By Victor Block
(50PlusWire) As I sat on the sun deck outside my river boat cabin on our Nile cruise, overlooking the surrounding scene, many of the most fabled attractions of Egypt came into view. I saw the towering Pyramids of Giza, guarded by the world-famous Sphinx whose face, believed to portray that of a former pharaoh, sits on the body of a lion.
I spotted and marveled at some of the more than 100 pyramids dotted about the country. While they are the focus of much-deserved attention, I soon realized that equally impressive monumental temples, dedicated to the worship of gods and commemoration of pharaohs, compete with them in size, beauty, and wonder.
The temple complex at Karnak, on which construction began in the 19th century BC, encompasses shrines and monuments built for a series of rulers. Walls are covered by hieroglyphics that are as deeply etched and detailed as when they were carved. The colors of wall paintings are as bright as when artists applied them thousands of years ago.
The temple at Luxor was a center for some of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs. They included Ramses II, whose reign lasted 67 years, and Tutankhamen (“the boy king”), who died nine years after taking the throne.
These were among countless treasures that became assessable as the sleek ship, in which my wife Fyllis and I were sailing and staying, was making its way along the Nile River. We were passengers aboard the Nefertiti, a boat designed for the Overseas Adventure Travel tour company to ply the waters of one of the most famous waterways in the world.
Our accommodations rivaled those of a first-class hotel. The stateroom was sizeable and comfortable. The congenial cabin attendant left imaginative towel sculptures on our beds each night, ranging from his depiction of a sturdy elephant to a graceful swan. On-board meals were as diversified and delicious as any we ate in restaurants throughout the rest of Egypt.
We soon learned one of the most appealing attractions of the Nile cruise is the river passing close to a number of the must-see archaeological gems that have been attracting sightseers since ancient Greeks and Romans came to Egypt to admire its structural riches.
In addition, while land-based day trips during our week-long voyage took us to some of the most prized places, our time spent on the boat itself provided introductions to equally fascinating aspects of the people, life, and culture of Egypt.
Whether peering through the oversized glass door that led outside our comfortable cabin, or seated on our private deck, we were able to observe people going about their daily lives. We passed by tiny towns of modest mud brick and concrete houses, where women were grinding seeds into flour between stones as their ancestors did.
We saw farmers working in fields using tools that might have been passed down for generations. We watched fishermen in tiny rowboats pulling in their catch, and helmsmen steering felucca, the traditional wooden sailboats used to ferry both goods and people.
Men sitting in the sun sipping tea and smoking a sisha (hookah) pipe watched us as we peered at them, while children playing at the river’s edge jumped with joy and called out greetings, which we returned. After washing clothes in the river water, a woman gathered them into a metal pan, balanced it on her head, and headed for home.
We also came to understand the importance of the Nile in the history, growth, and everyday life of the people who live along and around it. Without the river, there would be no fertile land in Egypt, food would be scarce for its people, and homes would go without electricity.
Given the scarce rainfall throughout the country, the Nile nourishes a narrow ribbon of verdant growth along its banks, which quickly gives way to barren desert. It’s little wonder that over 90 percent of the country’s population lives along that waterway, on just 3 percent of its territory.
Seeing the dramatic disparity between the ribbon of green and the otherwise arid wasteland through which it winds, and observing villagers whose lifestyles have changed little over centuries, is reason enough to visit Egypt. Throw in its rich history and magnificent monuments to that past, and it’s clear why the country ranks high on many a “must visit” bucket list.
Fyllis and I have visited several of our bucket-list destinations with Overseas Adventure Travel, a company offering “Small group adventures on the road less traveled” to 80 countries around the world. OAT lives up to its “Learning and Discovery” motto in a variety of ways, adding both education and entertainment to the experience. In Egypt, these ranged from ad hoc conversations with locals our guide encountered along the streets to discussions of controversial topics to shipboard entertainment based upon ancient traditions.
For information about Overseas Adventure Travel call (800) 221-0814 or log onto oattravel.com. For information about Egypt log onto egypt.travel. MSN