A joyful Israeli couple travel alone in Egypt – Cruising the Nile river
If there is an inspiration to embark on a boat to cruise this powerful river, it is definitely Agatha Christie’s most daring travel mystery 1937 novel ‘Death on the Nile’. The tranquility of a cruise along the river is shattered by the discovery that a young, stylish and beautiful girl passenger, who had everything, has been shot through the head and lost her life. A fictional tragedy in an exotic setting it was. Ever since, this story was the greatest promotion beyond any dreams for the river cruise companies. Decades later, it has been the star attraction and filming location for scenes in modern film and TV adaptations. Most famously, Kenneth Branagh’s “Death on the Nile” 2004 motion picture. The Nile cruise entrepreneurs couldn’t ask for a better push.
I must admit that for years I was haunted by the idea of joining such a cruise. However, with an Israeli passport and the resentment to join any kind of group formation travel, it stayed a dream. Until a pleasant dinner in Aqaba Jordan last year with award winning hotel General Manager Sherif Darwish of the DoubleTree hotel changed it all. “You must do this Nile cruise Motti”, he urged me, elaborating all the merits from the first course till the dessert. Liat, the woman I love and I listened with great interest and I knew after that dinner that this cruise will take place soonest.
A year passed and it was a hot morning. About to leave Nubia and our memories herein southern Egypt , we found ourselves all alone with our luggage in the oldest taxi there is. The driver was a middle aged Egyptian riding the Corniche road of Aswan, looking for our dream river boat – The Movenpick Hamees. Dozens of boats were docked there along the Nile. All looked more or less the same from the taxi window. Ours couldn’t be found, until a local officer pointed at a boat with an unfamiliar name. “You are number 3”, he shouted. I must admit this sentence was an enigma to me, however fortunately Liat understood rather quickly. Apparently due to the shortage of docking space, river boats here are tight to each other. Entering the third boat was via the lobbies of two others. The first was the one tight to the concrete dock itself. Ours was the third.
The moment we entered the serene lobby and lounge of the Movenpick Hamees, with its comfortable contemporary design, we knew that we were in the right place and in good hands. We booked this particular boat mainly for being managed by an internationally recognized brand which guarantees both quality, security and peace of mind. The Hamees is among the largest and best-appointed 350 river cruise boats plying the Nile route between Aswan to Luxor. Check-in with our Israeli passports was smooth and we were quickly shown to a cabin in the upper section. Our superior cabin faced the Nile and provided a large panoramic window with a breathtaking view. Imagining that this will be our view for the next 3 days filled our hearts with pure happiness. The cabin contained a king comfortable bed, a private bathroom with a bathtub and it was fully air conditioned. Wide, specious and well maintained. We were quick to tour the entire boat, especially the recreational area on the wide sun deck. A small paddle pool, a bar and endless sofa and beds to relax looked promising.
The ever smiling pleasant Movenpick Hamees, General Manager Mina Hosny we met is very proud: ”Our boat capacity is 72 units for 142 guests and our 22 SQM cabins are considered among the widest on the river Nile”, he says. But his pride was no doubt the gastronomy. “We serve in the dining room an international buffet, oriental buffet, Italian buffet, seafood buffet and a Gala dinner and sometimes we even conduct a Barbeque evening on the sundeck”, he says. Food is a major perk here with a high class gastronomy. Indeed every lunch or dinner was different. The service by the courteous staff was impeccable. We felt like royals during the entire trip, but in the dining room it was a true palace restaurant.
Ordering a Nile river cruise can not be perfect without booking private tours, accompanied by a certified egyptologist. Ours was Tarek. We met him in the lounge before our first buffet lunch. For a moment we thought we would explore the highlights of the Nile during our 3 days and 3 nights in a bus with the 50 other passengers on board, mainly young American businessmen. We were surprised to understand that standards on the Movenpick Hamees are among the highest, even when tours are concerned. It was just us and a small family from India. Tarek the guide, Ambereen, her husband Tabrez and their daughter Adalia. We all became best friends within an hour. There were no Israelis on board and Hebrew was not heard during the entire trip. Most times during the cruise there was no wifi reception and our day to day reality of Israel suddenly looked so detached. The only exception was to hear 35 year old Tarek’s version of the history of the relations between Egypt and Israel, since the times of president Nasser. His knowledge of both wars and peace initiatives were surprising. Although, probably due to his young age, he missed some important occurrences, he knew the history quite well. Living in Sinai as a surfing instructor, Tarek was no doubt the most professional, courteous and knowledgeable tour guide I have ever met. Together we all plunged deep into the pharaonic period of Egypt. A magical time travel to be remembered.
