Some short tours were available for those like myself who like sightseeing and dislike sport. They ran to rather flexible schedules, which meant that sometimes they did not set off at all and nobody minded. One trip I did fancy was a boat ride which was billed as leaving from Port Safaga, but I was doomed to disappointment, as the day on which it took place coincided with my tummy problems, and I did not dare to go. However, I was able to see some of the district on a couple of other outings.

The first was a leisurely afternoon visit to the downtown area of the teeming metropolis of El Quseir. Our guide, called Mohammed, was an Egyptian who had lived in Belfast for five years and married an Irish girl. Since his return to Egypt he had wed a second wife without divorcing the first (Moslem law permits this). About ten of us were driven into the town in a mini-bus, then Mohammed showed us around on foot, leading us through winding, unpaved, and dusty streets. The houses are painted (or were, in the distant past) in once-bright colours and have the flat roofs, shuttered windows, and ornate balconies characteristic of Arab style. The owners of these dwellings all desire to inform the world that they have fulfilled their Islamic duty and performed the pilgrimage to Mecca. The holy city is just across the Red Sea in the land of Arabia, which is a fairly short journey by boat or plane, but a very long one for a pilgrim obliged to get there by camel, as our guide informed us that his grandfather had done. The returned devotee proclaims his achievement by painting a notice of it on the outside of his house, next to the front door. Someone-upmanship seems to be involved, as a few of these advertisements include pictures of aeroplanes, indicating that the inhabitant of the house in question was wealthy enough to have paid the air fare to Mecca.

Apart from a sizeable church built around a hundred years ago by Italian miners living in the district, and now handed over to the Coptic Christians, mosques and a small number of shops, the principal sight of El Quseir is its huge natural harbour. From here, around 1500 B.C., Queen Hatshepsut sent forth her memorable Expedition to the Land of Punt (probably somewhere in the region of present-day Somalia) about which we know from its depiction on the walls of her temple at Luxor. As for El Quseir, very little urban development has taken place since that time.

At sunset we concluded the tour by going for a coffee break (though I actually had a glass of mint tea). We all sat around a table on the beach and Mohammed demonstrated to us the art of smoking with a hubble-bubble pipe. I had just taken a photograph of this activity when the contraption exploded. Fortunately no one was hit or hurt by the flying debris. Someone suggested that the apparatus had been primed with Semtex! Of course, the incident was only an accident, nothing sinister.

On my final afternoon (Tuesday 24th October) I went with a German couple on a jeep safari into the desert. This time our guide was a young Egyptian from the hotel's Recreation Dept. and very competent he was too. His driving was excellent and his knowledge of the surrounding wilderness very detailed. During this outing we were probably only a very few miles distant from the Movenpick, yet so deceptive is the desert scenery that I returned feeling very thankful that I had not been tempted at any time to go for a nice little solo walk. Though close to home you could get lost out there - permanently.

Our jeep left the hotel at 3.00 p.m. and during the course of the bumpy ride through a jagged moonscape of which the starkness was relieved only by a scattering of spiky growths like hedgehogs, we visited an abandoned phosphate mine complete with attendant ghost town, had a panoramic view of a desert sunset and in the twilight came down from the hills to the local oasis - one palm-tree, a well and a tent. For me the most diverting sight was that of two plump speckled birds scampering away from us in the headlights of our vehicle. I later studied the illustrations in my 'Common Birds of Egypt' to discover what I might have seen. The closest picture seemed to be that of the quail, but the fowls I had glimpsed were too substantial to be quails, so I decided that they must have been sand partridges, especially as my slim but helpful volume said, 'Rather common resident breeding bird of stony deserts ...Usually in pairs.' By then it was dark, so it was back to the hotel for us. I had my packing to finish and a last supper to consume before bidding farewell to yet another place where my days had been happily spent and brought in the desert to a notable finale.

