In January 1869, exactly 150 years ago, Miss Riggs joined Thomas Cook’s very first tour to Egypt and the Holy Land. Travelling overland, the journey would take three months, there and back. Miss Riggs kept a diary of her adventure and I am going to be posting from it over the coming weeks. This is day thirty-one.
Wednesday, 24 February
Walked to bazaar in the village at 8 o’clock and took camel to Philae (7 miles the land route to Philae). Some had donkeys but they fell down very much. Rode several miles on camel, most pleasant movement when it goes for a quick walk. When all collected at the river we took a dahabeah to the Sacred Island of Philae – so hot – sat inside from the sun; some sat outside on top of saloon. Several oars men very slightly dressed – they sang to their strokes – great many hands but not much work. Walked down to the edge of the cataract, foaming and rapid but not nearly so deep a fall as I expected. 9 or 10 naked arab men there ready to plunge in and float upon logs down the rapids for backsheesh. Philae ruins very pretty; a great many pillars inside the ruins.
Our other party arrived while we were there; several had decided upon doing the falls – 15 fr. each for going down rapids. I returned back on a donkey – visited some marble quarries en route – donkey fell right down in a moment very disagreeable. Rode through lovely palm groves, splendid green. Crossing sand, donkey down again so walked the rest.
Many other travelers beside Miss Riggs mention the local boys who would dive into the torrents at the First Cataract and ride the rapids on logs for baksheesh. This evidently wasn’t as easy as the locals made it seem: in 1861 a young Englishman attempted to copy them and it was ten days before his lifeless body resurfaced. Because of the cataract, Aswan was as far as the steamers went – the river here was impassable for large boats. Travellers with their own dahabiyyas could opt to have them carried overland and put back into the Nile south of the rapids so that they could sail on up to Abu Simbel.