In Aswan, before the boat departed, we discovered the breathtaking Philae Temple sacred to Isis, one of the last places of worship built in the classical Egyptian style. We didn’t miss a visit to the famous Aswan High Dam, built more than 50 years ago. It is Egypt’s monumental project with its ability mainly to better control flooding and provide water storage creating Lake Nasser.
At sunset we dressed up for a cocktail reception to meet the crew and the other guests. Movenpick Hamees Boss, Mina Hosny welcomed us and introduced his management team, announcing the boat will head north at 3 a.m and we all should be ready for our next excursion at 6 a.m. After a lavish dinner we headed for a night sleep in our pampering cabin. We didn’t feel the movement of the boat and our sleep was of royals. The scene of sunrise on the river from our cabin window, while the Hamees was sailing, was one we will ever cherish. Liat and I were completely tongue tied.
The boat docked at Kom Ombo, a double temple, dedicated to the falcon-headed god Horus and the crocodile-headed god Sobek. Even mummified crocodiles were found here and this unbelievable scene is presented in a small museum adjacent to the temple. After a short cruise we docked again in Edfu. A carriage and a horse were ready to take us to a striking temple, dedicated to the worship of Horus. 2300 years ago, Egyptians worshiped this falcon-headed god, the most commonly used symbol of the pharaonic period.
The rest of the day, since noon, was a magical rest on the upper sun deck. Pleasant Mohamed Hassan, our qualified Captain in-charge was navigating the boat to see breathtaking views of this magnificent mighty 6650 km long river. Farmers use pumps to irrigate their land with the Nile water. Children play football in villages and their ball is washed to the river and they jump to rescue it. The scene kept changing endlessly and we were totally hypothesized by what we saw. As we cruised down stream we approached the Esna Lock, a device for lowering boats between stretches of water of different levels on the Nile. An essential point, particularly during times of flooding. All the guests gathered on the upper deck to witness this wonder.
As sunset approached there was a constant buzz aboard the Hamees. A Barbecue dinner was organized on the upper deck and guests were called to dress up in an oriental outfits for the occasion. That was the golden hour for both the clothing and jewelry shops, operated aboard the boat. Especially when American guests are among the guests. We joined the festivities with our own original version. The food and the evening were certainly an adventure to remember. By midnight the boat docked in the cruise highlight – Luxor, where the pharaohs were at the height of their power.
Long ago people advised me that Luxor is extraordinary, but our upcoming intense day was certainly magical. We visited the Valley of the Kings, famous for its royal tombs with beautifully painted pits. 3500 years ago pharaohs were buried here. The celebrated temple of Hatshepsut, the queen who became a pharaoh, is located in Deir al-Bahari, and is composed of three terraces under sheer cliff face. This structure is truly a sight to behold. Built to serve as the burial grounds for the royal queens, the Valley of the Queens and children is insightful. Queen Nefertari’s tomb here is the best-preserved tomb in Egypt.
After a quick lunch break on board we headed to the Great Temple of Amon at Karnak. This one has no equal. It is not a single shrine, but temple within temple, shrine within shrine, where almost all the pharaohs wished to record their names and deeds for posterity. The Luxor Temple is one of Egypt’s most famous and well-preserved shrines, a remarkable example of the grandeur and sophistication of ancient Egypt.
At sunset we found ourselves back aboard our pampering boat for the last night, while the Hamees is docking in Luxor. General Manager Hosny organized for the guests a final festivity after dinner – belly dancing. Most guests were exhausted by the long wonderful day, but we didn’t miss the moment and joined the Egyptian lady with never ending dancing.
The following morning was a goodby to the people we met and the hospitable crew that made us feel at home, regardless of our nationality. Everybody stayed safe. No murder occurred on the Nile. Our boat was no longer number 3. It was number 1, docking by the main pear. Within an hour the crew will be ready to check-in new guests for a cruise from Luxor to Aswan. A routine that the boat team is so well accustomed to. We were left with the memories of a magical cruise inspired by Agatha Christie’s novel, ready for our upcoming next adventure – Cairo and the pyramids.