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Above: A sampling of the incredible experiences and amazing sites explorers Brown and Scaturro captured in their film Mystery of the Nile.






114 Days on the Nile

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 the eye.

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 times before.

But not today.

As the creature arched his back and prepared to pop out of the water to attack, Brown raised his paddle and crashed 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 Science Center.

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 can’t.”

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; Sudan) Carried 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 barely 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 my sleeping bag on the deck of my boat, tried to cover my face, and spent the next seven hours trying to breathe without inhaling dust.

“ No Going Back”
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 guards 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.

For 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 the globe. He has also climbed Mount Everest twice, including leading a 2001 expedition that took blind climber Erik Weihenmayer to the summit.

Brown, 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, ESPN, ABC, and the Outdoor Life Network.

(Day 77; March 21, 2004; Sudan) Absolutely the best part of this journey, with its incredible scenery and the three-thousand-year-old fortresses and temples, is the fact that in 37 days and 2,300 kilometers of rafting in the Sudan, we have seen absolutely not a single other tourist, adventurer, traveler, or any other westerner 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 sailing.

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 negotiate.

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.

It’s A Mystery
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.

The river’s 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?!’”

Brown 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, laughing.

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.

Yesterday, at 7:01 a.m. Egypt time, April 28, 2004, after 5,247 kms (3,260 miles) and 114 days, Gordon Brown and 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.

After 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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