I am writing this from memory and not from the euphoric rush of the mind that has just experienced a Felukka Ride. And Yes, I am sure this must be one of the those rare writings that I do.
A Felukka Ride on the Nile is the single most important thing that you MUST MUST MUST do if you are in Cairo, or for that matter any city that you are in if it is on the banks of Nile.
Like Keats says ...
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,
Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness;
... a felukka ride is something that you can relive in your mind and it would remain as fresh as ever.
Ah, Do I sound like a poet ? One definitely feels like one especially after the Felukka Experience.
Felukka is a small sail boat (without motor). It moves in water solely by virtue of the current and the winds that push the sail. The best time to enjoy the felukka ride is in the evening, or should I say late evening ? If you ask me, I would say anytime after 12 and before 3 AM in the morning. Those are the best times. There is lesser noise, even lesser crowd, the city prepares itself for sleep and You get your act together for an out-of-this-world experience.
There are felukkas of various different sizes. If you are a big team say 10 members, suggest you get a felukka large enough to hold 20 people, because most people would want to stretch their legs once they are on the Felukka !!!
You can get felukkas for a variety of prices. The smaller ones can cost you and your partner upto 40 EGP per hour, actually much less, depending on how well you can bargain. If you go as a team of say about 10 people, it is a bargain if you can get him to say yes for 100 EGP for 2 hours. Usually these non-motorized felukkas are not used much. Hence they are willing to go at dead cheap prices. And of course, this is not inclusive of the Tip to the boatman. If you stay for about 2 hours on the felukka, you can give him about 10-15 EGP. It's perhaps his only source of livelihood.
You tell the boatman where you want to go on the Nile. It is possible to cover miles in 20 minutes depending on the tide in the river and the wind speed. It also depends on where you board the boat. If you board a felukka near Maadi, (behind TGIF), its much cheaper, cooler and peaceful. The manager of the boat does not argue much. He will keep saying
'You are my good friend, Walla, this is good price my friend.. Good price. You come to Egypt, my guest, I give you good price. My friend. Walla my friend, I swear on my God that this is a good price. I lose if I give you for less than ----'
This is a standard refrain, so be prepared for this.
After this, you are asked to get seated on the boat. It's pitch dark, mind it. So watch your step. Carefully choose a one that smells a little nice and has plenty of leg space. The boatman pushes the boat against the shore trying to give it movement. After a couple of failed attempts, suddenly you realise that the current is taking your boat away, Swisssssh !!! And away you go for your Felukka ride.
There is not much excitement initially. Just the trepidation of a beginner. As the boat slowly moves to the centre of the river, the longest in the world, you realise what force the river silently carries. If this river wished, it could simply toss your boat from one shore to another with scant respect, but rather, it chooses to entertain you. It gently pushes your felukka here and there. The wind joins in this play. The boatman gently unfurls the sail. It's a small sail, soiled, but looks fine. The boatman quickly puts the rudder on hold and adjusts the sails.
The felukka swings slightly. You hold the frame of the boat, out of reflex action. After having quickly adjusted the sails, the boatman quickly settles into his place, a comfortable position near the rudder. He waits for a minute, and then takes out the cigarette. That's it !! He has done his job. There is nothing that can disturb him from that cigarette unless it is the fury of the river.
The felukka gently glides on water. The boat is always in control of the boatman. Or Atleast it looks as if it isr. Then suddenly the river decides to play with you for a while. There are waves appearing in the river all of a sudden, and the wind chips in by blowing a bit too forcefully. It only takes a couple of seconds for the mood to change in the felukka. A couple of seconds ago, everybody was relaxed, smoking and sleeping, and now everybody is awake, holding onto their lives with eveything they have.
Not a wrinkle on the boatman's face. He quietly and swiftly brings down the sail. All while murmuring under his breath, with the cigarette bitten in his mouth. The rocking of the boat stops almost immediately and suddenly there are no more waves. It looks as if the river is mocking you, for being such a coward. As peace returns to the boat, the boatman resumes his position.
As you sit in the felukka, under the moonlight, you realise that knowingly or unknowingly you have made yourself a part of history, a history that spans thousands of years, of a civilization that spawned on the banks of this river and whose very existence is perhaps why the country itself exists. Truly the 'Gift of the Nile'. And once this realisation sets in, you feel all goose-bumped, and proud that you have actually travelled on the Nile.
The boatman tells you gently that the time is up. It's upto you to decide how you want your ride to end. If you wish to continue, tell him so. Else instruct him to move to the bank of the river. He quickly manoevers the rudder using his foot, all the while adjusting the sails, and the felukka banks. This banking swings this wooden boat to such an extent that you are forced to hold on to the wooden frame for balance. You are also scared. After all you are right in the middle of the river. Atleast 40 feet deep. And throw in the fact that this place is not at all crowded, and its dark, and nobody has a damned lifejacket !! Sure does scare the hell out of you.
The boatman is trying hard to bring down the sail. It appears as if the sail's rope has got jammed somewhere. Just then, as if to confirm your worst fears, the wind begins to blow more strongly, throwing the boat out of balance. But, the boatman simply scoffs at your fear. He stands on the edge of the boat and heaves at the sail and there it comes. You heave a sigh of relief. The felukka slowly reaches its 'parking' bay and the boatman helps you get down from it.
You pay him the tip and he happily accepts it. You then go to the manager and pay him the remaining half of the money. He tells you
'Welcome to Misr My friend. Wallahi, Come again, and I will give you good price.'
Sure, we will Mr.Manager. We definitely will. Inshallah.
P.S:- During my six months stay in Cairo, I've been on a Felukka 4 times. P.P.S:- Picture taken during my Luxor and Aswan Trip.