PHOTO: The Sanctuary Sun Boat IV (Photo by David Cogswell)
After four nights on the Sanctuary Sun Boat IV, the group on Abercrombie & Kent's President's Tour of Egypt packed up and went our way. It had only been four nights on the ship, but anyone who has experienced a river cruise will probably understand how the small group of passengers bond with the crew as they get to know them day after day. And when you leave the ship you feel the pangs of regret of leaving friends. This time those feelings were more biting than usual.
As we left the ship and walked over the bouncing gangway to the shore, the crew was up on the outdoor deck singing together and banging nosily on drums as a ceremony of farewell and a gesture of their appreciation for our patronage. Usually when you leave a ship, although you have to untie the attachments that have grown over the week, you know that the crew is already busy readying the ship for its next week's group of passengers. They will soon be developing the same kind of bonds with the next group and they won't have time to miss you.
This time, however, we were the first group of passengers the crew had seen in a long time. And after our trip ended their prospects for the future were very much in doubt. For three years business has been slow to nonexistent. It's late March now, and after May the hot summer will be moving in, when business is slow even in good years. It will be September before most of them can hope to work steadily again in the travel industry, if then. So as we left I had the disturbing feeling that we were abandoning them to a highly uncertain fate at best.
We saw many river cruise ships, but most of them were parked and idle with the tables and chairs on their sundecks tied down and no sign of life. In a country that depends so much on tourism for its economic health, the resulting devastation of having that economic lifeline cut off cold is harsh.
We saw Russian tourists, though I was told that they buy their vacations in packages at home and very little of the money ends up in the destination. We saw some German tourists. They are intrepid travelers and nothing stops them. But we saw very few others. In normal times the place is mobbed with Europeans, Asians and Americans. But now the tourist sites are practically deserted.
So we said goodbye to the river cruiser and crew and headed toward Cairo, but not without one last stop in Upper Egypt, to see the grand monuments of Abu Simbel.
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