EGYPT'S latest holiday experience is a cruise around Lake
Nasser, a pristine inland sea in the midst of Egypt's southern
This is the region known throughout history as Nubia, once the
cultural gateway to Africa's heartland and still rich in the relics
of its Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, Christian, and Islamic heritage,
stretching back 5,000 years.
Since the early 1960s, most of Nubia has been inundated by Lake
Nasser, the world's largest man-made lake, created by the damming
of the Nile River. Dotted around the shores of the reservoir, which
stretches south for 500 miles, are ancient monuments saved from its
blue waters by a huge international effort that began four decades
Yet many of these unique tombs, temples, and fortresses have
been off-limits to visitors since they were salvaged, isolated by
tight military restrictions and the lack of roads. That situation
changed earlier this year when a new deluxe cruise ship, the
Eugenie, began touring Lake Nasser.
This offbeat adventure is ideally suited for the amateur or
professional Egyptologist who wants relief from the crush around
the ancient sites farther north in the Nile Valley. Here, one can
explore monuments rarely seen by the public.
"This ship has made an amazing difference," says Urs Masche of
Basel University in Switzerland. "Until recently it was nearly
impossible to see these temples. You could hire a Land Rover in
Aswan and drive through the desert, but the sites themselves were
surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by the military, and they
absolutely refused access." Dr. Masche is one of many
Egyptologists who are enchanted by the opportunity to see these
monuments from the comfort of the Eugenie, rather than trekking
through the desert.
The Eugenie, operated by Belle Epoque Tours of Cairo, was built
just south of the dam and launched last winter. Behind its facade
of a Mississippi paddle-wheeler, it is a 240-foot-long modern
cruise ship with all the elegance of a turn-of-the-century luxury
hotel, complete with a Jacuzzi and swimming pool. The cabins are
comfortable and beautifully finished in wood, leather, and natural
fabrics. The decor mixes the austere designs of ancient Nubia with
the comfort of an English club, complete with antique furniture.
Plastic does not intrude on the Eugenie.
Not for the party crowd
This cruise is not for those whose priority is a wild night
life. But the food and service is excellent. Breakfast and dinner
are served in the formal dining room. Lunch is a substantial buffet
on deck under shade.
The launching of the Eugenie has pushed the Egyptian Antiquities
Organization (EAO) to clean up the ancient sites virtually
abandoned since they were relocated. Workmen are already cleaning
the reliefs at Wadi al-Sebua (Valley of the Lions), an Arabic name
inspired by the rows of sphinxes lining the approach to a temple
built by Ramses II - Pharaoh of Egypt for 67 years.
"This is the temple on which the names of Ramses II's 110 sons
are recorded, as well as those of his 130 wives, daughters, and
concubines," explains Ali Hassan, chief of Pharaonic antiquities
for the EAO. …