The morrow was the day for my absolutely last view of Egypt - for now. I was resigned to its being a long one and could only hope that it would be no longer than actually scheduled. After all, it was but a few weeks since my detention at the airport in Malaga, Spain of which jolly experience I still retained vivid memories. However, fate favoured us on Wednesday 25th October and all went without a hitch.

We waved good-bye to the Movenpick Resort Hotel at 8.30 a.m. to recross the desert, again with armed police escort. I enjoyed seeing it again. At the end of the traverse we were delivered to the Sheraton Hotel where many of the Thomson clients were being gathered together to go to Luxor's far-from-luxurious airport. We had about an hour to wait before the coaches left. I encountered some of my former fellow-passengers from the Nile Commodore, so was able to catch up on their news.

Little remains to be said, return journeys lacking the excitement of outward flights. We successfully ran the gauntlet of Luxor airport, distributing One LE notes when necessary so as to use them all up. The rich pickings for the local lads are mainly to be had from the innocent arriving tourists with their Pound Sterling coins, as earlier recounted.

The plane left on time and the flight was mainly uneventful except that I was offered the chance to visit the flight deck, so took it. Such an opportunity has only ever come once before in my life. That was many years ago on a flight from Montreal to London, just after sunrise. This time it happened at night. Both occasions were memorable.

We landed on time at Manchester. Mr. Beckwith, owner of Jack's Taxi, was there to collect me, along with Mrs. B., who had come for the ride. We reached my home at 11.34 p.m.

My Flight into Egypt was undoubtedly one of the best holidays I have ever had. It started well, continued well, and finished well. I believe I have said little about the weather - it was so perfect while we were there (continuous sunshine, blue sky, comfortable dry heat) that no doubt we took it for granted. But I have certainly appreciated it since my return.

Every day that I look out of the window and see rain, rain and more rain, I think of Egypt!

That is all really, but a couple of related matters have arisen recently so I'll write about those in postscripts just to round things off.

POSTSCRIPT NO. 1 MORE ABOUT EL QUSEIR

I said above that very little happened in the settlement of El Quseir between the reign of Queen Hatshepsut and the present day. Well, I was wrong. The Romans were there!

Recently I received a copy of the University of Southampton Annual Report for the Year 2000 and, on flicking through same, was amazed on reaching Page 14 to see the name of Quseir leaping off the page at me. Archaeologists from my alma mater have been digging there and have found proof that El Quseir was once called Myos Hormos and was an important way-station on the trade route between Rome and India. This was in the first and second centuries A.D. The exact location of Myos Hormos has apparently been a cause of much learned dispute, but the findings of the Southampton team have now settled the matter.

No mention of this exciting development was made during my stay in El Quseir and I do not know whereabouts in relation to my hotel the excavations took place, but I was happy to get the news so unexpectedly.

POSTSCRIPT NO. 2 DEATH ON THE NILE

As part of the preparation for my visit to Egypt I re-read that essential text by the late Dame Agatha Christie to which I referred in my account of Aswan, namely 'Death on the Nile', a classic work of its genre.

Oddly enough, a short while after my return, I noticed that the movie of the same name was to be shown again on T.V., so I taped it and later sat back at my leisure to relax in front of what had once been one of my favourite films. It's always a joy to watch performances by the likes of Peter Ustinov, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Bette Davis, etc., but this time I was studying the scenery.

I have to inform you that the itinerary followed by the characters (at the behest of the film producers, that is- Dame Agatha knew better) is preposterous, not to say impossible. In one episode they are at Karnak in the morning(undisturbed by any other tourists, though there must have been some, even in the 1930's) and at Abu Simbel the very same afternoon. As these places are about 150 miles apart, I don't know how they got from one to the other - the scene changed abruptly and without any explanation. Yes, and the Pyramids turned up as well a few frames earlier.

There was some messing with the plot too. I concede that the victims and their killers remained the same, but a number of other quite interesting cast members in the book were totally missing from the film.