The Ship that Didn’t Move.

It seemed rather a nice idea, at first. Then we had word it was “delayed” somehow. The next day we drove about 90 minutes upriver to meet the ship on the “other” side of a major lock on the Nile River. It was an alright looking ship, but certainly not FIVE STAR as we consider it. I suspect that the upper deck cabins are reserved for self booking (read: much higher paying) tourists. Of the four floors, ours was the bottom one whose cabin’s window were around 20cm above the river water line from the outside. Bummer… I suspect that the tour agencies provide “filler” bodies to the cruise lines for the ships at a much lower cost than the walk-ons. Our entire six day South Egypt adventure, (including van rides, guides, accommodation and four days of ship meals) worked out to be only $55/day/person. When we looked into booking ourselves on a ship, the charge for just that (not including the guide to accompany us) was $125 to $175 per person per day! Huge difference…

That first night on the ship we still didn’t move. The ship’s crew gave the guides all kinds of excuses and reasoning. First they had a “slight” engine problem, then we had to wait our turn among the twenty odd ships waiting to head upriver. The next day when we were the only ones docked the reasoning down the pipeline came to us as “waiting for the government authorization that it was our turn to leave”. This was the first semi-truth told I think. Late that second day the five independent tour guides began collaborating and looking for the Captain, (called the ship’s Manager). He had been missing for a few hours and the the pressured crew eventually admitted that the ship couldn’t leave and the captain had ran away, heading North to escape the embarrassment. The five Egyptian tour guides made a quick trip to the local police station, and ‘poof!’ a few hours later there was the crying Ship’s Manager at the police station. The authorities had set up road blocks, tracked him down, and driven him back to face the music.

The only wonderful part of that was meeting and befriending the only other English speaking passengers on the ship. We actually rode in the van with them from Luxor to Edfu to join our stranded ship. Little did e know that the six of us would be the only English speaker’s on a boat full of Romanians, Bulgarians and Russians. They were a wonderful couple from a rural area near Sydney, and we all got along famously. Even after we both departed to seperate ships for the remainder of our Nile cruise, we managed to meet up again for a lovely afternoon of relaxing in Aswan. Now Alex and I have two fantastic family friend’s to visit in Brisbane and near Sydney when we return to Australia in a few years.

Ron and Jenine also had their own personal guide traveling with them (like we were supposed to). He was also a recent university graduate with an Egyptian Tourism degree and he was young, quite knowledgeable and very friendly. He actually helped us quite a bit since our guide was stuck waiting for us at the next monument up the river a little ways. As young and advanced in thinking as he was though, he still had some HUGE problems wrapping his head around the freedoms his fiance’ was pushing for in her own life. They had been scrapping for a few days by telephone while he was away.

I should interrupt here with a quick story of one of our previous guides in Cairo, for the museum. She was nice and relatively knowledgeable and had been a guide for a few years. She grew up further South but lived in Cairo with her sister and older brother. She was about late twenties and was expressedly forbidden from taking any guiding jobs that would leave Cairo, or where she would have to spend a night away. Her brother strongly enforced these draconian wishes of her father to guard against any indiscretions she might partake in I suppose. The traveling guides are all given rooms to themselves, or occasionally bunked with another guide of the same sex. When she told us this Claudette had to pinch me (and HARD!) in order to keep me from vehemently protesting such horrible and unnessesary controlling measures.

Now back to Ron & Jenine’s guide. His fiance was also a guide and was permitted to go with tour groups that travel. He was disturbed by the tight clothes that she wore along with the make-up that adorned her face. These were large parts of what initially attracted him to her, but now he desperately needed her to change to help control his jealous fears. This was a pretty good kid all in all, up to this point. He was having an incredibly difficult time dealing with the fact that she resisted his control. Now that they were engaged, it was only a tiny step away from marriage where his every word and manly whim would rule the day and her life. He came out with these little gems one afternoon while he was sitting with Ron, Jenine, Claudette and I. Three of us were instantly incensed by such callous old style disregard for the rights of another human being. Claudette saw the horrified angry expression on my face and almost ran from the room as the other three of us began a possibly feeble attempt at educating this fine young Muslim man about the ways of the modern world. He agreed that women were in fact their own persons. Then he easily acknowledged that of course women shouldn’t be “controlled” by their husbands or fathers, or men in their lives in general. When the discussion came around to her respecting and conforming to his wishes though, all the previous logic was blown away like crumbling foundation dust in the winds of thousands of years of indoctrination. After running a circular conversation for awhile he admitted that maybe his thinking might be a little incorrect. I offered to type out a semi-conciliatory message on his phone that he could alter and send to her. It basically (and pointedly) described his inner turmoil and how he cared for her and didn’t like fighting. It went on to semi acknowledge his realization of being unreasonable and suggested that he would work on overcoming these controlling feelings. Ron and Jenine proofread and then we made him understand that he would have to read it several times over and truly believe EVERY word written before he could send it. In the end he reluctantly agreed with the conclusions written and said it to her, knowing that he was embarking on a pretty difficult path. I’m sure his Muslim “brothers” will be very disturbed by his acceptance of a woman as a genuine person, but he seemed to recognize the inevitability of such a concept.

