We’ve had cool koshari, funky foul, chic shisha and now, thanks to four Egyptian entrepreneurs, fabulous feluccas. Timmy Mowafi takes an eye-opening trip down the Nile…
Moonlight shimmers on the ink black Nile tributary. A billowing plot of reed rustles at a distance and all you hear is the tipper tapper of the water splashing against the hull. An oud player strums an archaic melody nearby.
I'm in a state of ultimate peace, yet somehow in the centre of Cairo’s chaos, suspended in time and space. This is the Fel-Felucca experience - transportational and transformational, taking you back to your roots, and setting-sail just in time for Ramadan.
When I arrived at Ramadan Fel-Felucca’s hub, situated on the Maadi Corniche - a walking distance from TGI Friday’s - there was a buzz of action. The team - comprised of Bassel Felfel, partners Shaden Fawaz, Nader Awad and Kareem Helmy - were busy getting everything ready for the day’s iftar bookings. This is a huge operation that must see the six beautifully renovated feluccas readied with food and staff to depart on time to cater to the hordes of impatient fasters.
Everything is taken care of, using sponsors not as a tool for income, but to create an eco-system of productive utilities to enhance the ride while keeping the same vibe. The seating is sumptuous - all plush brightly coloured material and fine finishings. Environmentally friendly Phillips solar panels fuel the lighting, flooding the felucca in a soft glow. A Samsung phone and tablet (with a multitude of games already downloaded) lie in waiting on the long turquoise fiberglass table. Traditional board games are piled up next to reading material. There are Jabra speakers and big beautiful beanbags. There’s even Wi-Fi – a concession to our desperate desire to constantly be connected, but one Felfel reluctantly allowed.
A Nile taxi is on hand to take customers to the toilet and back. And those are just the accessories… Fel-Felucca combines all of this on a floating restaurant catered by Crave, along with live Oriental music played on a secondary ‘entertainment’ felucca that encircles you.
Traditionally, Ramadan should be a time for quietude, spiritual recharge and re-connecting with loved ones. Instead it’s become a circus of corporations falling over each other at every kheima, vying for your attention and money over the clattering of a hundred hungry hippos fawning over a set menu iftar or buffet. “We’ve lost the identity of Ramadan,” Felfel tells me.
As soon as he begins talking about the project, you can tell Felfel is not an entrepreneur with money in his eyes, but one with passion in his heart.
“We want people to enjoy our country; the beauty of our Nile, everything, it's magic… you set sail from the docks and you’re in a different place completely, you’re in la la land. You can have fun and enjoy your time and heritage by just relaxing… chilling.”
“It was hard for the people who run the ports and the feluccas to accept the project at first because they didn't understand our long term plans," Awad explains. "This has been their lives for many generations. One main part of the project is not just the felucca; it's how to upgrade the mentality of the people and how they deal with their customers. They have to feel like you're adding to them, not taking away, and they're very happy now and very helpful.”
The idea started brewing over six years ago. “We used to ride feluccas all the time, but what we were missing was the proper facilities and services to actually enjoy our time and ride,” Felfel says. “With everything the country has been through, we thought it was the time to uplift and renew.” Felucca culture has been dwindling and the perception is that it has been relegated to facilitating drunken high-school antics or shaabi weddings.
But two years ago, the team came together to begin the project that would reclaim the Nile. “People our age are itching for something new,” says Fawaz, and the irony is that they seem to have found it in something older than the first civilisation. “We’re taking back everything we’ve taken for granted. We don’t have to carbon copy the West for new ideas. We have treasures right here.”
“It’s a virgin, fresh medium. No one has really used the Nile before in the restaurant industry," adds Helmy, before Awad jokes about the difficulty of finding a table in the city. “People keep looking for locations in Zamalek and Giza, everyone wants a table on the Nile… well, imagine how many tables you can have here!”
So far, Fel-Felucca has proven to be a massive hit. “The reaction is amazing,” Fawaz smiles. “People leave the ride and hug us, thanking us for what we’re doing for them and asking us to please continue after Ramadan.”
Thankfully, the team behind Fel-Felucca has their sights set beyond the festive season. “The Ramadan Fel-Felucca is only proof of concept for something much, much bigger we’re planning,” hints Felfel. “We want to make this happen not only for Maadi, or this dock, but the whole Nile, and for the whole country.”
Ramadan Fel-Felucca sets sail every day for iftar, lite-cruises and sohour. Check them out on Facebook here or contact +(2) 0101 455 5112 to reserve.