World Wanderings ~ A very special cruise on board the SS Sudan (Back to Egypt, Part 3)
There is no other ship like the SS Sudan sailing on the Nile. She is actually the only steam ship, nowadays all the other ships are MS, meaning motor ships, and she is the only survivor of all the steam ships from the Belle Epoque that used to be so appreciated by the happy few who could afford time and money to travel from Europe to Egypt and then from Cairo to Aswan for a 3 weeks luxury cruise.
The first ever Steam Ship cruising on the Nile was built in the1880s as a gift to King Fouad of Egypt who took his friends and guests on festive cruises. Soon after Sir Thomas Cook, the famous Thomas Cook who invented the modern tourism bought a series of Steam Ships and turned them into commercial boats that cruised the Nile from the1880s until the beginning of WW II. The SS Sudan was the gem of Thomas Cook fleet during the 1920s and 1930s, the golden age of Nile cruising. Among the many celebrities who travelled aboard the Sudan Agatha Christie probably is the most famous one. And of course the ship was her source of inspiration to write “Death on the Nile” her work of detective fiction in which Hercule Poirot deals with murderous lovers. The book was published in 1937. The SS Sudan provided the set for many of the film’s scenes staring Peter Ustinov in 1978 and later of the television film with the talented David Suchet in 2004.
World War II put an end to that glorious period and the ship was abandoned and docked for more than 50 years. In 2000 a French tour operator the “Voyageurs du Monde” (World Travellers), located the ship in disarray and decided to restore her. Within 6 months the ship was ready to sail again allowing new travellers to live a very special experience. Restored again in 2006 the Sudan is a unique blend of Belle Epoque style and modern comfort. She has kept her original side-wheel paddle steamer system. Wood and copper have been widely used on the promenade decks, in the elegant outside stairs or in the lounge beautifully decorated with period furniture. Each of the 5 suites and 18 large cabins has its own decoration with brass bed heads, wall mounted telephone, silky colourful quilts and a stylish bathroom. The suites located at the front and at the back of the two decks have several meter long bow windows giving a great view over the Nile and the Egyptian countryside.
After a private transfer from your hotel in Luxor or Aswan you will be personally welcomed aboard by Amir Attia, the cruise director whom genuine kindness and generosity go far beyond what you usually expect, giving you the feeling to be much more than a mere tourist. All the staff is willing to help. Even the mechanic who takes care of the original steam engine and workings such as the pistons and paddle wheels (feeding them with gallons of oil every day!) will be delighted to show them to you.
You can choose a 5 days /4 nights cruise from Luxor to Aswan or a 4 days/3 nights cruise from Aswan to Luxor. Each one will give you the opportunity to visit all the major archaeological sites of Upper Egypt: Karnak one of the largest holy area of the world, the temple of Luxor looking so beautiful in the sunset light, the Valley of the Kings, the lock of Esna where the SS Sudan is suddenly surrounded by many rowing boats from which salesmen will try to make you buy all kinds of souvenirs, Edfou with one of the best preserved temple in Egypt dedicated to the falcon-headed sky god Horus, Kom Ombo, the only temple of Egypt dedicated to two gods where pilgrims came to pray Sobeck the Crocodile god and Haroeris the falcon god, and last but not the least Philae where Isis, the Universal Mother was worshipped. At each call, when you will get back on board after an enriching but hot visit, the staff will welcome you with a small damp towel to cool you down, a drink and a little snack.
Then you will have plenty of time to enjoy the life on board. Meals are served in the wood panelled walls dining room, mixing Western and Eastern savours. Every day you can have a five o’clock tea on the teak sundeck watching the feluccas passing by, the farmers working in their fields, villages full of children waving their hands to you, the desert… Quietly lying on a palm-woven deckchair sunbathing, reading or daydreaming you will feel time slowing down. The lounge bar decorated on purpose in a British atmosphere is the meeting place for a drink before or after diner, smartly dressed to live up to the ship’s history.
There might be one criticism made about the cruise: it’s too short! If you get frustrated by that, you can take the opportunity to spend more time on board: once or twice a year a special cruise takes you from Cairo to Aswan for a 2 weeks trip. The SS Sudan actually is the only cruising ship on the Nile able to sail from Cairo to Luxor because she doesn’t draw much water. Since they are not scheduled on fixed dates you will have to visit the SS Sudan web site to know more about those very special cruises.
For more information: www.steam-ship-sudan.com
and about Egypt at: en.egypt.travel
Text and photos © Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny