Then we crash landed in the sugar cane field

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Viking Princess

Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Saturday, November 3, 2012

And then we crash
landed in the sugar cane field

I haven't been able to blog for a while because there has been just so much going on. However,
I’m back in the saddle so to speak, and the bit’s between my teeth and I’m raring to go. So this is a pretty long one, and will bring you fully up to date.

As you will know by now, whenever we travel, stuff automatically seems to go awry. You may recall that when we went to Greece, ended up going to watch the rioting. With a ringside view as well..... following on from there, went to Israel, and on our arrival they closed the West Bank..... Lots more big bad stuff with tyres being burnt in the middle of the streets... the Israeli riot squad out in full combat jackets with stun grenades et al. Went to Egypt, recently and you just have to read any news paper to tell about what the Arab world is doing. In Cairo they were revolting and somewhere else, they murdered an American diplomat!!! 
Our timing seems to be immaculate for going into what seems like lots of trouble. And now, while waiting for our flight back to the Caribbean, have been told that there was a hurricane over the next island (St Kits) that obliterated it and now British Airways are having to put on a rescue flight as a result. SO we wait.

But let me start from the beginning.  We arrived back in the UK for our Son’s wedding. The weather on the day was spectacular, and the entire wedding could not have been better. And thinking about it, I belong to the generation that has never had to actually plan a wedding at all;
even our own. When Dyana & I were married, her Parents did all the organising.  This time, Andrea and Alex wanted to do everything which seems to be the thing to do nowadays. And again we had nothing to do with any arrangements. All we had to do was turn up....,
be ourselves...., be on our best behaviour...., not offend anyone...., and be totally sociable. Those were the orders from Alex! So naturally we obliged. Hope you like the few pics and short video of the bride & Groom walking into the reception which was held in a Country
House built in the early 1500’s. A truly wonderful event.

Now for the bad news. The tenants living in our house deliberately did their best to trash it just before they left. So Dyana & I have been hard at work for the last few weeks getting it all back 'ship shape and Bristol fashion’. I don’t think that Dyana & I have worked so hard in such a short time in order to complete such a mammoth task. But now it’s done and dusted. And all well that
ends well, the house was snapped up and all is well.

So we decided (before we left St Maarten), that we needed a very well deserved break after the wedding, not realising we’d also have to repair the house. And it just so happened that an offer came up for a Nile Cruise.  Except that the world’s tourists had turned their backs on the Arab world while all the insurrection was going on. When you looked at any of the worlds TV seeing the rioting going on, or read any newspaper..... You were likely to come to very much the same
conclusion. And that is.... ‘Why go there at all?’ We also had a very good friend of ours, an American lady, Beverley tagging along with us as well. How fantastic. Well, her family and friends were giving her the third degree! They phoned her..... Emailed her.... Cajoled her into trying to get her to rethink her schedule, and to her credit, remained resolute....   So we all went.

Now Egypt to the uninitiated sounds wonderful. The Pyramids... the tombs... the Temples the
Nile... and of course, the Pharaohs. So after landing in Luxor over three hours late... being jostled by the army of beggars all pretending to be baggage assistants, made it to the waiting air conditioned bus. And finally on to the boat, about a half hour ride away!

Now cast your mind back to that wonderful film Death on the Nile written by Agatha Christie;
can you remember the boat with her character Hercule Poirot? The Belgian detective?  That pedantic little man strutting around on the paddle steamer? Solving the murder? Well that’s exactly ike the boat we were on. Only 47 cabins spread over three decks. Walking onto the boat across a narrow gang plank to be welcomed aboard by the crew in their pristine white Egyptian cotton uniforms. How wonderful. And so, off into the dining room. Definitely not something to be taken lightly after all the stories one hears about. The words, (and I use them quite colloquially now all refer to the same thing)... Gypoguts.... in South America they call it Montezuma’s revenge.... and in India they call it Deli-belly. Well it all refers to the same thing... and I’m not going to dwell on it any more, suffice to say everyone had to wash their hands with disinfectant upon entering the dining room. And magically, I’m pleased to say it worked.

Included in the tour were quite a number of excursions with a guide who ostensibly was also
an Egyptologist. However, the one we all really wanted to go on was the hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings just as the sun was rising over the horizon. And Dyana made sure she was first in line to book this. The good news was that we were on the trip... the bad news was that we all had to be up at 3.00 in the morning. Yep... that’s right.... if you want to see the sunrise in Egypt! That’s the time to get up and get ready!

The small dilapidated van was waiting at the quayside as a dozen of us weary, and half awake travellers made our way onto the tatty seats; and off we jolted. All still very dark, and hardly anything stirring on the roads. About ten or so minutes later we arrived on the banks of the Nile where we transferred to a strange looking boat that was obviously there to take us across to the other bank. All very mysterious! So again walked the very narrow gangplank and sat down on hard wooden seats. Before we started the crossing, they served us ‘breakfast’; a carton of drink and a small biscuit. The young lad (who could not have been much more that twelve years of age) at the stern was proud to be in charge of the small outboard engine. And he looked very proud about it. Unfortunately, we were the last tourist boat to leave. He pulled the starting cord.... and then he pulled it again and again and again. Took the cover off the engine... fiddled with something or other and so on the eleventh or twelfth pull, the motor coughed... then spluttered into some form of life and we were off! All of five minutes later we were on the other side, and it was still dark as we boarded yet more ‘busses’ (and I use the word guardedly, because if you’d have seen them, you would also use the term ‘bus’ very guardedly). So another ten minutes in this rickety vehicle later we all arrived at the allotted launching site.

