Of Pilots & “Pirates”

The pilot inherited his job. The “pirates” created theirs. I encountered both while cruising on the Nile River in Egypt recently. The surprises just kept coming…

To be clear, they aren’t really pirates. Our Egyptian guide called them “the pirates of Nile” because they come alongside the way real pirates sometimes did (and maybe still do) in more dangerous places. They attach themselves to the ship while their skiff bounces on the waves until their business is concluded. Their “business” was economic: hawking items to the ship’s passengers by tossing them up onto the deck in hopes of snaring a buyer. (And they did! More than one. I bought a beach towel emblazoned with “Nerfertiti,” the name of our ship. It was worth the $10 to catch it after it sailed three decks up, negotiate over the waves, and send the money back down in a bag.)

All good fun.

The pilot doesn’t have as much fun. He’s in charge of the 75-passenger ship which dodges other ships in the shallow river without benefit of channel markers, depth finder or compass. But then, he doesn’t need them. It’s all “in his head,” he said. His name is Abd-Elziz, and he loves his job. No wonder. I learned that only 10 or so families in Egypt produce pilots, and he was born into one of them. In a country with about 30% poverty rate, that counts as luck. (He did have to earn the certification.)

For someone who has cruised the inland river system of the U.S., traveling on this river was … well, familiar in some ways! The Nile is 4,000 miles long. It runs south-to-north, from Lake Victoria in Uganda to Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea. Its maximum depth is 4.5 meters (about 15 feet). The ship moves at about 12 knots with the current and nine knots against it. In a typical day, it does about 60 km (37 miles). In terms of speed and distance, not so different from The Great Loop.

I’ll rejoin the Mainship Many Moons soon as she continues her journey northward along the East Coast, but with some great memories of another kind of vessel and another kind of journey. That’s the thing about travel — whether by keel or wheels, in our own country or another. It keeps delivering surprises. Sometimes delightful and sometimes uncomfortable but either way, certainly stimulating! Photos and captions follow.

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