By Wale Okediran
WE were still having lunch in her cavernous and lovely restaurant when the 150 passenger cruise ship, RADAMIS 11 set sail from the Egyptian port of Aswan that warm Friday afternoon.
As the 5 deck, 65 cabin ship nosed her way from the bank of the River Nile towards the river’s wide belly to commence the 220-kilometer journey to the city of Luxor, we passed other ships that were still in the dock.
The ships were many…ALEXANDER THE GREAT, SONESTA STAR GODDESS, MOVENPICK ROYAL LILY, NILE GODDESS among others.
Like RADAMIS 11 they were all laden with tourists from all corners of the globe who had come to savour the beauty of Egypt and the allure of River Nile, arguably the longest river in the world.
After my encounter with River Kinshasa, the world’s deepest river during my recent trip to Congo, it was a pure delight to be sailing on River Nile which at 6,650 km (4,130 miles) is the longest river in the world even though some authorities have recently suggested that the Amazon River is slightly longer.
The river’s drainage basin covers eleven countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of Sudan, and Egypt.
It is the primary water source for Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan. Additionally, the Nile is an important economic river, supporting agriculture and fishing in Egypt.
It is because of her high dependence on the river that Egypt is vehemently against Ethiopia’s recent decision to erect a dam on the river fearing that the dam will negatively impact the country’s water supplies.
Earlier that day, my wife and I had arrived Aswan by air from Cairo after a 6- hour flight from my Accra, Ghana, base on vacation. After a few hours of sightseeing in Aswan, we had boarded the RADAMIS 11 where the very friendly staff had checked us into Cabin 304 located on Deck C. The cabin which was the size of a double room Hotel has all the facilities expected of such a facility.
In addition, the panoramic wall-to- wall window in the room gives a beautiful view of the River Nile as the ship glides down the river.
The ship’s 65 cabins are distributed among decks A, B, C and D while the last deck, E is the open roof sun deck with a medium sized Swimming Pool.
Other facilities in the ship such as the Reception, Lounge Bar, Disco, Restaurant, Jewelry Shop, Gymnasium and Massage Bazaar as well as the Ice Cream Corner are evenly spread among the four decks.
The restaurant is on the same deck as my cabin thus making my three times a day trip for breakfast, lunch and dinner a short walk. In retrospect, this arrangement in addition to the delicious buffet meals must have added to my significant weight gain in just five days!!
As the ship finally commenced its journey, I dug into my delicious lunch of fried rice, grilled chicken and salad and took another look at the itinerary for the 5-day, 4- night ship cruise.
From Aswan, the ship would sail to the towns of Kom Ombo, Edfu, Esna to finally reach the city of Luxor on day 5.
During the trip, passengers would be allowed to disembark for a few hours at each town to visit the ancient Egyptian tombs and temples between Luxor and Aswan, discover the Karnak temples, Valley of the Kings, Abu Simbel temples and other places of tourist attraction. In addition, a number of activities had been arranged for the passengers’ enjoyment on the ship.
These activities included ‘Tea Time’ and ‘Special Dinner’ on the sun deck as well as a colorful ‘Galabeya party’ which gives guests opportunity to dress up in traditional Egyptian clothing and dance to Arabic music. There was also a performance by an Egyptian belly dancer. All the activities were listed in daily bulletins that were slipped under the door of our cabin every morning. All these were in addition to the generous and delicious buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, all passengers were expected to be in facemasks except when in the restaurant where tables and chairs have been arranged to maintain physical distancing.
In addition, provisions had been made for hand sanitizers while the staff of the ship ensured that all railings and public surfaces were periodically cleaned with sanitizers.
Lunch over, I climbed to the sun deck where I met some passengers who like me, had also moved there to have a better view of the River Nile.
The ship had by then picked up speed as we passed some barges and fishermen in canoes who could be seen throwing their nets into the water at the edge of the great river. Also at the edge of the river were lush farm lands laden with mangoes and bananas as well as forests and swamps with palm and date trees.
In the distance were estuaries of smaller rivers as they joined the River Nile. The estuaries, according to one of the sailors, were full of Nile crocodiles which are known to be very ferocious.It was now getting hot on the sun deck with the midday sun directly above our heads.
The hitherto cool riverside breeze had now changed to a hot stifling wind. Overhead, a column of white cranes flew as if piloting our ship while in the distance, an approaching speed boat at the sight of our ship made a detour towards the edge of the river. We soon passed flotillas of boats and a smaller ship from where some tourists gaily waved to us.
This beautiful spectacle was followed by a cluster of forested Islands while on our right side, a highway ran parallel to the river. It led to some villages where horse drawn carts mingled with donkeys, dogs and camels.
The highway also led to a big town with large buildings and streets where excited children waved to us while a ferry was seen offloading a number of vehicles and passengers at the town’s river bank. It was obvious that we were nearing our next destination as many more villages appeared along the serpentine river coastline.
The RADAMIS II arrived at Kom Ombo the following morning where we met many other tourist-laden ships and boats.
Since the next official engagement for passengers on the ship was after lunch, my wife and I decided to go on sight-seeing of some settlements adjoining the river.
We therefore disembarked the ship after we had been issued identification passes. For 150 Egyptian pounds (10 USD) we hired a boat for a one-hour trip which took us to Nubia Village (Nubia people were said to have preceded Egyptians by 2000 years), Aswan Botanical Garden, the Elephantine Island as well as Old Cataract Hotel said to have been built by King Farouk in 1899.