WOW!  What seemed like total chaos. There were seven big shapes on the ground with men shouting and gesticulating with their arms as they tried to get some sort of semblance of normality from the chaos as balloons were being slowly inflated with giant compressors. No flames yet! And then what seemed a miracle! Slowly.... one by one.... the balloons filled with air and the first flame shot out of the gas burners heating the air inside the envelope and like a lumbering giant it slowly took shape... rising higher and higher up into the gloom... pointing skywards. An air of excitement. Not only from us, but also from the ‘ground crew’. It was up... and they hadn’t even set it on fire! Success! Yes! On their part! The baskets we were to go up in were huge and divided into four compartments; each holding five passengers. So there were twenty of us on the periphery plus the pilot and his assistant in their own section right in the centre with the burners, controls and many gas bottles and not a parachute in sight. Now that’s a good sign I thought. He obviously has confidence in his ability to fly one of these things.

The women who could not climb over the tall edge were physically picked up and dropped in
by several of the ground crew. And then we were ready. Looking up into the cavernous balloon with a myriad of ropes seeming to clutch the frail basket suspended below. Lots more shouting! The burners now making their own huge whooshing noise as they spat out huge yellow flames into the dark interior. The basket trembled... and again as the ground crew all looked on.... and a third time with more whooshing noise.... and then we were away.... slowly at first... going sideways..... but inexorably upwards.... Yes! This was it! The excitement of just having lifted off was palpable.  Sheer joy and wonderment that such a huge thing could lift us silently off the ground. Up we went. Climbing higher and higher. The sudden whooshing sound of the burners as a jet of yellow flame licked up into the empty void of the balloon. Up to a height of 2,200 feet. Gliding like gossamer on the wings of the wind... It was stunningly beautiful... and silent... and slowly, as if being pulled up over the far horizon, the first rays of the sun peeped over the curvature of the earth turning the dark inky blackness into that sort of purple. And slowly it became lighter and lighter as we sallied over the temple of Queen Hapshetsup looking down on the Valley of the Kings. What a sight! And a dream comes true.

Looking down from this height you can see just how far the Egyptians are able to irrigate their fields. It extends about a kilometre from each bank..... and then nothing but desert as far as you can see. It’s as if someone has drawn a line in the sand, and said this far only. And the houses are quite biblical. Many with no roofs at all. In fact it only rains about half an hour a year there, so the thinking is why do we need something like this? People have their beds right out in the courtyards, or in a room with no roof. So strange to see this. I hope you like the short videos and photos we took.

Then comes (for want of a better word) the landing. Just before takeoff we’d all been told to practice the brace position. Something we’ve all read about in one of those leaflets you get stuffed into the pocket of the seat in front of you in an aircraft. And promptly forgotten. I mean really. How often does a plane land on water? In my lifetime, I can only think of two occasions; the first was during a hijack and the aircraft landed in the Indian Ocean near the beaches off Kenya or Somalia. The other was that famous pilot who landed his aircraft in the Hudson River in New York where everyone was saved as well. And that’s as far as it goes. The rest of the planes just do a nosedive... and that’s it! So with trepidation, we followed the pilots instruction to lower yourself as far as you can into the basket..... head below the parapet so to speak.... crouching down as low as you can go. With your back facing the direction of flight.... as the
basket got lower and lower. Suddenly there was a cracking noise; more splintering noises and drops of what we thought were water splattering us as we crash landed right in a sugar cane field. The huge balloon dragging all of us in the basket along and through much more cane. The pilot desperately trying to get as much of the hot air out the balloon to stop its progress. And he succeeded.

With the accompanying vehicle and its attendant ground crew quickly on the scene. Probably to stop the farmer lynching the pilot after destroying some of the crops. Money passes over, and the farmer is then very happy, a big grin on his face. Obviously thinking he’s got a good deal. Swiftly we are ushered back into the rickety busses and taken directly back to our boat without having to cross the Nile with the twelve year old’s boat again. What a fabulous experience.

More on Egypt soon. Especially when I tell you about the temples and Hapshetsup.

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Comments on

Congrats!! Obviously, a great time was had by all -- though, knowing the authors as I do, I am surprised to discover that there were no encounters with (a) passing aircraft or (b) rams at any time :D

Looking forward to assisting in the creation of blog-worthy mayhem at the next earliest opportunity xo M

Lesley Bliss on

This blog from Egypt takes me back and makes me a little homesick! The wedding looks lovely. Sorry we didn't manage to catch up this time - x

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