For many years, Frommer’s travel guides have been our go to resource to get ideas on “must do’s” on trips. “You shouldn’t leave Cairo without taking a sunset cruise on the Nile in one of these traditional sailboats (the Faluca)”, opined our guidebook.
Our first evening in Cairo, we asked the concierge at our hotel to write down “docks near the Four Seasons hotel” in Arabic, so that we could take a cab and be seamlessly transported to the spot from which we would take our Faluca ride. As soon as we got in our cab, our cabbie was eager to converse with us. Between the few words of Arabic that we knew and the handful of English words he could muster, he communicated that he was very excited to have Indians in his taxi. We would find this to be an oft expressed sentiment during our time in Cairo, finding that the Egyptians have great love and affection for all things Indian….the music, the movie stars, the politicians and the people.
When we mentioned that we wanted to do a Faluca ride, the driver immediately suggested we ride with a friend of his and he would personally broker a great rate and an even better experience. We kept insisting on him dropping us off at the docks near the Four Seasons, but he just decided to drive on. We drove for several miles along the Nile and then he stopped the taxi and made us get out. This was not a thickly populated area, and other than a few locals, we did not see anyone who remotely resembled a tourist. We spurn guided tours and often take off on our own, but this time a sense of nervousness was setting in. Was I being stupid and putting my kids at risk? My colleagues in the US insisted that we always travel as part of guided tours with adequate security, and here we were off the beaten track with a cab driver who was brokering a Faluca ride with a friend.
He asked us for more money than the guidebook recommended and a few seconds later guided us to our Faluca that would be navigated by a teenager. We scrambled on to the Faluca and were gently rowed away to the lilting tunes of an Egyptian melody. The sound of the waves in the water, the beautiful melody being played, the everyday life along the banks of the Nile, the apartment complexes smushed together with colorful laundry flying on the balcony….it was Egyptian life encapsulated in a large frame. Just as we were feeling more relaxed, watching the sun go down gradually, we were greeted by the loud noise of party goers singing and dancing on an adjacent boat. As the boat passed by, we could glimpse young adults in their colorful attire, swaying to beautiful music, the happy smiles, the joyous beats, the clapping and the thumping.
Needless to say, my fears were baseless. The ride was lovely and at the end of it, there was our cabbie waiting with the biggest grin on his face wanting to know if he had helped us have a memorable evening.
He drove us back safely to our hotel, not before offering to be our personal driver throughout our stay, including driving us to his home town of Alexandria. The adventure certainly reaffirmed that the best experiences are to be gained when they are taken off the beaten track with a basic trust of mankind.