In which Emily Payne concludes her insightful journey down the Nile
With all due respect to the Ancient Egyptians, there is more to see in the Nile Valley than some very ornamental rubble.
In a Nubian village, a short boat ride from where we’re moored, inhabitants believe that keeping young crocodiles in their homes will protect them from evil (as will sticking dead birds, fish and croc heads above their front doors).
So when Mohammed, the gentleman of the house asked if anyone wanted to hold one, I accepted the challenge, imagining all kinds of limbs being lost. The feisty young croc, or croquette, felt remarkably squidgy and if it hadn’t have been for a well positioned elastic band, I’m sure one of my digits could have been its lunch.
The Nubians descend from the people of the Kush Kingdom of Ethiopia. When Queen Hatshepsut started trading with Africa, a group of traders settled on the border of Egypt and Sudan. As their numbers increased, they began mining for the gold that was plenteous in the area. Nubia means Land of Gold. They are darker people with brighter houses and more camels.
To get to the village, we took a boat down the most picturesque stretch of Nile I’ve seen yet, and where Agatha Christie’s novel Death on the Nile was turned into a film. There are nature reserves, protected islets and enough birdlife to make a frantic twitcher out of anyone.
Herons pose on rocks, ibises fly bent-necked by, terns, osprey and kingfishers buzz around freely and night herons lurk in the bulrushes.
Mango trees line the mountain, alfalfa grass, dates, bananas and sweetcorn plants grow – this natural (excuse the cliché) haven – is so plush that Diia, our guide, says he drinks and swims in the water here.
He tells me: “We say once you drink from the Nile, you always come back to it. But we tell tourists: Once you drink from the Nile, you never leave Egypt.” I opt out of dysentery this time.
Riding in a felucca is quite the tonic from the noise from the city. It’s so peaceful and quiet without a motor, and easier to imagine the journies that centuries of Egyptians would have made down the Nile.
Yesterday we stopped for High Tea at the Movenpick hotel, a bright yellow tower that has 360 degree views over the city, its mosques, the sprawl of this five star hotel (which has the best cake selection this side of the Dorchester) and over to the Sahara desert.
After the sun vanished and the lights of Aswan had come up, we rode back on the roof of a motor boat with the wind in our hair. I probably felt exactly like Jasmine when she first rode on Aladdin’s magic carpet.
Another night, another array of poor dancing juxtaposed with local entertainers showing us how it’s done. The Nubian show involved a troupe of Nubian dancers and musicians teasing the more plucky members of the group and pulling the more reserved ones reluctantly out of their seats to get involved with a conga line or two. It’s one of those things – a bit like eating beans on toast – that if you haven’t done it for a while, feels really good.
Shipwise, all is still well. Towel art has now included a huge swan, which terrified me as I caught its eye on entering my room. The food continues to be marvellous, and more so enjoyed on the top deck, which I did last night with the Canadians. They love teasing me about my accent, while I inwardly laugh about the way they pronounce the word “about”.