temple the difficulty is to find a surface without an inscription! They sure were chatty, them Ptolemys, and I suspect they tended to repeat themselves a lot, just like my students do. The effect, however, is quite impressive.

We finally made it to Luxor, where my friends scrambled into all sorts of low price hotels. Me, a favorite of Lady Fortune, ended in a 4-star hotel. I don’t know how this happened, but our mini-bus driver got a special cell phone call, naming me, and was instructed to take me to this awesome hotel, where a representative of Habibi Tours was ready to receive me. He had may plans for the next two days all lined up, talked me into a 4 am departure to take a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings to see the sunset, and got my instructions for a sleeper train to Cairo on the night of the 24.

I think I will take a bath in my luxury tub while I can, to shake the tiredness off my weary bones . . . oh, wait, what is that? The muezzin’s first call to afternoon prayer. Yes, I think I will pour myself a drink and soak in the tub until it is time for the second afternoon prayer.

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