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Royal Residents of the Nile
Cheryl Briggs

After hearing yet another: "Dju hov a bootifil dotter, I give dju 5 camels for har," I realized this was the set phrase amongst Egyptian vendors along the Nile River trying to sell their wares to weary tourists. Their persistence during indescribable heat amongst the flies and filth makes bargaining almost non-existent as sightseers hastily pay over-inflated prices and hurry between temples and air-conditioned boats on the Nile River. Standard favorite amongst hawkers is the quote: "Only five Egyptian pounds!" (approximately $2) for e.g.: a cotton table-cloth and six napkins. After receiving payment from the trusting tourist, the vendor pulls out one napkin from the bag - the rest costs one hundred pounds! My personal favorite: only five pounds to ride an unfriendly camel. But once out of sight, you are told it costs another five pounds to get back, or for the beast to kneel down for you to dismount! Such are the joys along the Nile River.

Egypt is a country steeped in a history that goes back more than 5000 years. The glory of ancient Egyptapostrophes 3000-year span was almost over by the time Christ was born.

The River Nile has seen it all. Modern-day Egypt shows little of its past grandeur. Egyptapostrophes glories are either covered in mounds of fine golden sand which encroaches from the nubian desert, or are being torturously excavated by foreign academics and incredulous slow moving locals. In 1961 Egypt was quite content to have the Nile waters flood temples and ancient ruins along its banks in its bid to build the Aswan Dam. It must have come as a surprise to locals when UNESCO raised $56 million and took nine years to save the great temples of Abu Simbel on the western flank of Lake Nasser. An international team meticulously cut up the temples which had been built into a mountainside. 1200 blocks each weighing 30 tons were moved to higher ground, safe from the creeping dam waters. Their precision in reconstruction was so accurate that today the sun still falls on the inner statues of Ramses II on February 21st, his birthday. In shades of the Taj Mahal, the Abu Simbel temples were constructed in honor of Ramses IIapostrophes favorite wife, Nefertari. With modern day technology taking nine years merely to move the temple to another site, one can only speculate the enormity of the initial project 3000 years ago. It reputedly cost the lives of over 2000 workers who toiled in temperatures of over 120 degrees Farenheit.

There are so many temples along the Nile and only a small percentage has been renovated and maintained. Most of them were built by the megalomaniac, Ramses II, who elevated himself to immortal status by associating himself with Ra, the sun god. Ramses II stood over 6ft tall and lived into his late nineties. In an era where few people lived over the age of fifty, this was sure evidence of their pharaohapostrophes immortality! I stared in fascination at his mummy. It still displays exquisite bone structure, a handsome face with an aquiline nose. Ramses II now resides in the Cairo Museum, sharing a darkened room with numerous other less notable mummies. An inglorious ending to a glorified pharaoh.

My favorite resident along the ancient Nile is Queen Hatshepsut. Living in a dominantly patriarchal society, Hatshepsut dressed like a man even to wearing the false papyrus beard of a king, and claimed to be pharaoh. She also claimed immaculate conception from the god, Amun-Ra, thus giving her the divine birthright to rule. She collaborated with her architect lover, Senmut, to immortalize herself in the construction of the temple of Deir el-Bahri near the Valley of the Kings. Hatshepsut pulled off this disguise for over twenty years! Quite an achievement for a woman in those days!

Since then there has been regression for women in this area. The introduction of Arab and Muslim influences dictates that women be covered from head to heel. In upper Egypt women are swathed from top to toe in voluminous black "galabias" showing only their eyes. Older matriarchs look like slow moving black tents while younger women look like little penguins laboriously moving around on a mirage of shimmering heat.

Change comes slowly to this country. Late president Nasser made a commitment to educate 95 percent of the population, but resistance to change is notable, especially in the conservative nubian district of the upper Nile Valley. Subsistence in this area is the rule. The only bit of greenery is found in two fertile ribbons along the banks of the Nile. A mere 4 percent of the land in Egypt is arable. The Aswan Dam that promised untold wealth for all has unfortunately brought with it a new set of problems. No more flooding also means no more fertile silt for crops. Chemical fertilizers have changed the eco-system encouraging opportunistic pests and damaging the valuable fishing industry. The Nile is badly polluted in many areas and tourists are warned not to test the waters because of the parasite, giardia lamblia. A high percentage of locals along the banks of the Nile are infected with this parasite.

Yet for all these problems, the Nile is still king of all rivers. It embraces the old together with the new showing majesty and patience, soothing the masses it serves. Hopefully it will always remain so forgiving.

The river boat slushes its way slowly along the river. A faluka silently sails by, its fishermanapostrophes net cast to one side. The early morning sun sends its rays out in a golden glow across the river. I think of Ramses II in Cairo Museum and his failed bid for immortality and find him a better home in the daily resurrected sun-god, Ra, King of the Nile.

IF YOU GO:

Egypt Air flies between JFK and Cairo daily except for Mondays. Try to go during our winter months because May-August is unbearably hot there, especially around Aswan and the upper Nile. It never rains in Egypt, so forget the umbrella. You do require a visa to visit Egypt but this can be obtained at Cairo Airport upon arrival for a charge of $25. Drink only bottled water and make sure the seal is unbroken. Beware of ice in your drinks. Use plenty of sunblock and drink lots of water. Try to arrange your sightseeing during the early mornings or late afternoons. Sunstroke is a common problem amongst tourists, especially if you are fair. Always wear a hat outdoors during the midday hours. Shopping is good in the Cairo central bazaar. Many stores have air-conditioning and bargaining is easier and less frantic. A good buy is Egyptian cotton, spices, bronze and copper.

Further information can be obtained from:

Egyptian Tours at 800-84 EGYPT,

Egyptian Consulate at 415 346-9700, or from

Across the World Travel at 303 674-9360/800-C B4 U FLY.

Cheryl Briggs is a travel consultant with Across the World Travel. A specialist in Africa and Australia, a British citizen, born and raised in South Africa, she has lived and worked in Australia. She now resides in Colorado and specializes in wholesale international travel as well as tours to Africa and Australia.Her e-mail address is acrossthewld@juno.com

Egyptian Tours at 800-84 EGYPT,

Egyptian Consulate at 415 346-9700, or from

Across the World Travel at 303 674-9360/800-C B4 U FLY.

Cheryl Briggs is a travel consultant with Across the World Travel. A specialist in Africa and Australia, a British citizen, born and raised in South Africa, she has lived and worked in Australia. She now resides in Colorado and specializes in wholesale international travel as well as tours to Africa and Australia.Her e-mail address is acrossthewld@juno.com