Monday, July 28, 2008

Felucca Ride

Last night, Jeff and I went on our first ever felucca ride with some of Jeff's coworkers. Jeff's boss organized the outing and provided hors d'ouevres and drinks for the ride. Many thanks!

Getting to the felucca was a little bit of an adventure for me. Everyone was leaving straight from the embassy, after work, so I had to get to the embassy on my own. I could have taken the family shuttle in, but the latest one they had would have had me waiting for over an hour, so I decided to take a cab in--my first cab ride alone. So I walked out of the apartment building and toward a street where I usually can find a cab. I saw one approaching and raised my hand to flag him down. In Egypt, it's a good idea to tell the driver where you're going before you get in, so I asked, through the window, for the American embassy. He said "no, no," either because he didn't know where it was or because he didn't want to go there. I next asked for the Semiramis, a very well-known hotel near the embassy, or for Midan Tahrir, an even better-known traffic circle a couple of blocks from the embassy. He wasn't having any of that, so I let him go and waved down another cab. This time, I just asked for the Semiramis, assuming that the problem before was the embassy. This driver agreed, so I hopped in the back--women who ride in the front next to the driver are likely to receive some unwanted touching--and off we went. The driver kept looking at me in the rearview mirror, but that's not all that unusual for any Western women, particularly those with hair colors other than brown, so I ignored it. He dropped me off at the Semiramis, and I promptly crossed the street--luckily not too busy--and walked about two blocks to the South Entrance to the embassy compound. I waited on a bench in the courtyard for about 20 minutes, studying my Egyptian colloquial Arabic vocabulary while I waited. Then Jeff and his coworkers showed up. A couple of people drove/rode to the dock with the coolers, but the rest of us walked. It wasn't far, just a few blocks, but we had to cross the Corniche!! Those of you who are familiar with Washington, DC, think about crossing Pennsylvania Avenue without crosswalks, traffic lights, or drivers who are inclined to brake for you. During heavy, fast-moving traffic, not the slow bumper-to-bumper times. God is good; if He wasn't, there is no way we would have made it across in one piece.

So we ended up on the correct side of the Corniche, where the van pulled up and offloaded passengers and coolers. Meanwhile, one of our number was negotiating prices for the felucca rental. There were two docks side-by-side; both were willing to rent us the felucca for LE50 (approximately $10) an hour, but one of them had feluccas that were in noticeably better shape. So of course we went with that one. We rented the felucca for two hours, long enough to catch the sunset but not quite long enough for it to get really dark.

Now for those of you who, like me until recently, don't know exactly what a felucca is: The felucca is a small boat with a retractable canvas roof. The roof was on when we pulled out of the dock, but the captain immediately withdrew it. It sacrificed some shade, but the shade wasn't really necessary that late in the day, and it opened up the view. Both sides and the back of the felucca are lined with padded benches, and there's a table provided. The passengers usually bring their own food and beverages--alcohol is allowed--and the captain just cruises the boat along the Nile while you enjoy conversation, dinner, music, whatever you bring with you. The picture on the right shows the felucca we rented. You can also see Jeff carrying one of the coolers on board.

One of the interesting things about the ride was the captain. He didn't say anything at all unless he was asked a direct question. There were some tasks that he had to perform at the front of the boat (releasing the sail and such), but he spent most of his time at the back of the boat, steering. The interesting part was that he did not walk through the boat itself to move from the front to the back. He instead walked along the outside of the boat, where he could pass without interfering with us at all. He was very surefooted!

Felucca rides are popular for many reasons. For one thing, the breeze on the Nile makes the temperature much more comfortable. It wasn't oppressively hot yesterday, but it definitely felt better to be on the water, with the breeze, than on land. Another reason for the popularity of felucca rides is the view. Parts of Cairo are pretty; other parts are not so pretty, but as with any city, seeing it from the water is something special. There's an album on Picasa if you want to see pictures of the shore.

One thing to keep in mind when riding a felucca, though, is that the Nile, although beautiful, is not safe. There are crocodiles along its banks; I'm not sure how common they are in the busy areas of Cairo, but they certainly live in the rural areas. Also, the Nile is heavily polluted. People, particularly Westerners, are advised not to swim in it, drink any of it, or really even to touch the water, just to be on the safe side. Kind of makes you wonder what this guy was thinking! (Hmm, he's a little small in that picture, but he's windsurfing.)

There really isn't a lot to say about the ride. It was very nice, cool and comfortable. The food was good--a couple of meats, some cheeses, crackers, chips and dip, pastries for dessert. The drinks were nice -- various beers, a couple of wines, a couple of mixed drinks, soft drinks, and the essential bottled water. The conversation was entertaining. The setting was perfect. All in all, a good time.

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