Arranging a Felucca Cruise on the Nile in Aswan, Egypt by yourself is not easy. This is a story of getting taken for a ride, but not down the Nile. Here’s how NOT to arrange a Felucca Cruise on the Nile in Egypt.
To Buy the Cruise as a Part of a Tour or Not?
During my trip to Egypt, my travel friends Liz and Ean and I talked about travels and the traveling ethos: the balance of planning and serendipity, the excited and its brother stress of leaving things up to chance and the last minute. They had their adventure planned for Egypt, by a tour agent in Cairo, and a first for them both in their travels. I could tell that the organized trip versus the doing it themselves weighed on them. Some adventures in travel happen with the flexibility and limited itinerary, of organizing the trip on one’s own. The tour was easy, they admitted, but they did crave a little drama.
I had turned down an offer from the same guide for a five-day tour from Aswan to Luxor via the Nile. The package was great and easy and very decently priced, but it didn’t feel right. Before the trip in Cairo, I lay in bed and turned the choices over in my mind: to take it or not to talk it. I paused in the darkness and thought, what would it be like to do it on my own? Could I do it by myself? Yes, I decided. Even when the travel agent lowered the price and got frustrated with me and said, “Don’t think about it, just do it,” I still felt confident in my decision to do it on my own.
Visit the Tourist Office to Find Reputable Companies- Check
My confidence was in tact when I booked my own hotel and arranged my own tour to Abu Simbel, home of the great monuments to Ramses and Neferteri. The afternoon I returned from the tour, hot, sweaty and tired, I went out to arrange my next adventure: a felucca trip on the Nile with transport to Luxor. The Lonely Planet is sparse on details of how to arrange a trip and my hotel would not recommend a captain because the one they had worked with now worked with another hotel. I had no contacts, so I visited the tourist office.
A nice man, Shasley, gave me the scoop on the prices I should pay, what the trip would include, but was vague on who to talk to. The touts will come to you, he remarked, just ask to see the captain. This meant I would actually have to follow the men who approached me on the Corniche El Nil and bargain for a trip, no easy travel agent in the middle, no hotel to do my brokering. I did have a backup number from Liz and Ean just in case.
Haggle with the Touts
I set off to the area where I had been accosted by touts before, right outside the McDonalds. I negotiated a price with the first one, but he could not meet my needs. Further on down the street, I found Abdullah who introduced me to Mahmoud, the captain of the Felucca. We negotiated a price, one that was in the realm of what Shasley had provided and much less than his original starting price of 250 LE a night. I gave him 150 Egyptian Pounds with 25 more to come when I met the boat the next day. He gave me the tour I wanted and the agreement to meet by the boats near McDonalds the next day at 11:30. He would not give me a receipt or a program. I saw nothing behind this man’s eyes that I should trust him, my risk was about 30 dollars, so I was comfortable with it, Ishnallah.
Arriving at the Dock – No Captain, No Felucca
The next morning, I packed up my backpacks and took a cab to the McDonalds. A little early I made a run to the post office and then came down the stairs at 11:25. There was no Mahmoud, instead a well-dressed travel agent with a clipboard. He invited me into the shade and asked me the details about my trip. He’d never heard of Mahmoud Munti, the man I was supposed to meet. There were no feluccas traveling today. My stomach remained calm. We waited; he brought over more men, trying to help me find my missing felucca captain. I had a number, he called it. It was a fake number. I realized that I may not be going on a felucca trip today and never see the $30 again, but I did not panic, these men really wanted to help me, so either way I would catch a train out of Aswan to Luxor or I would find another felucca. It would all be OK.
The travel agent, Mohammed, had to leave me because 30 German tourists arrived with their guide to take their own cruise down the Nile. After the tourists boarded their boat, their guide talked to me in almost perfect English. The man you talked to is not a captain he said…he gave you a fake number didn’t he? Yes I admitted. You need to go to the police. He drew me a map. Tears of resignation appeared in my eyes, so I put on my sunglasses. Mohammed and the guide exchanged Arabic discussion. Another man joined into help, but the guide got upset at him. He turned to me, you only follow Mohammed, and he will take you to the tourist police and help you. Only follow Mohammed, he was very emphatic. I asked, is there another way I could take a felucca trip today? I didn’t want to give up, this is a tourist friendly town, and surely someone would like to help me get on a felucca? All the while 30 German tourists were waiting for their nice organized paid tour to begin, one they had arranged without fake captains and scam touts.
With the Help of a Friendly Tour Guide, I board a Felucca
After five minutes of discussion, another man appeared, more Arabic exchanged and Mohammed said to me, your felucca is over here. I was led around the corner and there was a felucca, captained by another Mohammed. I never saw Mahmoud, but did meet Ahmed, the Cairo tour agent contact who had arranged a felucca ride for my friends Liz and Ean, both who were, coincidentally joining the same cruise. Ahmed recognized me from Cairo, when I had had tea with travel agent. He called a man named Mr. Munti, who does arrange felucca tours, and must arrange all in Aswan, because although we both admitted we had never met before. He took the remaining money and I was on the felucca ride. It was all set.
I don’t know how it happened, maybe there’s a felucca network controlled by one man and I happened to talk to the right people, or they found me. Throughout the discussions, I panicked only a little, never got angry. I believed that it would work out for the best, my hopes not tied to the felucca trip or an alternative. I feel I experienced a Zen of travel, doing my best and letting go and allowing others to help. It was an adventure that I would not have with a tour, but it all worked out, the felucca ride for two nights on the Nile and very pleasant company along the way as well.
Next time, I’m going to ask to see the boat and definitely get a receipt.
But not an arranged tour – if I’d had one, this story never would have happened.