It was love at first sight. I had already met her parents and seen both where she was conceived and born; I had stalked her relentlessly for more than 1,800km, following her shapely curves from nearby, though she remained oblivious to my presence. Now, we were finally about to consummate our relationship in the most intimate of manners. At nearly 6,900km in length, the river Nile is not only the world’s longest waterway, but its most alluring, bewitching. Having visited the two lakes in Uganda and Ethiopia from which its White and Blue tributaries originate, and observed their underwhelming confluence in Khartoum, the river has been a defining geographical feature of the last third of my journey. Now in Lower Egypt, where it begins its voyage towards the Mediterranean, I was finally seeing it in all its majesty from the only vantage point to do its beauty true justice: sailing by wind and current on a felucca from Aswan to Luxor.

With the Egyptian tourist industry decimated by years of political unrest and all too recent terrorist attacks, my travel buddy Patrick and I had the pick of the dozen or so feluccas moored riverside in central Aswan’s Corniche-an-Nil. As touts vied for our business, the only trade currently in town, we inspected vessels for seaworthiness and vetted skippers for compatibility. In the end, it wasn’t the captain’s uncanny resemblance with Rimmer from sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, or even the spotless and spacious nature of his felucca that seduced us into committing to three days of river life, but its name: we would be sailing on a felucca named Bob. On a pier awash with corny African Queens and pretentious Nefertitis, the good ship Bob stood out like a beacon of down-to-earth reliability and unassuming modesty. A Bob doesn’t sink or run aground, a Bob gets you to where you want to go to, with minimum fuss and maximum enjoyment.

Equipped with the universally recognised maritime survival essentials of 2kg of fresh fruit, 6 litres of water and 24 bottles of local lager, we tacked slowly out of Aswan harbour shortly after lunchtime. With a total distance of under 70km in a little over two days and with the substantial deck space covered in comfortable mattresses and cushions, it became immediately clear that this was my golden opportunity to do something that had hitherto proven impossible on this trip: sweet nothing at all. As the real reason for our vessel’s name became apparent, with a Jamaican flag hoisted up the mast, the opening bars of I Shot The Sheriff playing on a small set of speakers and Captain Mostafa lighting up a smokable implement of herbal relaxation the length of the ship’s hull, I lay down and let the world go by in the most complete tranquility.

As minutes, hours and eventually two entire days passed by in a satisfying repetitive panorama of ochre sand dunes occasionally poking their rounded peaks above the riverside fringe of irregularly linear palm trees and attractive whitewashed village houses, I could have been forgiven for focusing my reverie on the shore. But the penultimate leg of the entire voyage was only ever about the river; gone was the uninspiring murkiness of Khartoum’s urban river junction, this was an intense dark blue with an almost viscous and impossibly still sheen, one that demanded and obtained attention with the reflections of the rising and setting sun, and every moment in between.

An unfortunate direct comparison with my erstwhile daily commute on South West Trains notwithstanding – I also wanted to throw myself from that method of transport – this was the routine travellers’ dreams were made of: drifting in and out of sun-kissed consciousness in between leisurely meals shared with the crew; feeding bonfires of crackling dried palm fronds on shore at nightfall; going through morning ablutions waist-high in crystal waters. All this whilst gazing lazily at the most beautiful fluvial expanse I had ever seen with: life was simple, life was good.

If the multiple interminable motorised journeys throughout Africa had thrown up a number of unexpectedly profound musings on life and the consequent miniature epiphanies, then the soothing flapping of sails and seemingly aimless drifting of this beautiful boat achieved quite the opposite. For forty-eight abnormally peaceful hours, I thought of absolutely nothing as body and brain worked together in unaccustomed partnership, understanding and appreciating the importance of the context. I lay on my back, again, with a mind as empty as I had ever known it, its only preoccupation trying to remember to sip my cold beer every so often. How beautiful denial was.

Sail away, sail away, sail away…

The struggle is real

The real Nile blue

Not Upper Halliford station

Bob – a boat you can trust

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