114 Days on the Nile
By Jane-Ellen Robinet
Two daring explorers
successfully traverse the entire length of
the Nile River in a new OMNIMAX® movie, Mystery of
the Nile, opening June 11 at Carnegie Science Center.
The 12-foot crocodile stared Gordon Brown straight in
There Brown sat, in his eight-foot kayak on the
Nile River, as the menacing croc made a b-line right
for him. “He
was looking at me as his next meal. I have no question
about that,” Brown recalls.
So the 41-year-old professional
kayaker and filmmaker raised his kayak paddle, smacked
the water surfaceseveral times, and hoped the croc would
think gunshots were being fired. It had worked several
But not today.
As the creature arched his back and prepared
to pop out of the water to attack, Brown raised his paddle
it down on the croc’s head. The animal fell down
and then, mercifully, swam away.
All in a day’s
work for Brown and expedition leader Pasquale Scaturro,
who last year became the first explorers
to complete a full journey of the 3,250-mile Nile River
from its source in Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea.
The amazing expedition, which ended April 28, 2004, took
114 days and was fraught with dangers from nature, man,
and international politics. The perils and the beauty
are captured in the IMAX film, Mystery of the Nile, which
opens June 11 at the Rangos Omnimax Theater at Carnegie
Against all odds, Scaturro and Brown
created a beautiful film that weaves beauty, danger,
and adventure into a
moving travelogue about an exotic and mysterious part
of the world. It was no small feat. Over the past century,
dozens of adventurers have tried to run the powerful
river in one expedition, but none have succeeded. At
least 12 have died trying, while others have been shot,
or simply disappeared.
Mystery of the Nile lets audiences
feel as though they are kayaking through crashing, tumultuous
rapids. Birds’ eye
views from above the world’s longest river track
the water’s path from the Ethiopian Highlands to
its exit at Alexandria, Egypt. The film also gives theatergoers
a sense of the heat of 120-degree days and the pain of
windstorms so fierce that sheets of sand whip across
the valley of the Nile like a deep, dense fog.
The film really captures the grandeur and the magnitude
of the Nile,” Pasquale Scaturro says, as well as
some of the environmental challenges faced by the countries
along the Nile’s path.
What couldn’t the film capture? Scaturro doesn’t
hesitate: “114 days on the river…more than
3,200 miles. How can you capture the everyday of that—the
thousands of experiences—in just 45 minutes? You
Scaturro’s beautifully written
expedition journal comes about as close as most will
ever get to understanding the duo’s everyday experiences—some
of them harrowing, such as a “day from hell” in the dust and wind
storms of the Sudan.
(Day 62; March 7, 2004;
by winds exceeding 50 to 60 miles per hour, a wall
of dark brown dust
roared up the river and directly on top of us. We were
able to get the food and laptop stashed away before
we were totally covered in the dust and dirt that enveloped
us. It was everywhere and it didn’t let up
all night. After a few hours, I simply crawled into
bag on the deck of my boat, tried to cover my face,
and spent the next seven hours trying to breathe
Brown and Scaturro made their journey using a kayak and
two 16-foot inflatable rafts. At various points in
the expedition, they were joined by an IMAX camera
crew, an archaeologist, a photographer, a journalist,
and a hydrologist. In addition, the explorers had armed
with them in Ethiopia to help protect them from an occasional shooting—and
more than an occasional rock throwing—by people from
the Nile’s Ethiopian shores. Sometimes, even the baboons in Ethiopia
threw stones at the crew, having learned that behavior from humans, Brown says.
the most part, however, they were very much alone. “What most people
can’t understand is that it was four months with just the two of us
most of the time,” Scaturro says, “with nothing but what we had,
and in some of the most incredible circumstances.” Incredible even
to Scaturro and Brown, two veteran explorers. “If one of us had died,
the other would have continued on,” he adds. “There was no going
back or getting out of this.”
Scaturro, a full-time geophysicist, is
one of the world's most experienced river guides, having led many expeditions
on waterways in Africa and around
He has also climbed Mount Everest twice, including leading a 2001 expedition
that took blind climber Erik Weihenmayer to the summit.
a renowned adventure filmmaker and expert kayaker,
has his own claims to fame, including winning five Emmys.
He has shot and directed films for
network television, including projects for National Geographic, Discovery,
and the Outdoor Life Network.
77; March 21, 2004; Sudan) Absolutely the best
part of this journey, with its incredible scenery
the three-thousand-year-old fortresses and temples,
is the fact that in 37 days and 2,300 kilometers
in the Sudan, we have seen absolutely not a single
other tourist, adventurer, traveler, or any other
outside of Khartoum. Basically, we have had the entire
Nile River to ourselves. What an adventure.
