In the Footsteps of the Pharaohs A Journey along the Nile Leads You through the Heart of Egypt's History

Article excerpt

Byline: Kathy Rodeghier Daily Herald Travel Editor

Part II of two parts

Ramses II is what you might call a hunk. That commanding stare, those square shoulders, that taut torso and that copper-toned body all scream male machismo.

And it helps that he's nearly 66 feet tall - sitting down.

The statues of the famous pharaoh at Abu Simbel, a popular day trip for passengers cruising the Nile, take your breath away. Built to give fair warning of his power to the Nubians, and anyone entering Egypt from the south, Ramses' temple continues to wow foreigners some 3,000 years later.

Pharaonic sights in Upper Egypt, from Abu Simbel in the south to King Tut's tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the north, rank among the most well-known attractions for visitors, particularly those cruising the Nile.

"There is so much to see and learn," says Cindy Cooper of Lake Zurich, who cruised the famous river last February. It's fascinating to "go in the tombs and see the hieroglyphics and hear the stories that are told there," she says.

The view from the deck of her Sonesta boat gave her an unusual perspective of Egypt, she says. "I saw so much life on the Nile."

One side of the river would be lush and green and the other side just sand and rock, says Robert Sabaj of Mount Prospect. The contrast between old and new intrigued him. "You'd see one person plowing his fields with oxen and in the next field a nice tractor."

Sabaj took his Nile cruise in June last year and experienced the oppressive midday heat of Upper Egypt. The temperature in the shade rose to 105 degrees, he says, and his own thermometer hit 137 at one point. "You didn't want to be out there with that kind of temperature" so passengers took their excursions early in the day when it was cooler. During the middle of the day the boat cruised along the Nile while passengers enjoyed the comforts aboard the boat

Most Nile boats share some of the amenities of an ocean-going cruise ship on a much smaller scale: swimming pool, sun deck, fitness center, computer room, bars, lounges and dining room. Containing from a handful of cabins to 70 or more, they look like Mississippi River boats minus the paddlewheel. Cruises typically last from three to seven days covering the stretch of river between Aswan and Luxor.

I cruised on the Nile Adventurer, owned by Oak Brook-based tour operator Abercrombie & Kent. All cabins have mini-refrigerators and a TV with satellite connection and link to the ship's camera pointing up river. Service in the dining room is attentive and the food equal to that of a fine U.S. restaurant, with beef tenderloin and salmon among the dinner entrees.

In Aswan, the boat docked alongside its more luxurious sisters, the Sunboat III and Sunboat IV. Most passengers range in age from 60 to 80 and hail from the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S.

At each dock along the Nile, boats tie up alongside each other and often passengers must walk through the lobbies of several other boats before they reach shore. With 365 boats on the Nile, there's not enough dock space to go around.

The government is building more berths for boats, says Sayed M. Khalifa, vice chairman of the Egyptian Tourist Authority, who deflects criticism that too many boats already operate on the Nile. No new licenses are being issued for boats, he says. "We believe the number operating now is just about right." The impact of cruise passengers on the monuments and the impact of the boats on the water quality of the Nile are manageable, he says. "So far we have no problem with the numbers."

Excursions in ports along the Nile stop at temples and tombs where guides dispense information on ancient Egyptian history. Unless you are a scholar on the subject, the sights and statistics can dissolve in a blur of Ramses and Ptolemies. Some common questions:

Q. …