watercolor of Giza by David Roberts, R.A.

The thin membrane of darkness belied the turbulence that lay beneath as we drifted down the river, the eddies and swirls on the surface softly luring me into a trance. The sky burned a brilliant vermillion as the sun set over the sands of the Sahara, casting the tomb of Aga Kahn in a long blue shadow.

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sunset and the tomb of the Aga Kahn

As we drifted lazily down the Cataracts of the Nile, the pilot of our felucca ducked under the foredeck and returned with a large tambourine; his deep voice now keeping time to an ancient Nubian beat that echoes off the massive boulders surrounding us.  He appears lost in song; yet, as if unknowingly, maneuvers a perfect tack of the vessel with its massive sail.  At first, we all enthusiastically keep beat, but one by one we fall silent to the moment.

Architect Keith Summerour and Designer Beth Webb contemplating sunset on the Nile

 

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Cataracts of the Nile

Our group had started in Athens; a few of us assembled from the myriad of designers and architects attending a conference of leaders in design. Already contemplating the beauty that had come to be formulated by the Greeks of antiquity, we now looked forward to our visit to the granite quarries of Egypt.  We boarded early in the morning for the short hop over the Mediterranean with anticipation for the journey, and as we settled into our seats our monitors flickered on to begin our flight with a chant of a Muslim prayer for safe passage. By the time we reached Cairo we were already transported back in time with the thin blue haze of cigarette smoke that filled the cabin. We were to spend a long layover getting to know our host over an elaborate Egyptian dinner of stuffed pigeon, and then head back to the airport for a midnight departure to Luxor.  The flight to the upper Nile was short, and as we descended into an orange fog the plane suddenly began to shudder. A dust storm received us on the tarmac burning our eyes; scarves wrapped around our faces to protect us from the dust, we now knew we were in Africa.

Cairo bazarre


It was already well into the morning when we found our accommodations aboard the Senator, the ship that would serve as our transport up the Nile. Morning came early as we rose for a quick breakfast, where we were greeted by the famous Egyptologist, Zawi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, to introduce us to the mysteries of ancient Egypt and welcome us to Luxor and ancient Thebes, home to greatest density of ruins in the world, as well as his efforts to uncover even greater archaeological finds.

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Temple of Hatshepsut

Today, we would explore the polychrome corridors of the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, the Colossi of Menmon, the awe-inspiring Great Hypostyle Nave of the Temple of Karnak, and for those with strength left, an evening visit to the Temple of Luxor. After a long day we retired to the top deck of the ship and where as architects and designers we attempted to comprehend the mysticism, the scale, and the permanence of the ancient world over Cuban cigars and scotch.

Temple of Karnak and the Column of Taharqa, watercolor by Michael G. Imber

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The colonnade of the great hypostyle room in the Temple of Karnak

 

We awoke the following morning to the soft hum of engines. I opened the door to my cabin and was greeted by the sweet aroma burning acacia as the waters of the Nile slipped by.  One by one, we found our way to the upper deck of the ship, and as a soft cool breeze drifted down the Nile we found ourselves transported in time. The landscape and its people appeared untouched by the millennia that had passed since the time of the ancient pharaohs. The life-giving river was a verdant ribbon through a barren desert- the mother of civilization. For the locals today was a holiday- the first day of spring. Children waved from the banks, “hallooo, I love you!!!, while others splashed and played in the blue-green waters, thankfully, since the building of the Aswan Dam, long absent its ravenous crocodiles.  Water buffalo and donkeys lazed by the shore and on small grassy islands as though marooned, while boats of all sorts, colors and sizes greeted us as we made our way up river, ancient stones lining the path of our journey along the way. We languished the day away, attempting to absorb every small moment.

life along the banks of the Nile

 

life on the banks of the Nile


After a long dinner on deck we were ushered below for a festive evening of belly dancing, some of our group, encourage by the wine, attempted to prove they could jiggle with the best of them. Now well past midnight, we made our way back up to the upper deck, where we seemed to chart a new course through the heavenly stars of the universe that shown brightly overhead. We settled in on chase lounges guarded against the brisk breeze by our quilts. The projector now glowed and a romantic soundtrack queued as Mia Farrow and Peter Ustinov boarded the S.S Karnak for a night of mystery and intrigue set against the dramatic backdrop of ancient Egypt and the Cataracts of the Nile.

Hercule Poirot and Mademoiselle Jacqueline de Bellefort – Death on the River Nile

We each drifted away into a sleep confused by time- their Nile was now ours- a journey that would stay with us for a lifetime; unless, of course, Mademoiselle Jacqueline de Bellefort and her lover finds us in our sleep.