Like a kid on, erm, Christmas morning, I stir at 3.30am in anticipation of the day ahead. Today there are no presents in a sack at the end of my bed, but with a pre-dawn flight from our base in Aswan to the Great Temple of King Ramses II at Abu Simbel, it’s hard not be excited. While some lie in after celebrating Christmas Eve with vigour, I wake up to a golden sunrise over Lake Nasser. Behind me lies an 800-year-old temple carved out of a mountain. It’s not a cathedral, but its majesty in the morning sun is just as impressive.
With 90 per cent of the Egyptian population Muslim, Christmas Day isn’t exactly a big deal for the Aswan locals. For them it’s just another day of the year, but that doesn’t stop the captain and crew making an effort when we board our felucca at lunchtime for a two-day trip to Luxor.
Our group of 10, used to more decadent festive occasions, are a little unsure about how the day will pan out. The felucca is so simply furnished — a 10m x 5m deck covered with cushions — one of my fellow passengers quips: “If a barn was good enough for Jesus, I’m sure this will be good enough for us”. But it quickly becomes apparent we’re probably a bit better off than the birthday boy was.
The sun is out, the beer is cold and the crowd, as at most Christmas Day get-togethers, is in decidedly good spirits. It actually made us feel sorry for those who had opted for the “luxury cruise” rather than our felucca.
Any earlier phone calls to our families, telling them we wish we were back home, are quickly forgotten as a Christmas lunch of falafel, hot chips and bread is happily devoured.
As the afternoon wears on, we settle into a normal Christmas Day routine — more beers after lunch, then a snooze before stirring again for a few more drinks in the evening.
About the only thing missing from our Christmas Day in Egypt is the fat man in the red suit (he actually puts in an appearance on New Year’s Eve, by which point I’m well attuned to ‘Egypt time’ so it makes complete sense).
Settling into my sleeping bag that evening on the deck, it doesn’t feel like I’ve missed Christmas. It might not be roast turkey at Nan’s, but Christmas on the Nile is not a bad compromise.Nan’s roast can wait for another year.
» Krysten Booth travelled to Egypt with On The Go (www.onthegotours.com; 020-7371 1113). A 13-day King Ramses tour starts at £449. Supplements apply at Christmas and New Year.