Photograph by Bruno Bengen, My Shot

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A felucca plies the Nile River at sunset in Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes.

Photograph by Bruno Bengen, My Shot

The Nile

Writer Carl Hoffman traveled to Egypt in February 2011, a week after popular demonstrations led to the president's resignation. These are his observations.

At night in Cairo the Nile is like a ribbon of candy. Strings of lights and tacky SweeTart-colored fluorescent bulbs blink and shimmer from thousands of boats crowded along the banks. The river cuts through downtown, opening it up, making this city of 18 million feel un-claustrophobic.

But hundreds of miles to the south in the Upper Egyptian cities of Luxor and Aswan, the river stakes its claim even more forcefully—a sea of blue cutting between lush, fecund emerald green and desiccated brown desert. The Nile is Egypt. Without its replenishment and nourishment the great ancient civilizations would never have sprung forth. To cruise upon it is to be in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Even better post-revolution because there was hardly any traffic.

We cruised among the first cataracts of Aswan, where the river narrowed among a slew of islands and waterways and huge brown boulders, some carved with hieroglyphs. Reeds lined the banks. Kingfishers darted and hovered and swooped. Herons stood silent, watching and waiting. Brown ducks with orange bills paddled by. We tied the motor launch to an overhanging tree where the channel was ten feet wide. We did nothing but listen and watch and doze.

An hour passed and we puttered back into the main channel and picked up Abdel Sabour Dahab, the owner of my hotel and the launch, who was waiting on the bank holding bags of lunch. A fisherman friend in a rowboat tied alongside and a few other friends jumped aboard. We drifted in the river eating fresh grilled fish crusted with chunks of salt and lemon, and platters of rice and tomatoes. “I am Egyptian,” thundered Dahab, after eating, “and I must be near the river!” Then he whipped off his galabia and plunged in.