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Pole to Pole

Day 58: Luxor to Aswan

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleI'm up on deck at 7 a.m. The light is soft and gentle, and the air dry and warm. Isis glides along the lightly rippled surface of the Nile with solid ease. On either bank smoke rises from huts of mud and straw. A line of people who have just landed from a felucca - the traditional single-masted sailing boat of the Nile - winds up the short, steep, hard-baked mud bank in the shade of locust and palm trees. Two boys in a rowing boat, painted the green of Islam, moor up by a fishing net. One of the boys smacks at the water with a long pole while the other bangs a drum to attract the fish. A buffalo grazes, donkeys wait in the fields. There are no roads or cars or railways, there is no concrete or neon. It is a timeless scene, containing almost unchanged all the elements of nature that cover the walls of tombs and temples.

By nine o'clock the surroundings have changed considerably. We have reached the lock at Esna, thirty miles from Luxor, a bottleneck of quite serious proportions which they don't mention in the brochures. The lock was built by the British in 1908, and it has room for only one ship at a time. It takes thirty-five minutes to get each one through and, as they alternate between those going north and south, it can mean a seventy-minute wait; if you're lucky. But the lock also incorporates a swing road-bridge so it is closed every alternate hour. There are four ships ahead of us, and Wahid, our cruise director, estimates that we will not be through until late afternoon. 'And this is not the busy time,' he adds gloomily, 'from late September it will start to be the busy time . . . during, let's say, New Year's Eve, sometimes it reaches up to twenty-four ships each side.'
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 58
  • Country/sea: Egypt
  • Place: The Nile
  • Book page no: 126

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