Poster for Agatha Christie's 'Death on the Nile' (1978).

The Editor’s Desk: No needles? No Nile

I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt, but a trip there came with a catch

I have always wanted to travel to Egypt.

Well, not quite always. I was probably 11 when I developed a passion for Egypt, after stumbling across a book in the school library about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 and its subsequent unsealing in 1923. The book had a photograph of the well-known, and dramatic, gold mask of the young pharaoh on the cover, and dozens of photographs inside — mostly in glorious black and white, although a few were in colour — showing the “wonderful things” archaeologist Howard Carter and his team found inside the tomb.

I can’t put my finger on what, precisely, I found so fascinating about the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in particular, and ancient Egypt in general, but I read the book several times, and began searching out more about Egypt. At around the same time I discovered the works of Agatha Christie, and was thrilled to find that the Queen of Crime had not only married a renowned archaeologist (Max Mallowan), whom she accompanied and assisted on his digs, but that she had set several of her mysteries in Egypt.

Imagine, then, my delight in 1978, when a star-studded movie version of Christie’s Death on the Nile was released. One of my favourite Christie novels! As a film!! And made largely on location in Egypt!!! Needless to say, I saw the movie — not once, not twice, but several times — thrilling to the big screen, full colour scenes showing the Nile river, the pyramids at Giza, the Temple of Karnak at Luxor, and the massive statues of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel. Oh, and it was a pretty good mystery story as well.

(As a side note, I’ll mention that I saw the film by hopping on the 406 Railway bus a couple of blocks from my Richmond home, travelling into downtown Vancouver, and disembarking on Seymour Street behind the Orpheum Theatre. I did this once or twice a month, and would spend the day on my own, rambling along Granville Mall, checking out the used bookstores and Golden Age Collectables, popping down to Duthie’s Books, prowling Eaton and Pacific Centre malls, having a meal, taking in a movie, and then travelling home again by bus, getting in around 9 p.m. or so. I started doing this, with full parental approval, when I was 14, had some wonderful times, and never came to harm. The past is indeed a foreign country.)

But I digress. Over the years my passion for Egypt faded somewhat, but always at the back of my mind was the idea of going there one day. Now, Egypt isn’t a usual holiday destination from Canada, but it’s not an uncommon one for people in Britain, and when I found myself living there in the mid-1990s I came across several tour companies offering package trips to Egypt that (of course) included a cruise down the Nile, as well as side trips to some of the sites I had dreamed about since I was 12.

However, the trips always came with a catch: a set of inoculations that would-be travellers to the land of the pharaohs had to have, and show proof of, before they travelled. I’m not a huge fan of needles, and the list of required shots was rather daunting. Still, it wasn’t the needles that (in the end) dashed my dream of travelling to Egypt: it was the price. Even in the hottest months of July and August, the tours were prohibitively expensive, and to be honest I didn’t fancy the heat of Egypt in July (although after this summer I suspect I wouldn’t find it quite as daunting as it seemed back then, before I’d experienced Ashcroft during a heat dome).

The point is that in order to go to Egypt — a thing I wanted to do, but which was a luxury, not a necessity — I would have had to get some vaccinations. No needles? No Nile. If you wanted it badly enough, you got the jabs. If this story has a moral, I shall leave that to readers to draw for themselves.

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