“I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt all my life. The Nile and the Pyramids and the sand…”Jacqueline de Bellefort, from Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.
Do you remember those packets of dates we used to get at Christmas in the UK? They were a weird oval shape and always had an exotic picture on the front, usually with camels and palm trees. They came with a tiny wooden fork to dig out the dates and I don’t remember anybody ever eating them. I was fascinated with the pictures. Where were these mysterious places? Would I ever be able to visit them? My fascination with the Middle East was also shaped by six watercolour paintings that hung in the stair well in my maternal grandparent’s house. In 1910, my great aunt Evie went to Egypt to teach the children of British soldiers stationed in Egypt and brought back these paintings. I used to sit on the top stair and stare at them for hours; they had the same effect as the date boxes. Camels, palm trees, deserts, oases, sail boats on a river. I longed to go. I sent off for travel brochures and cut out pictures. I wanted to be a travel agent. An air hostess. A hotel owner.
Another of my lifelong passions, this time thanks to my paternal grandparents, is Agatha Christie, and you’ll never guess what my favourite book is! Yes, Death on the Nile. One day, I thought. One day I will go to the Nile and I will follow in the footsteps of Hercule Poirot and I will cruise on the Nile. One day, one day.
None of my travel aspirations happened. I ended up doing a degree in Business Studies and working in a bank for most of my career. I did eventually get to visit some of these places though; over the years I visited Egypt, Jordan and Abu Dhabi. I saw the camels, the deserts, the palm trees, the oases. Inevitably, they weren’t quite as idyllic as I had imagined them in my head, but then real life rarely is. Despite this, I developed a profound connection with this part of the world. It touched my heart. It messed with my head. Then, on 1 August 2015, I walked on to the tarmac at Aberdeen Airport, boarded a plane, and changed my life forever.
I fell in love with an Egyptian and moved to Egypt. I don’t believe in fate, but sometimes I wonder. There were so many signs over the years. I met him on holiday. He was, and still is, the owner of a tour company. At that time, he also owned a budget hotel in the centre of Cairo. Until that point, I never believed in love at first sight, maybe you never do until it happens to you. We spent one day together, then kept in touch when I went back home. I visited him a couple of months later to see if it was real. It was. And then the decision made itself and I moved to Egypt. My husband has always said I was in love with Egypt long before I was in love with him. It’s probably true.
My life in Cairo has been a rollercoaster, but I’ve never lost that sense of wonder that I live in the country that featured in so many of my childhood dreams. I had lived here a couple of years when I found myself travelling for work on a motorway to a major suburb of Cairo. I was slumped in the passenger seat, staring out of the window, when suddenly the Pyramids popped into view. I had seen this view before, but suddenly I was overcome with the magnitude of it all. This is the Pyramids! The only remaining ancient wonder of the world. And I live here! It’s a challenging country to live in, but that sense of awe that Egypt inspires rarely leaves me. In many ways, the contrast with less beautiful parts of Egypt only serve to make this ancient country seem more incredible.
Not long after I moved, I had a lightbulb moment. I live in Egypt. I love Agatha Christie. I have wanted to work in travel my whole life. Why not combine them all? After all, my husband owns a tour company. I’m an expert on Death on the Nile. I’ve done lots of travel, both within and outside Egypt. Surely this must be possible? I discussed this with him. He said who’s Agatha Christie? I explained that she was the best-selling author in the world, after William Shakespeare. He had heard of Shakespeare. Are you sure? he said. Of course I’m sure. And, she wrote a book called Death on the Nile. He looked gobsmacked. And, I said, with further emphasis, there is a film starring Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, the detective in the book, and there is going to be a new film starring Richard Branagh as Poirot. I think people will want to visit to see where the book and films are set, because I certainly do. He looked unconvinced, so, I did some research to show that location tours are immensely popular. Just look at Harry Potter. To be honest, I was surprised that no one had already done this for Death on the Nile. Well, I convinced him, and three years later, after much planning and research (some of which was a lot of fun), this is the culmination of my lifelong dreams. I am delighted to welcome you to Literary Tours in Egypt, the only tour company in Egypt offering on location tours for Death on the Nile.
I hope to share with you those moments when my dream became reality, and I stood on the banks of the Nile in Aswan and thought, I am actually here where Agatha Christie stayed and was inspired to write Death on the Nile. As I stepped aboard a Nile cruise ship for the first time, I remembered the scene in the Peter Ustinov film where all the characters board the steamer Karnak. I sat and sipped a cocktail as the peaceful rural scene, unchanged for millennia, glided past. When we arrived in Luxor and I visited Karnak Temple, I looked around this magnificent edifice and imagined the film scene where a suspect tried to murder Linnet. I don’t think my fellow tourists were entertaining the same bloodthirsty musings!
In the end, I have to give the last word to Hercule Poirot. “There are many wonderful things to be seen in Egypt, are there not?” There are Hercule, there are.