I stood on the top deck of Tuya as we left the dock in Luxor, headed south, upstream toward Aswan. My eyes were not on Luxor Temple, the famous monument on the bank, but on a boat coming in, the one I hadn’t considered because of the cost, and the magnitude of my mistake floated before me, not hypothetically, but in real life. The Sudan was simply beautiful, the romance of a Nile cruise gliding in, close but out of reach. The feeling that I’d deprived myself of something beautiful stayed with me for the duration of my time in Egypt and also contributed to decisions I’d make in the next couple of weeks.
A week later in Aswan I’d moved myself from a nondescript hotel in town to the 5 star Mövenpick with the most wonderful location on an island, and while the extra money spent had seemed extravagant beforehand, now seemed a small price to pay for the comfort and quiet. Walking down to the ferry next morning to cross to the town, there was Sudan, tied up on the other side adjacent to the Mövenpick dock.
I got off the ferry and stopped to take pictures. While the bow was very near me, the way to the gangplank was by stairs from above, a building and a retaining wall parallel to the water between it and where I stood. I was about to walk up to the road when a man appeared on the other side and I called to him to ask if I might have a closer look at the beautiful boat. Yes, he said, and beckoned to me to come his way. Always up for the path less traveled, I climbed to the wall and with his hand guiding me I inched my way along the top of the concrete blocks until I stepped into a paved area and crossed onto Sudan. I was welcomed cordially by a uniformed staff member and asked if I’d like a tour. Yes, please.
Agatha Christie, so the story goes, was inspired to write Death on the Nile while on a cruise aboard the Sudan in 1933. Some sources stated that the Sudan was used for the filming of the 1978 movie adaptation but further reading and my own observations indicated otherwise. As I enjoyed Making Death on the Nile, included on the DVD of the film, my questions were answered regarding differences I’d noticed in the movie boat, called Karnak, compared with the Sudan in Aswan, including its apparent size and a different configuration of the top deck. The evidence leads me to conclude that Sudan is not the Karnak of the film. A photo shown during an interview with John Guillermin, the film’s director, is of the Memnon, the derelict boat found in Cairo and restored to become the Karnak.
He goes on to relate that most of the onboard scenes were filmed on a set at Pinewood Studios in England, on a replica of the Memnon/Karnak built in a tank to recreate the Nile and its banks, shown in fascinating detail on the DVD. There seems to be no dispute, however, that Sudan was used for the 2004 television version of the story with David Suchet in the series, ‘Agatha Christie's Poirot.’ According to Wikipedia, “The episode was filmed in Egypt, with many of the scenes filmed on the steamer Sudan.”
Attempting to put together the story of the Sudan, I was faced with more conflicting information. Beginning with the name, some sources refer to the PS Sudan (paddle steamer), while others call her the SS Sudan (steam ship). Was the boat built in 1885, as some sources state, or in 1921? Was it King Fouad or Fouad Pasha Serageddin who bought her from Thomas Cook & Son in 1950?
The information I’m sure of is as follows: Sudan was built by the Scottish firm Bow, McLachlan & Co for the British travel company Thomas Cook and launched in 1921, one of the largest river steamers in the company’s Nile fleet. The “golden age” of river voyages in Egypt came to an abrupt end in 1939 at the start of World War II and for the next 50 years the Sudan languished, abandoned and deteriorating. After an attempt to restore the boat to service in the 1990s, under the direction of new owners, Voyageurs du Monde, the refitting, restoration and modernization was completed between 2000 and 2006 and Sudan began regular Nile voyages once more.
The SS Sudan was every bit as beautiful and romantic as I’d guessed it would be. I was given a leisurely tour by staff members Ahmed and George, served a fresh lemon drink and left to enjoy the ambiance and views from the top deck at my leisure. When I went down to the main deck to leave, I was greeted by the gentleman in charge, Amir (“no title, please”), and Captain Hamada. My picture was taken with an exceedingly handsome crew member and my thanks given to all for the experience. I left to continue my day in Aswan, hoping it wouldn’t be the last time I crossed Sudan’s gangplank.
The evening of the day I wrote this account, I sat down to watch the just released DVD of the latest version of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, with Kenneth Branagh as Poirot. As the story is ending Poirot has solved the crime and leaving the train to “conclude formalities,” he’s approached by a man in uniform who is “looking for a Mr. Poirot. He is needed for a very urgent matter.” He must go to Egypt. “There’s been a murder, sir, on the bloody Nile.”
Next week, a Nile voyage of another kind, aboard a sailboat.
All episodes of 'PortMoresby in Egypt' can be found here.
And others of PortMoresby’s contributions here.