Kayaks Down the Nile

post written by Emma Filbrun

Title: Kayaks Down the Nile
Author: John Goddard
Major Themes: Nile River, Kayaking, Exploration, Adventure, Egypt, Sudan, Autobiography, 1950-2000, Africa
Synopsis: In 1950-51, three men paddle kayaks down the length of the Nile River, exploring and having adventures along the way.

Sometimes we’re quite surprised by how interesting a book turns out to be! When I went to the States several months ago to visit family, I asked my mom if I could borrow The Ra Expeditions to read to my children. She said I could, and also recommended Kayaks Down the Nile. My 15-year-old son loves long, involved stories, so when it was his turn to choose a book, he chose this one. Almost everyone found it very interesting, even though it is so long it took us a couple of months to get through! Even my 7- and 4-year-olds got something out of it; for a couple of days, they fashioned kayaks out of blankets, and the 7-year-old, one day, cut up a cardboard box to scatter pieces across the living room, making it look a little like one of the photos in the book of a cataract (rapids) on the Nile. Then, he pulled his little sister through it in their “kayak.”

The author, John Goddard, and two friends, set out the beginning of November 1950, at the headsprings of the Nile River. Their goal was to kayak all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Only a few days later, they ran into a catastrophe that nearly halted the entire expedition. They were thankful no lives were lost in the end, but they lost supplies and a lot of time. For the next couple of months, the expedition limped along, until they finally got everything together that they needed to keep going. The story is written as a long series of diary entries, from November 2 until July 17, and illustrated with photos taken by the men along the way.

We had no idea how dangerous hippos could be until we read this book! They were one of the worst dangers the men faced. Rapids were also a danger, and crocodiles, but hippos were the worst. We found the descriptions of various places the men visited to be very interesting. Some places they went are now underwater because of the Aswan High Dam, which hadn’t been built yet. The Aswan Dam was already in place, so there was a large lake where there hadn’t been one before, and that made navigation a bit challenging. Scattered throughout the book are pages of sidenotes about various topics, which really added to the learning experience, too.

This book appears to be out of print, but if you can find a copy in the library or at a used bookstore, it is worth reading. This is real-life adventure in a world that really doesn’t exist today, only 70 years later.

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