We were back to the dock in time to see some other cruise ships and boats discharging lots of tourists all headed towards the historic Kom-Ombo Temple which was constructed during the Ptolemaic period.
Led by our Tour Guide, we also joined the other tourists for the excursion after being reminded to be back on board within two hours if we did not want to be left behind.
Two hours later with every passenger back on board, the gangway was removed and the RADAMIS 11 blew its horn, cranked its big engine to life and glided back to the river to continue her voyage.
I was informed that the ship’s speed of 20 kilometers per hour was to allow passengers on the ‘Floating Hotel’ have a relaxing trip devoid of any turmoil or sea sickness as sometimes happens on faster sea boats and ships.
I recall my experience a few years back on the LADY OF ZANZIBAR, a fast boat that regularly plied the Tanzanian port of Dar es Salaam and the island of Zanzibar. On that occasion, about half of the 550 passengers on board the boat which was travelling at 56 kilometers per hour developed sick sickness with vomiting and retching due to the boat’s speed on the storm tossed Indian Ocean.
As the RADAMIS 11 continued its voyage, the days alternated between blissful hours when there was nothing to do but eat, read and sleep while other days were active with both on and off board activities.
The calming river breeze, the beautiful riverside sights and scenes as well as the awesome food all contributed to an enjoyable trip. The only challenge was the intense day time out door heat with temperatures rising as high as 93 degree Fahrenheit.
I later discovered that some passengers usually delayed their off board activities till late at night in order to avoid the daytime heat. We sailed through the night to reach the town of Edfu just before dawn.
As dawn broke, I made my way as usual to the sun deck just on time to witness a gorgeous early morning sun as it gaily danced on the belly of the great river. So enchanting was the scenery that I made sure to capture what I considered to be one of my best pictures in years.
We disembarked before breakfast and our tour guide accompanied us on a Horse-Drawn Carriage ride to visit the Edfu Temple, regarded as one of the best-preserved ancient monuments in Egypt. The walls of the temples have many beautiful reliefs depicting many stories from the ancient Egyptian mythology.
I was awakened from siesta one day by a sudden scrapping sound by the side of the ship. As always, I ran up to the sun deck to have a better view of what was happening. I was informed that we had just passed Aswan city on our way to Esna city.
However, in order to enter Esna, the ship had to pass through a Lock on the River Nile. I remembered very well from my O Level Geography lesson that a Lock is a place where boats or ships can travel up or down a river or canal after being moved to the next higher or lower level.
Locks are built in places where the level of the water in the river or canal suddenly changes. This may be because of a waterfall, the presence of a dam, or because some other thing was in the way. The lock is like a big chamber with gates at each end. They have lock gears which empty or fill the chamber with water. Locks help a river to be more easily navigable (easier for boats to travel up and down), or for canals to be built across country that is not level. Even though I had seen text book pictures of Locks, I had never seen a lock in operation until that day.
It was therefore a delight for me to watch as our 5 deck ship entered a concrete chamber of water on the River Nile and how the chamber was closed around our ship and the water gradually let out for our ship to slowly descend to the level of the river ahead.
The process which took about 20 minutes, invariably took the mighty RAMADIS 11 from a higher river level to a lower level in order for the ship to proceed on her journey.
The Esna Lock which is said to be 17 meters wide, 221 meters long and 14.6 meters depth was to assist ships to navigate the 8-meter difference in the section of the River Nile.
Meanwhile, while the lock was in operation, another interesting activity was playing out beside the ship at the same time. Some local traders were trading from their boats on the river with passengers who were on 4 decks above them. To achieve the feat, the young traders had tied their boats to the side of the ship with some ropes. After displaying their wares, the traders would throw their goods which were clothes and scarves to the passengers on the sun deck while the passengers in return will throw money down to them in their canoes. Unfortunately, due to the height of the ship to the river, many of the goods thrown ended back in the river having not reached their destination.
We arrived at Esna as the hitherto golden sun slipped below the fluffy late afternoon clouds to cast a beautiful orange glow on the river. From minarets in some of the town’s mosques came the ringing calls for the afternoon prayers. Instead of stopping, RADAMIS 11 continued sailing as the afternoon tea was served on the sun deck. It was late when we finally arrived in Luxor where the ship berthed for the night.
According to our itinerary, the stop in the city of Luxor would be our last night on the cruise ship. Tomorrow, after breakfast, we would check out from the ship to embark on a tour of the ‘majestic’ city of Luxor which was once the capital of the ancient Thebes.
In Luxor we would be visiting two of the most spectacular temples in Egypt, the Luxor and Karnak temples said to be separated in antiquity by the three kilometers long Avenue of The Sphinxes. The tour would then officially come to an end with visits to the Valley of The Kings, the Hatsheptut Temple (dedicated to the only woman to rule Egypt for an extended period of time) and the Colossi Of Memnon (two giant statues in homage to Pharaoh Amenhotep 111)
After a dinner of mashed potatoes, baked salmon and fruit salad, I went to the sun deck for a final nocturnal view of the great River. Standing there alone at that height with the rarefied air all around me, the whispers of the river evoked a myriad of creative images in my mind.
Suddenly, my solitude was interrupted as another ship equally full with tourists appeared almost astern the RAMADIS 11. On its sun deck, a party was going on as passengers could be seen dancing to a lovely music whose melody wafted in the cool evening air to cascade down the calm surface of the river.
* Okediran, the author of many novels including ‘Tenant of the House’, is the Secretary-General of Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA) based in Accra, Ghana.