I first went to Egypt in July 2000. One of the highlights of that trip was four days’ sailing on a felucca, a small open sailboat, up the Nile from Aswan to Luxor, camping out on deck under that stars. The design of these highly-manoeuverable boats remains unchanged from pharaohnic times.
During that trip, one of our group, a 24-year-old American called Dan Kim drowned as we swam off the back of the boats, pulled under by strong currents mid-river. His body washed up three weeks later more than 15 miles downstream. It’s an incident known by every Explore (the tour company I often travel with) tour leader I have ever met.
Despite this tragedy I loved the trip; tuning in to the rhythm of the river, watching the skilled, gentle boatmen control the little white boat called Dolphin as they read the river, then sang to us at sunset. I loved the simple beauty of the rudders and made a sketch of the beautiful reflections they made in the water:
I loved the ‘whoomph’ as the breeze caught in the sail as we tacked, the power of the wind driving us forward. Magic. The boatmen were treated as criminals after the drowning (they weren’t, quite the contrary, Ali almost lost his life, too) and were banged up in cells by Aswan police accused of I don’t-know-what. But that’s a different story.
So I was surprised and delighted – and moved – to find myself once again aboard Dolphin for an afternoon of felucca-sailing last week:
…captained by the very same Captain.
I remembered him and he said he remembered me. As we sailed round the pretty granite islands of Aswan we exchanged glances, remembering that trip which left an indelible memory on so many.