« PreviousContinue »
genuine khamasin generally suffices to start the tourists homeward from Luxor, and by the end of March the hostelries of the upper Nile resorts are sadly depopulated and, indeed, mainly closed. Nothing more trying than a furious and long-continued duststorm could well be found in all the traditional plagues of Egypt, but when one has dismissed it from the table of his narration the worst has been said of the country's climate. Let it not be assumed that the khamasin is unduly frequent, or insupportable. On the contrary, it is highly interesting to watch as it sweeps in resistless billows of dust from the river cliffs and whirls across the waters and the narrow plain. It is scarcely more depressing than its bloodbrother, the scirocco; and is it not one of the things that one goes out to Egypt “for to see"? Shall we condemn the rose for its thorn ?
Travel in Egypt is probably simpler than in any other country on the whole surface of the globe. The reason is that, with the unimportant exception of certain unfrequented oases and the broad open plains of the Delta, Egypt is nothing but an attenuated ribbon of vivid green, winding down for something like a thousand miles through an illimitable and desolate desert, - a ribbon of green which is seldom as much as thirty miles in breadth, and beyond whose edges the ordinary traveler is never called upon to go. For the tourist, Egypt means simply the immediate borders of the Nile. East and west are eliminated entirely from his problems. He is concerned alone with north and south. With the Delta, despite its marvelous fertility, he will have practically nothing to do. What monuments that portion of Egypt may once have boasted as referring to the ancient civilization have either vanished under the hand of an obelisk-hunting generation or have sunk to oblivion in the accretions of Nile mud.
To be sure, one may make an expedition with camels across the burning sands to the fertile inland district of the Fayum, and a railroad of sorts now serves to convey the curious to the deep-lying oasis of Khargeh, which may yet become a spot of common visitation. But apart from these, the visitor will have practically no alternatives save such as are presented by a limited choice of means in going up the river, and by the determination of what sights he will see and what omit in the long and narrow strip that stretches from Cairo to the Second Cataract. By far the greatest number are content to go no farther south than Assuan, even though thereby one is forced to miss the famous rock-temple of Abu Simbel. On the whole, indeed, that is enough. In the winding valley between the First Cataract and Cairo was enacted the major part of the great drama of our dawning civilization, and there to-day lies the best of Egypt.
Now the ways of visiting the Nile Valley are chiefly these : One may go from Cairo to Assuan and back by rail; or one may go by various forms of conveyance on the river; or, if desirable, these two modes of travel may be combined. But that completes the list of alternatives. No highroads exist in Egypt, outside the immediate environs of Cairo and one or two of the larger towns, so that automobiles are of no possible service save to the resident urban population. Donkeys, horses, or camels serve only for brief excursions to the east or west of the river. And thus the visitor is left only a broad general choice between rail and water, with a subdivision on the water side in favor of two or three lines of regular steamers, the old-fashioned sailing dahabiyeh, or the specially chartered private steamboat. The last-named is doubtless the most thoroughly comfortable of all, and is by the same token the most expensive. The sailing dahabiyeh is, in theory at least, the most idyllic. The regular tourist steamer - whether it be Cook's or one of the others - is the most commonplace of all, and at the same time the most feasible for the vast majority of people traveling with limited supplies alike of time and money. As for the railroad, while fairly comfortable and well served, it can be
commended only as a means of carriage for those whose stay in Egypt is so deplorably brief as to make all the other means out of the question.
It would, I suppose, be difficult to imagine anything more delightful than a leisurely sail
the Nile in a well-found dahabiyeh. The very idea of it makes one's mouth water. Thus it was that Cleopatra sailed this ancient stream
and the very name of the craft means "golden.” Nevertheless I will not conceal from you the fact that the dahabiyeh has its drawbacks. The favoring wind does not always blow. It may be necessary to remain for days tied up at some intermediate point along the way which offers absolutely nothing in the way of inducements to an inland excursion. With a thoroughly congenial party — alas, the very rarest of earth's blessings ! — and with an abundance of spare time, this delay might not be unbearable. To those of nervous temperament, however, it is likely to prove wearing. To be sure, long purses may readily command the services of a tug, - but if one is to be towed, it might as well be decided at once to charter a private steamer and be still more the master of one's time. For the great majority the tourist steamer must always remain the popular choice, — and, be it said, the perfectly satisfactory choice. I have small patience with the supercilious disdain which superior persons see fit to bestow on the common herd who are forced to take their Egypt under the chaperonage of either of the well-appointed steamer companies that now exploit the Nile. For most of us there is no other way - and for the reasonable traveler there is no need of a better.
It would be too much to say that Egyptian travel is not expensive. It is. The journey up the Nile is often referred to as one of the costliest voyages in the world in proportion to its length. Still, it is possible to fix different degrees of expensiveness, and the less costly will hardly be set down, even by those of moderate means, as prohibitive. One may not ask more of a country where living of almost any kind is dear - such living, at least, as that to which the ordinary visitor is accustomed. It is always to be remembered that much of the material necessary to the comfort and convenience of ordinary life, including many kinds of food, must be imported from great distances. Naturally it follows that Egypt is one of the costliest countries in the world in which to live unless one be content with the meagre fare of the fellâh — and is still more expensive to visit as a transient.
This is atoned for, however, in the simplicity and ease of the journey. A few words of “pidgin ” Arabic, easily acquired during a brief stay in Cairo, may