Impossible No More
While both men hardly anticipated anything but a difficult
voyage, Scaturro says that operating the IMAX camera
probably “tripled the difficulty” of the
trip. Some of the most heart-stopping scenes were filmed
by a special IMAX camera attached to the front of Brown’s
kayak. But the dangerous rapids and frequent crocodile
attacks made such filming increasingly difficult. Each
IMAX camera weighs 50 pounds and each roll of film
weighs 10 to 20 pounds—hardly the stuff of smooth
Since Scaturro and Brown returned a little
over a year ago, they’ve spent a lot of time
describing just how they managed to do the impossible.
It’s a long, long, long trip, with so many problems
associated with it,” Scaturro notes. “Lots
of class 6 rapids, crocodiles, hippos, dangerous border
and dam crossings, and plenty of tedium—with no
base camp and no real team to work with.” All this,
he says, made the Nile seem “impossible” to
Besides the obvious experience they brought
to the mission, it was the duo’s complete lack
of fear that seemed to give them the edge they needed
to triumph over the
obstacles thrown at them—or shot at them, literally—over
the 114 days.
I never feared for my life,” Scaturro says. But
some of the individuals who assisted the team from time
to time did, he notes, and most of the time it had more
to do with a fear of man than a fear of nature. He recalls
one night in particular, at the Rosieres Dam in Sudan,
when the Somali and Sudanese soldiers “loaned” to
the duo by the Ethiopian government were certain they
all would be shot if they attempted an overnight crossing.
They were deathly afraid that the troops guarding the
dam would hear us coming and just start firing at us
thinking we were terrorists coming to blow up the dam,” Scaturro
wrote in his Day 44 journal entry. So they spent the
rest of the night tied to a large acacia tree sticking
out of the water in the middle of the lake. It was only
after dawn broke when they motored to the dam that they
learned the dam guards were not only waiting for them
(after receiving a radio call from upriver), but their
commander was so worried about them he’d almost
sent out a boat to try to find them.
(Day 90; April 4, 2004; Cairo) During the past 90 days
and 3,600 kilometers, we have run bone-crunching class
5-6 rapids, endured crocodile and hippo attacks, been
shot at by shifta, arrested twice, suffered through intense
heat, been blasted by dust and sand storms, and have
had to portage two dams. We have succeeded in making
it all the way down from the source of the Nile in the
Ethiopian Highlands to the border of Sudan and Egypt.
In addition to being previously impossible, the full
descent of the world’s greatest river is filled
with mystery, as the name of the film implies.
biggest mystery, Scatturo and Brown both agree: “Where
does the water come from?” Scatturo
asks, rhetorically. “I mean, let’s be real:
You’re in Africa, and the only water Africa gets
is when it rains a few months of the year. The river
has no melting snow peaks flowing into it; and it runs
for 3,000 miles to the Mediterranean with NO tributaries,
yet it flows year-round!
One day, I just sat there on the river and thought, ‘why
doesn’t this thing just dry up?!’”
notes: “For years throughout the whole development
of the Egyptian civilization, this river—without
any rain falling in Egypt—would climb to flood
level, bring glacial top soil and deposit it on the fields,
and create this rich environment. Egyptians would sail
upriver and coast downriver, and they developed an extensive
trade,” which ultimately created a region rich
in culture and history.
Egypt and Sudan wouldn’t
exist without the Nile, Scaturro adds. “It’s
funny: Ethiopians know where the Nile comes from; Egyptians
know where it goes;
and the Sudanese, in the middle, don’t know where
it comes from or where it’s going,” he says,
They all have faith it will continue, however.
Just as it has for thousands of years.
And thanks to
the tenacity of two fearless explorers, the world now
has a beginning-to-end glimpse into the
exotic worlds this mysterious river has created and
continues to nurture.
at 7:01 a.m. Egypt time, April 28, 2004, after
5,247 kms (3,260 miles) and 114 days, Gordon Brown
I floated out into the surf of the Mediterranean Sea,
accomplishing our goal to be the first persons
in history to travel the
entire length of the Nile River from its Blue Nile source
high in the mountains of Ethiopia to its terminus just
north of Rosetta, Egypt.
nearly four months of hiking, kayaking, and rafting
the greatest river
in the world, often through very difficult conditions, we were neither happy
nor sad to see the expedition end. But rather we both had a sense of relief
knowing that we didn't lose anyone or suffer
any serious injuries during the entire expedition.
That is an incredible success in its own right.
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