Best and Worst

Tours 5+

Worst Journey by Boat

Down The Nile by Felucca

This is supposed to be one of those memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  But mine turned out to be memorable for entirely different reasons.  I booked my felucca trip through the guesthouse where I was staying in Aswan and they told me I should arrive at the pier at noon, which I did.  I found the boat easily enough and saw that another passenger (the only other passenger as it turned out) was already on board.

He hailed from Holland and answered to the name of Jan. He and I chatted for quite some time, while the captain and his lone crewman lounged on the boat, talking idly with the captain of another felucca moored nearby.  No one seemed to be in any hurry to get under way, and since it was hotter than you can imagine, Jan and I finally decided to go get something cold to drink.  As soon as we started to get off the boat, however, the captain jumped up and said we would leave right away.  We finally realized that he was just hanging around at the dock to see if any more passengers might show up to make his trip more profitable.  We went on to get our drinks and hurried back to the boat.  True to his word, the captain and his faithful seaman were making ready to depart.

We got under way at around 2pm and enjoyed a leisurely sail down the Nile. Jan and I chatted more about our travels, read our guidebooks, took photos of the numerous riverboats, and generally enjoyed the passing scenery.  At one point, we were approaching a bridge spanning the wide river.  I speculated - quite unnecessarily I thought at the time - that the tall mast of our sailboat was too high to clear the bridge, even though the clearance was more than enough for the huge riverboats.  But as we got closer, the captain and his helper started lowering the felucca's sail.  So I had been right after all.

At about 5:30pm, we pulled up to a sandy spot on the west bank and settled in for the night.  While dinner was being prepared by the crewman, who obviously doubled as the cook, the captain asked if either Jan or I had change for a 50 Egyptian pound note.  I checked and told him I had 49 pounds which, to my surprise, he accepted in return for the 50 pound note.  He went ashore while we ate our dinner, which was simple, but enjoyable enough.  I assumed the captain was visiting with some local fishermen who were busy repairing their nets a short distance away from where we were docked.

The next morning, we rose with the sun and lazed around on the boat as the world awoke around us.  We took photos of the wildlife (birds) and the not-so-wildlife (dogs) and waited for our breakfast to be prepared.  I saw no sign of the captain but just figured he was either sleeping in the "cabin" under the foredeck, or had slept on shore with his fishermen friends.  When it got on past 9am, still with no sign of the captain, Jan and I asked the crewman where he might be.  He then informed us that the captain had left the previous night and gone home.  Obviously, that's why he needed change for the 50 pound note - to pay for his transportation home.

Needless to say, Jan and I were quite shocked by this news.  When we asked why he had left in in the middle of our trip down the Nile, the remaining crewman told us that he (the captain) had decided that it just wasn't worth his time for only two passengers.  But he assured us that he could take us on down the Nile as planned.  We asked when we would get under way and he told us we could depart right away.

After pushing the felucca off the sandy beach and using a long pole to get us out into the middle of the river, where the current was a little stronger, he just settled down for the ride - without make any motioins toward putting up the sail.  Evidently, he intended to just drift with the current all the way to Luxor (our supposed destination).  We asked what was going on and he told us that, since he wasn't really a captain, he didn't have the official papers necessary to pilot a felucca down the Nile.  And if that wasn't bad enough, he also told us that he wasn't allowed to take the boat all the way to Luxor, so we would be putting in about a half-day's sail up river.

I was nonplussed!  I told him that's not what I paid for and that I wanted him to sail us (or use the pole, or whatever means necessary) to the other side of the river where I could flag down a bus to take me back to Aswan.  Once there, I was planning to get a full refund for my rather disappointing aborted felucca trip down the Nile.  At first, Jan was in complete agreement.  So our new "captain" started rigging the sail.  But instead of steering us toward the opposite shore, he headed on down river.  I explained again that I wanted to get off the boat right away and looked to Jan for support.  At that point, though, Jan pointed out that we were, in fact, sailing down the Nile, which is what he wanted.  So he was okay to continue as planned, even considering the fact that we wouldn't be going all the way to Luxor.  Having no other options, I reluctantly agreed.

After about thirty minutes of sailing, the crewman turned the felucca toward the shore, explaining that there were two other passengers, coming from Aswan by minivan, who would join us for the remainder of the trip.  I decided that was my opportunity to depart, so I gathered my things and got off when the crewman did and climbed up to the highway where the minivan was already waiting.  I asked if he would be returning to Aswan... he was.  I negotiated the fare, and we headed south once again.

When I arrived back in Aswan, I went straight to the tourist center and explained my situation.  They directed me to the Tourist Bureau and a short while later, I found myself sitting in the office of the director of the Aswan region.  After listening to my story, he phoned the guesthouse where I had booked my felucca trip and, within fifteen minutes, the two owners (brothers as it turned out) were there in the office handing me a full refund and offering sincere(?) apologies.  They asked more than once why I didn't come straight to them to discuss my problem instead of going to the Tourist Bureau, but I wasn't in any mood to explain my actions to them.

So, in the end, I got half a felucca trip down the Nile - and a full refund.  That made it all worth while.