We arrived into Cairo late at night after a very, very long journey.
An 8 hour flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur.
A 12 hour, action-packed (my own fault) lay over in KL.
Another 8 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi.
A 3 hour stop in Abu Dhabi.
Yet another 8 hour flight to Paris.
Another 4 hours waiting around
And finally, a 5 hour flight from Paris to Cairo.
Oh yeah, and I’m an insomniac who doesn’t sleep on planes. Factor in that our flight left Melbourne at 2:00am, we checked into the airport at 11:00pm the night before and we were up at 7:00am to work that day, and you can do the maths…
So, you can imagine the state we were in by the time we traversed customs, collected our bags, and checked into our hotel to find our tour leader smiling and ready to have a “quick” 30-45 minute de-brief about the trip we were about to embark on the following afternoon. He got about 5 minutes into the information overload, when our ears pricked up – we had a few overnight trains and a few overnight mini-bus trips to contend with, but, wait, what was that? We could ditch the mini bus and upgrade for a 5 star cruise ship instead? For only £80?! And all our meals on board are included?! WHAT?! Yes, dear God yes, we’ll take the upgrade!!
And that is how the Princess Sarah came to be our floating home for three glorious nights.
We went to bed on that first night, still completely disoriented and exhausted from the travel, and woke up in the morning both confused as to what we’d just done. Did we really sign up for the upgrade? Were we sure it was really that cheap?? Yeah, it was. There had to be a catch, there just had to… a shitty interior cabin with no windows, the expectation that we’d help with the dishes after dinner, there had to be something… we supposed we’d find out soon enough.
Turns out we couldn’t have been more wrong. Our cabin was magnificent, with a window that opened straight out onto the water. We had the most magnificent view as we calmly floated on down the Nile. The room itself was beautiful, too, far better than we could have possibly hoped for. The food was delicious, they pulled out all the stops, and we were waited on hand and foot. There were cocktails, floor shows of belly dancers, traditional music, the works. Oh, and there was the rooftop pool and bar, where the cocktails were delivered straight to your banana lounge! So, how the hell had all of that for three nights cost so damn little??!
Our answer came as we returned to the ship after a big day of sight-seeing – we realised there were actually a truckload of other ships docked (we’d missed this earlier in the morning as we’d disembarked elsewhere), and we’d have to walk through 8 others to reach ours, which seemed to be half way across the Nile to the other side. We walked through 8 completely empty and horrifyingly dilapidated, ex-5 star cruise ships. They were dirty, run down… their chandeliers were coated in dust, their beautiful carved wooden balustrades haphazardly covered with old sheets, that musty smell emanating from every direction. To our complete shock, we spied a few mattresses and blankets in two of the ships; there appeared to be people squatting in these majestic foyers! We were speechless.
When we finally made our way back to our ship and we found the voice to speak, we asked our ever-knowledgeable guide Medo what the hell had happened to those ships. Politics happened. He explained that with the civil unrest, the riots, the fighting, the issues with the government, the violence, and the volatile and unpredictable nature of the situation, there was no longer the tourism to warrant running these ships. They simply did not have the passengers to fill them anymore. That’s why we got such a cheap deal. As for the “residents” living in the foyers? They were the staff. Mostly men (but some women, too) had left their families and lives in other parts of Egypt to work on these ships, with the promise of wealthy tourists to pay the bills and provide a more comfortable life for their families back home. But now that the tourists had been scared away, a lot of them couldn’t afford to get back home, or were too ashamed to do so. So, they “lived” in the abandoned ships. I’m not sure heart breaking really sums it up, to be honest.
We had the most incredible experience in Egypt. We went in between flare ups of the violence, which was purely by luck – we’d booked the trip 9 months in advance, so anything could have happened. But we weren’t deterred by the events that had been unfolding, and neither were a handful of others, like us, still eager to see it all. I’m so glad we still went; the evidence of the violence was plain to see. We saw buildings that had been gutted by fires, smashed in windows that ran entire lengths of streets, a bombed police car still flipped on its side in the middle of the street (that’ll need it’s own post to explain), but truthfully, the people were kind. They were wary, and I don’t blame them, but they were kind. They were generous. They were accommodating. At the time, to start off with, I was so grateful for the lack of interest in Egypt at the time we visited, because we’d never have had the opportunity to jump onto a cruise ship, or see some of the wonders and temples in relative peace and quiet, without hoards of buses and tourists arriving at the same time as us. But walking through those cruise ships, I felt a little part of my heart breaking for those people. There are only such small areas affected by these riots and violence, as we saw first hand, and at no point did I ever feel unsafe. I’d really, strongly encourage those of you thinking of visiting but still worried to go because of the political situation to reconsider. Certainly do your homework and heed the warnings when they are put out there, but please don’t assume that it’s all doom and gloom over there. It’s still a beautiful country with beautiful people, and they need your help : )