Sunday 5 May 2013

Rowing the Nile (well, some of it)

© Nile Rowing Expedition,
Martin Paasman.
At 6,853km long, the River Nile is the World's longest river. Which obviously makes it a tantalising location for expedition rowing. 

However, in the same way that the answer to the question "How do you eat an elephant?" is "One bit at a time", a wise approach to rowing the Nile is to start with the 720km chunk from Luxor to Cairo. 

And that's exactly what my friend Martin, a Dutch long-distance rowing fanatic of the first order, spent 10 unforgettable days doing (do the maths – that's a lot of rowing day after desert-hot day).

Nile Rowing Expedition, Martin Paasman.
The importance of paperwork
Of course, you can't just rock up on the banks of the Nile, drop your boat in the water, and row away from the nearest pyramid into the sunset. The Nile is a major commercial river, and with other security concerns in the region too, the Egyptian government was concerned about the expedition's safety. This meant that it took a full eighteen months to get all of the appropriate permissions to start the trip, and arrange for Egyptian police boats to escort the rowing crews all the way on the water (possibly not the worst task an Egyptian policeman has to undertake in the line of duty). But all this desk-work was well worth it, and led to a safe trip in the end.

Just in case you're geographically challenged (like me)
So, the Nile flows North. Which I think is relatively unusual (but I gave up gegraphy at school when I was 14, so I'm hardly an authority). Egypt is the last of 11 countries it flows through before it pours into the Mediterranean.

Luxor (the starting point) is near the bottom of the map below, and in case you're wondering, this isn't a special, minimalist map only showing the route this expedition took: there really isn't anything on either side of the Nile till you get to Cairo.

Enough of this geography, what about the rowing?
The on-water team was made up of 15 experienced rowers from the Netherlands, Germany and America. The Expedition hired two touring coxed quads from the Arab Contractors Sporting Club in Cairo. For some reason that no one ever quite got to the bottom of, Luxor Rowing Club doesn't actually have any rowing boats, although allegedly the organise an annual regatta and, rather like the famous very hygenic cheese shop that was totally devoid of cheese, the lack of boats meant there was a lot of space for rigging the boats.

Rowing on the Nile (taken from a VERY high bridge).
© Nile Rowing Expedition, Martin Passman.
WIth 15 rowers and just ten seats, each day five of the team had the opportunity to do some tourism.

Most participants arrived early in Luxor to visit the beautiful ancient monuments, enjoy Luxor and to get accustomed to the heat. White shirts with long sleeves, sun hats, and sunscreen were essential kit.

An unusual start
The first day of rowing started with a ‘blessing’ ceremony with fresh flower leaves for a safe journey by a representative of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and made the crews feel welcome. And then they were off, rowing on the Nile, passing the Karnak Temple (Luxor) on bow side and the Theban Necropolis on stroke side.

The Nile in these parts is a slow-moving, winding river, with palm trees and villages on the banks. And although as a whole it's very wide, the combination of bends and numerous islands meant that the crews often found themselves on more intimate waterways where they encountered lush, green scenery, filled with birds and fisherman rowing traditional boats. Sometimes when the river had made her way through an area with rocky mountains they rowed with a barren desert on one side but  towering cliffs on the other. What didn’t change was the blistering sun with temperatures up to 40 degrees centigrade. 

© Nile Rowing Expedition, Martin Pasman
Lunch breaks in little villages along the Nile proved that the Egyptian people were very friendly. They provided the rowers with fresh baked ‘sun bread’ , tea and shared the shade under their trees. In the evening they assisted in hauling the boats out of the water.

Meanwhile, on the bank...
Those not rowing on any given day had a fantastic time exploring Egypt’s rich cultural heritage, including the Pharonic temple in Karnak, the Coptic Red Monastry in Sohaq and the famous Islamic mosque in Qena, whither they were escorted by a very polite local police chief (once again, better than traffic duty in central Cairo). They toured in a minibus on dusty roads and through Egyptian villages with friendly people and cattle on the road.

© Nile Rowing Expedition, Martin Paasman.
And, in case you were wondering, despite their best efforts, most participants also ‘enjoyed’ one or two days of not rowing due to food poisoning, sleep deprivation, heatstroke or exhaustion from the daily distances of up to 90 km. Well, it was always billed as an expedition not holiday.

Before we knew it, the crews were rowing into Cairo. We finished accompanied by an armada of rowing boats, official representatives and the press. A dream came true!

Fancy rowing on the Nile yourself?
Due to the success of this expedition two new trips are being planned. The first will be a recreational rowing tour from Aswan to Luxor over 220km in 5 days, starting in the second half of October 2014, with a sightseeing program before and after the tour, 

This trip will be followed by repeating the breathtaking rowing expedition tour from Luxor to Cairo over 720km in 10 days, starting in late October 2014.

Both tours will combine rowing with culture. We will visit world famous heritage sites like the Pharonic Abu Simpel temples in Southern Egypt near Aswan, Thebes (Luxor) with the Valley of the Kings with the tombs of the most important Pharaohs, the Pyramids near Giza and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

For more information about these tours visit  or contact Martin Paasman

The Nile Rowing Expedition was an idea of Carola GrĂ¼n and Martin Paasman, both members of Rowing Club De Laak in The Hague, the Netherlands. It was organized together with  Dabuka Expeditions, Arab Contractors Sporting Club, Luxor Rowing Club and the Egyptian Rowing & Canoe Federation. Under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism and the Egyptian Tourist Authority.

No comments:

Post a Comment