Sadly though, this was the same guy whom the day before had come up with a few other way out there political statements. During what seemed to be a very intelligent and reasonable conversation with the five of us a waiter came and brought Ron a coke. Ron offered one to their guide, which was rapidly declined. He went on to say that he couldn’t possibly support the American while the oppression of his brother’s continued on. We were all stunned and silently tried to digest this until one of us asked for further clarification. He said that Coke was an American company. He then suggested that it is a well known fact that Israel is practically just the 53rd state of the United States, (we all pretty much agreed to this point). Now since Israel is doing all sorts of bad things to his Muslim Brother’s in Palestine (very true as well) this made Israel pretty much his enemy. This doesn’t even consider the military attacks by Israel on Egypt a few decades ago. While we were all astonished at such extreme thoughts by a (mostly) otherwise seemingly reasonable man, we also had to explain how corporate America (and Canada) works. Even though the US contributes finacially to Isreal on a massive scale, (we left out the hundreds of millions they give to Egypt as well) NONE of that money actually comes from the Coca-Cola company. We went on to further explain that private companies in North America want nothing more than to keep every red cent they make all for themselves and their investors. Corporations would hardly pour money down the drain to another country’s government in the hopes of promoting their own ideals in that region. The next day he ordered a coke, but we didn’t rib him too much.

Once we left our broken ship, we took a van from Edfu to Aswan stopping at three temples and the Aswan dam on the way. We then took a very early morning three hour (only one way!) trip to Abu Simble. It was fairly impressive, but we are all split on whether it was worth the six hour return craped van ride for about 55 minutes of incredibly crowded viewing. We had to travel in a security convoy with about 45 large tour buses and around 30 fifteen seater vans. That makes for a whole huge whack of tourists that arrive there at the same time and that only have the 105 minute window to see everything. Trying to funnel everyone through the small entrance all at one time and then further huge lines to get inside one of the two temples was exasperating to say the least. Most of the Europeans we were alongside with had no concept of “personal space” and had clearly missed out on all the lessons of common decency in grade school that we clearly take for granted. The extreme lack of common decency among fellow tourists has been a common theme throughout our trip so far. The large crowds in Egypt have certainly amplified this huge problem though. (I plan to write and hypothesize on this much more in a future post.)

After one night at the Isis hotel in Aswan and our whirlwind tour to Abu Simbo, we were taken to our new ship in the early afternoon. It was actually on a week long cruise from Luxor to Aswan and back for one week. We just jumped on into a couple of spare cabins in Aswan for the last three days. Not only was this boat a fair bit nicer, it had much better food as well, (not to mention how pleasing to us it was that this new ship actually MOVED! ). The food on the previous one was OK, (when you weren’t getting elbowed or budded in front of by the Eastern Block tourists) but this ship cooking staff made wonderful concoctions from scratch that are to almost be expected froma cruise. The only disappointment on any food in general that I’d have so far in Egypt is with the soups. It seems irrelevant if we are at a dumpy restaurant or ship; or in a super deluxe trendy cafe or five star cruise ship; all of the soups we’ve had here so far are entirely bland and boring. This is surprising really in a country where so many other delightfully spicy and flavored dishes are well noted.

We have just arrived back to Luxor and will spend one more night on the ship before taking the night train back to Cairo tomorrow (Saturday, March 15) evening. This means that Claudette will wake up as a forty-one year old on a train in a couple days… After spending another night in Cairo we plan on heading a little ways North to Bahiwi (sp?) Oasis to meet up with the McBride family again. Once there, we’ll take it slow and relaxing and work our way to Siani (Eastern Egypt) within about 10 days. There the McBride family will meet up with some visiting relatives and we will head further East into Jordan for a week or so before heading to Rome.

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