May 8, 2012

Only on the River, 1836 | Arrangements for Traveling up the Nile

Only on the River, 1836
John Lloyd Stephens


I have heard all manner of opinion expressed in regard to a voyage on the Nile; and may be allowed, perhaps, to give my own. Mrs. S. used frequently to say that, although she had traveled in France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Sicily, she had never enjoyed a journey so much before, and was always afraid that it would end too soon. Another lady’s sentiments, expressed in my hearing, were just the contrary. For myself, being alone, and not in very good health, I had some heavy moments; but I have no hesitation in saying that, with a friend, a good boat well fitted up, books, guns, plenty of time, and a cook like Michel, a voyage on the Nile would exceed any traveling within experience. The perfect freedom from all restraint, and from the conventional trammels of civilized society, form an episode in a man’s life that is vastly agreeable and exciting. Think of not shaving for two months, of washing your shirts in the Nile, and wearing them without being ironed. True, these things are not absolutely necessary; but who would go to Egypt to travel as he does in Europe? “Away with all fantasies and fetters” is the motto of the tourist. We throw aside pretty much everything except our pantaloons; and a generous rivalry in long beards and soiled linen is kept up with exceeding spirit. You may go ashore whenever you like, and stroll through the little villages, and be stared at by the Arabs, or walk along the banks of the river till darkness covers the earth; shooting pigeons, and sometimes pheasants and hares, besides the odd shots from the deck of your boat at geese, crocodiles, and pelicans. And then it is so ridiculously cheap an amusement. You get your boat with ten men for thirty or forty dollars a month, fowls for three piasters (about a shilling), a pair, a sheep for half or three-quarters of a dollar and eggs almost for the asking. You sail under your own country’s banner; and, when you walk along the river, if the Arabs look particularly black and truculent, you proudly feel that there is safety in its folds. From time to time you hear that a French or English flag has passed so many days before you, and you meet your fellow-voyagers with a freedom and cordiality which exist nowhere but on the Nile.

Although John Fuller was assured of the security of the journey, earlier travelers were not so safe and even within one’s boat there could be trouble. . . .

Melancholy and Invaders, 1851 George Melly
The huge sails were loosed, and expanded to a mild evening breeze, with just strength enough to blow out the folds of our Union Jack, which flew proudly over us. It was an exciting moment, but I cannot say that it was wholly free from melancholy; for while we looked up the mighty river with eager impatience for the wonders it was to disclose, we could not but feel that, when anchor was hauled up, we threw off our last hold of society, completely severed ourselves from all communication with our friends, and crossed the confines of barbarism. But this impression was not allowed to deepen, and speedily gave way before our earnest longing for new objects and other regions.

It was late before I went to bed, and I had scarcely fallen asleep, when I was aroused by a pressure on my feet. At first, I thought some one must be sitting upon me, and was about to remonstrate, but a sudden squeaking undeceived me, and I discovered that the intruders were three enormous rats, who had stretched themselves very comfortably on the coverlet. Fortunately my boots were at hand, and I flung one into the midst of them, on which they scampered off in great dismay, vehemently protesting against such uncourteous treatment.

I then got up, and barricaded the door, which I was assisted in doing by one of our servants.

A Nile journey can sound idyllic, but the weather is not always ideal, and sailboats are dependent on a fair wind. The wind on the Nile can be both too little and too great.

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