There is nothing to distinguish the battered sign that mark Mahmoud A’aty’s little business from any of the multitude of felluka rental places that line every available bank of the Nile, from Maadi to Zamalek. Same old cardboard, same old lettering in Arabic and English advertising felluka and speedboat rides at affordable prices, although affordable often turns out to be a relative term.
Perhaps that in itself is the beauty we should find in A’aty’s craft. It is one of millions and that is why we occasionally take for granted, that a beautiful and tranquil ride on the Nile is always just within reach of our fingertips.
“I grew up in Aswan, so I was always by the Nile,” A’aty, 35, tells me, his face calm and amiable. A far cry from the almost-demented vendors of other tourist experiences, who at times seem to be on the verge of shaking tourists by their ankles to reach their purses. “I love my job, even if it is not the most profitable, because I’m always on the Nile. It’s very peaceful. We know the Nile is dirty but there is no trash floating on top so you always feel it is a wide, pure field.”
A’aty started his business over 15 years ago with just one boat, the Basha. A decade and a half later, his fleet has expanded fivefold and he has big plans for expansion. “First, more boats of course. Maybe I will buy them from my neighbours so there are not always a million of us trying to get the same customer,” he says, acknowledging a sad but true reality. “And also sound systems, because everyone who comes likes to listen to music. Sometimes it’s romantic, for the tourists, and sometimes it’s crashing and booming when it is the kids with alcohol.”
Securing a trip involves haggling but that is part of the experience. The price is quoted per hour, so if you are in the market for a longer trip you can certainly use that to conclude your bargain. Prices range from EGP 30 to EGP 50 per hour, and stereo music comes with the ride. Up to this moment that is, because in the future that could be different.
“Maybe I will even hire a guitar player to make it even more romantic,” A’aty jokes.