In Aswan, at the start of my Nile journey through Egypt, I felt a sense of relief. While there were still 745mi (1,200km) to go, I had no more borders to cross, teams to build, or approvals to get beyond those for Egypt. The end was in sight, and while I was loving this journey, the thought made me smile.
This was going to be my first time paddling a fully loaded kayak. In Sudan, there was a support boat for most of the supplies – no such luxury now. While this would make for hard paddling, I was looking forward to being self-sufficient. I was joined by Nadim, who was going to paddle with me most of the way.
There are various police units in Egypt -- the Water Police were our main point of contact. They would give us the go-ahead to paddle through Egypt, and were incredibly helpful and cooperative all the way through.
At the beginning, Nadim and I were on our own, but as we made our way north, the police felt we needed greater protection (a precaution they take with all foreign visitors traveling through).
This meant staying in hotels rather than camping, and having a police escort on the water, and to and from the hotels – more often than not, we’d have a police car in front of our taxi and a police van behind. I felt like traveling royalty!
There wasn’t much time for sight-seeing, but we did manage one stop at the ancient city of Abydos.
This has been a sacred site to the Egyptians since predynastic times. Wepwawet, the jackal-headed god, believed that he “opened the way” to the world of the dead through Abydos.
I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth they constructed these huge temples. One of the main ones, Seti I, dates back to 1300BC. It contains seven chapels and many beautiful, detailed reliefs.
I had a couple of days in Cairo before staring the final 160mi (260km). As I prepared to launch, I got pretty emotional. In August 2017, I had been here as part of my reconnaissance trip to Egypt and Sudan, and went for a kayak at this very spot. At the time, I thought, “When get to this point on the expedition, I’ll be so close to the end.” Now I was actually here. I could hardly believe it.
I was without Nadim for this section. The plan was to do this last stretch in four days. The first three were long and hard.
On what was to be my final day, I woke up in the early hours with an upset stomach. I won’t share the gruesome details except to say I lost a lot of liquids. By 9am I was beginning to feel weak and faint. I needed to get some fluids in me ASAP.
No one in my hotel spoke English, and I deeply regretted not having continued with the Arabic lessons I’d started pre-departure. Praise be for Google translate. In the room that doubled as reception, I tapped in the word “hospital” and looked at them desperately.
Eventually an ambulance pulled up – with sirens. Okay, maybe a bit of overkill. At the hospital, I was given an IV with a dose of antibiotics.
Soon, I started to feel a bit better. Back at the hotel, I took an extra day to rest and recover, and decided to split the final day in two.
On my last morning, I felt utterly spent – not just from being ill, but from all the months of effort. The 9mi (15km) I needed to do that day seemed like a lot.
But when I saw the water, I smiled. This was it. Time to bring this expedition to a close.
The headwinds were strong, but I didn’t care. The only real problem was that the big waves meant actually paddling on to the Mediterranean Sea was out of the question.
As I neared the end, I could smell the sea and see the waves. The tears started to roll.
I did my best to take in every moment of those 15km. As I neared the end, I could smell the sea and see the waves. The tears started to roll. I got as close as I could and called it – the end of this seemingly impossible dream that had begun to formulate years earlier.
The two years of endless planning and preparation. The seven months in Africa. The obstacles, fears, and self-doubt that had to be overcome. The 685mi (1,100km) of rafting, 1,865mi (3,000km) of kayaking, and various other forms of transport. It was all behind me now.
The next day, as I left for the airport, I saw the Nile for the last time. Tears rolled down my face once again. I couldn’t pinpoint the emotion behind these tears – there were many.
I was sad to be saying goodbye to this mighty, beautiful river. The Nile had been my purpose, goal, and focus for years.
At the same time, there was relief – no more planning, problem-solving, or constant physical demands.
And there was also an enormous amount of gratitude and pure joy. I had done it – or rather, we had done it. There’s a very long list of people that made this expedition possible. I owe you all a huge debt I couldn’t pay back in multiple lifetimes.
My final words to all who followed my journey are these from Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
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