PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Into Egypt, Day 10

After waking up at 3:30 a.m. to watch UConn win, the last full day on the cruise began with a visit to a place called the Unfinished Obelisk, and I have to admit, I wondered why anyone would want to see an unfinished work when there are so many finished obelisks around.

I was wrong in questioning it. It actually was one of my favorite stops. It was at a quarry that was being carved out for some temple (circa 1400 BCE), but it cracked and the worked was stopped. The reason it was so cool is that it gave us an idea of what was needed to do to carve these huge monuments. Workers would dig holes, put wood in them for six months and when it expanded and cracked the granite, they would dig a large pit and begin the carving process from beneath. The pictures won’t do it justice, nor does the name, but it gave me a tangible way of understanding the process of creating these incredible structures. Cindy found a documentary on it we plan to watch. Had it been erected, it would have been the largest obelisk of all — 42 meters high and 11,76 tons.

After that, we visited the Aswan Dam, which until a few years ago was the largest dam in the world and used to control flooding in the Nile River. We heard a bit of the history of its building, which actually led to Suez Crisis in the 1950s. The late Gamal Abdel Nasser, then president of Egypt, wanted to build it, but England and France got the international monetary fund to shut it down, so he nationalized the Suez Canal, leading to even more tense relationships between these countries. Nasser was eventually able to build the dam with the help of the Soviet Union.

Without going into an even longer discussion, one of the takeaways for me is how much water issues impact the world. Egypt was able to build this dam and control the water flow in Egypt, but ultimately lessened the water flow to the nations south of the dam. As a result, it magnified issues of drought in places like Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. The world is made of winners and losers when it comes to water issues, and the losers were definitely sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the people and wildlife impacted by the change in the flow of the river.

Our last temple was Philae Temple, which once stood on an island but became submerged after the construction of the high dam. So the Egyptians tore it down and reconstructed it stone by stone on the island that we visited it. It was a rescue operation carried out by UNESCO.

My favorite things about this temple was location, location, location. We had to take a boat to get there, and it was truly lovely. However, on the return trip, we got caught in a “boat jam” that created some friction between the boat pilots. The Egyptians are a lively people and argue freely and loudly. Our boat pilot was very aggressive, and we were kind of stunned at his willingness to ram his boat into things. Namely, other boats.

After a stop at a place that sold essential oils, where we also saw the process of blowing glass, we headed back for lunch. Each tour involves some stop at a retail place. The thing is, I trusted our guide, Hany, to take us to reputable places, which made it a bit easier.

Our return to our boat was on a felucca, which is an Egyptian sailboat. Since it was so hot and there was a wonderful breeze, it was a perfect activity. We each had a chance at the till, which I enjoyed. It brought me back to my sailing days. I just never imagined I’d sail down the Nile. The most amusing part was when the boatman uncovered a table of souvenirs and tried to sell them to us as a truly captive audience.

In the afternoon, the Norwegian family, with whom we’d grown very close, stayed back at the boat, while Ellen, Cindy and I headed down the Nile to  visit a Nubian village. Nubians are people of the southern part of Egypt and northern Sudan. Most of the villages were displaced because of the Aswan Dam, but the one that we took the boat to was in its original place.

The trip down the river was lovely, as we passed farms that included water Buffalo. Fans of “Veggie Tales” will appreciate that I sang “Everybody’s Got a Water Buffalo” to them. It was one of those bucket list items you never knew you had.

At one point, we joked as the boat slowed and the river narrowed and it felt like Disney’s “Jungle Cruise.” However instead of attacks, little children came out on kayaks to sing to us. Creative entrepreneurship.

The village buildings were colorful and reminiscent of haciendas, but it felt sort of like a low-rent Epcot, with a very touristy vibe. There were LOTS of people, including those who pay extra to stop before the collage and ride a camel through the desert to the oasis.

We were led into a home/cafe with a sand floor. We were brought mint tea and hibiscus juice, staples everywhere. We were also served a lovely bread and crepe-like item with dips. We were offered a chance to have a photo with a small crocodile with the mouth tied shut, but we passed. I love Egypt, but from an animal welfare standard, I’ve had my concerns.

We then wandered through the village, which I said felt like P-Town on Cape Cod but it populated by Muslims and was in northern Africa. Yes, that’s a wild comparison. After we got off the beaten track to see the real town, I had a scary moment, having to run to the side of the road to avoid being trampled by galloping camel riders. Roads on trips are always the riskiest.

Our return trip was equally refreshing. We had time when we got back for a drink on deck before dinner, after which we were entertained with a Nubian Folkloric Show with dancers, who encouraged us to dive in. The Norwegian family joined us in doing what felt like the bunny hop mashed up with follow the leader. Definitely an experience. After a bit more times with our new Norwegian friends who we adored, it was time for bed. A full day indeed!

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