Last week we left the city behind for a vacation on the west bank of the Nile in Luxor.
We took the overnight train from Alexandria and I remember waking up, the morning sun slanting in the window and painting the country scenes out the window in an orange light. In the patchwork of fields, men and women harvested crops by hand or plowed fields with a donkey. Every piece of fertile land was being used to grow, even the narrow strip of land between the train and the river.
Where we stayed on the west bank we were surrounded by fields and small villages. Aside from the odd car or scooter, the donkey was the main mode of transportation, both carrying people and pulling carts. In fact, aside from the occasional motor vehicle, the west bank looked like it could have been frozen in time for hundreds of years. Unlike the city, all women were veiled and all men wore a robe (I believe it’s called a Galabeya) and a head scarf.
As I strolled the streets, some women would dash away with their children in tow when they caught sight of me. Others were friendly and agreed to have photos taken. Once, a group of children crowded around chattering in Arabic and a smattering of English. Sometimes the men would look at me with vague suspicion, but a cheery “sabah el khreer” (good morning) from me would engender a friendly response, often with a face transformed, wreathed in smiles.
We got the most smiles during a slightly embarrassing donkey ride that Oscar loved and seemed to provide a lot of entertainment for the locals. We must have been a sight, a couple of slightly portly white folks on skinny donkeys, Rich with his feet almost touching the ground. Many villagers waved at us and we felt obliged to wave back from our modest steeds, like part of a funny tourist parade or a parody of the royal family.
We stayed for four nights at Nile Compound with our hosts were Elsa and Mahmoud. Elsa is German and taught Oscar how to say “guten Tag” and play Uno. Mahmoud is Egyptian and helped us sort out transportation to all of the sites and sorted trips to the bank machine and train station. Both made us feel very welcome and comfortable.
During our stay we would wake up to coffee on the patio and breakfasts of eggs, pancakes, fresh juice, fruit and yogurt. Between our excursions we would enjoy the serenity of the compound. I can recall with perfect clarity, floating on the pool in the sunshine, listening to Oscar’s giggles while Richard did etchings in his journal.
On the last day they took us on a felucca ride to Banana Island. A felucca is a wooden sail boat and Banana Island is an island with lots of bananas (more about that later). By the end of our stay, as they saw us off to the train station with a packed lunch, it felt like they were family.
For more information about Nile Compound visit their Facebook Page. I'm not being paid to promote them, honest. It is so easy to complain when something is wrong, but when you get great service it is important to be just as enthusiastic in your praise. These guys deserve it!