Nile File: Caleche Drivers and Horses in Edfu, Egypt

by Chris on October 20, 2011

A forced ride with a caleche – and skinny horses – in Edfu, Egypt

A horse in Edfu, Egypt

You know how some places give you a bad vibe? I felt that way about my Nile River cruise stop in Edfu, where caleche drivers have essentially bullied tour companies into using their services.

Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt

Located on the Nile between Aswan and Luxor, Edfu is known for the Temple of Horus, one of the best-preserved along the river. It dates back to the Ptolemaic (Greek) dynasty which took control after Alexander the Great. These kings and queens, which include the famed Cleopatra VII who bedded Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, ruled for 275 years, from about 305 BC to 30 BC.

 Temple of Horus exterior, Edfu, Egypt

Visiting the temple was indeed spectacular. By this point in my trip, I felt a little templed out, but I still found room to be moved by the elaborate hieroglyphics and large wall carvings.

Falcon statue, Edfu, Egypt

Not to mention this large statue of Horus, the falcon God. Egyptian mythology contends that Horus is the son of Isis and Osiris, who was murdered and dismembered by his brother, Seth (in a story similar to Cain and Abel). Isis managed to put all the pieces of Osiris’ hacked up body back together…..except the penis, which Seth had thrown into the Nile. Undeterred, Isis fashioned a phallus out of gold and brought Osiris back to life through magic, just long enough to become impregnated. Horus became one of Egypt’s most powerful Gods.

Royal family hieroglyphics, Edfu, Egypt

Until you’re in Egypt, it’s hard to imagine how it feels to see something so ancient. I kept marveling at how intricate and developed their society was; the book Cleopatra by Stacy Shiff (a must-read for anyone going to Egypt) stressed how wealthy they were.

Cat in the courtyard of the Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt

(Edfu is also where I saw the most cats, which I wrote about in my post on Bastet).

Horses outside the Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt

Before I reached Edfu, I had read about starving horses that pull the carriages to the temple. Apparently animal abuse had become so bad that my tour company, Uniworld, as well as other companies had stopped using the caleches because of customer complaints.

Caleche drivers with their horses, Edfu, Egypt

Emboldened by the revolution, the Edfu drivers revolted against the tour groups, destroying the buses and demanding that companies hire the caleches – or else. It’s now compulsory for cruises to use the caleches.

Caleche & horses on the street in Edfu, Egypt

Our guide Akram warned us about the caleche drivers. “We are paying them already,” he said. “Don’t give them any more money and definitely DO NOT tell them that they should wait for us.” Of course, two women on our tour violated his advice, so their caleche driver followed us around until we went inside the temple.

Caleche drivers soliciting passengers in Edfu, Egypt

It wasn’t the drivers’ persistence that bothered me as much as the horses themselves and the condition of the caleches. The horses were very skinny, although I didn’t see the protruding ribs that have been featured on some YouTube videos. They were much thinner than the horses that you see in Luxor, probably a testimony to the higher poverty levels in Edfu.

Broken caleche, Edfu, Egypt

I also noticed holes in several of the buggies, and I wondered how safe they really were. Our trip to the temple took place around 7 a.m.; what would a carriage ride be like during  typical Egyptian rush hour (when the concept of “lanes” quickly devolves).

Caleche & horse stables, Edfu, Egypt

Outside the Temple, we saw signs for The Brooke near the stables. Established in 1934, Brooke is an international nonprofit aimed at improving conditions for working animals – horses, mules, donkeys – in developing countries.  They provide mobile vet services in Edfu and other towns, and stepped in this spring when the tourism industry collapsed. Apparently these skinny horses were even worse earlier in the year, partially because the drivers have more money from the forced caleche rides.

Still, I felt a little relieved to leave Edfu. The place seemed shady, and not just because of the visible poverty. Akram, our guide, voiced a similar opinion. “It’s not my favorite stop,” he told me. “The people here….I just don’t trust them.”

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kjell October 20, 2011 at 9:11 am

Please, can someone give this people some dignity. Nobody deserves to live like that. I feel ashamed on behalf of the horses.

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Elizabeth October 21, 2011 at 8:23 am

I agree – the horses were so sad! Some of the people in my group were able to take a van – so maybe the carriages aren’t always required now?

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Mike October 21, 2011 at 3:57 pm

A Caleche Union/Mob. When in a poverty stricken country no animal, human or tourist can win. A shame.

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Nikki February 3, 2013 at 5:48 am

Great post. I was there today and initially refused to get on the horses but I realised that it would take me about 30-40 mins to walk there which would’ve meant I had no time to see the temple and walk back. I think the tour companies should do more – it’s terrible that they have to use caleches as it means there’s no incentive for them to improve.

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