Then it was off out into the desert….a new adventure starts...We drove out to a truck stop type place which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere to meet out drivers and to get different cars. We certainly attracted a lot of attention. I think we were the only females within 100 miles! Anyhow, our drivers and cook met us and we were off again for a long drive. The roads were surprisingly good although I could have done with a touch more legroom in the back of the 4wd on our lovely little bench seats! We arrived at our campsite just after dark after numerous police checks. In Egypt they seem to have police posts in the middle of nowhere which mainly involves a few young guys (usually smoking cigarettes) who look at your paperwork. That seems to be about it. Maybe it’s so if you get lost and don’t turn up at the next checkpoint they go looking for you in the dessert. Dunno…
So the campsite was in a kind of hollow on the edge of a big sand dune. The boys set up and Mohammed (our utterly brilliant cook) started dinner. We then learned the concept of D.D.B.B. or dig, do, burn, bury. You can guess what this relates to… There is something strangely Zen about wandering off into the desert at night, out of sight, to pee. The only major dramas were getting sand in your pants, keeping an ear out for the foxes, and remembering the way back to the camp!
Dinner was gorgeous. Mohammed cooks what is the best lentil soup on the planet! I still salivate over it and this is 3 months later. (Will have to try to get the recipe- I think Lisa got it). Put it this way, it was bloody good soup.
The night was spent looking up at the stars and lazing around the campfire. We slept out in the open right underneath the stars (it’s not as though we were expecting rain) and I really do think that this is a lovely way to fall asleep.
The next day we drove to the oasis town of Al Kharga. Here we got a police escort to go to some of the local sights- I’m not sure why, I think they may have just been bored- but they were very good looking young men who smiled and waved at us a lot so we didn’t really mind! We went to this Christian burial ground at Al Bagawat, dating to the end of the 7th century. It was absolutely amazing. There were all these igloo looking buildings that were graves or I suppose you could call them little mausoleums. It was hard to believe exactly how old they were- some of them were in really good condition and were even painted with murals and stuff on the inside.
After this we drove on to Dakhla where we were staying for the night. It’s this Bedouin village where you can stay in reed huts. We were expecting something pretty basic, but we were very pleasantly surprised! We must have gotten an upgrade because we were in lovely little villa things. It was great and although the bathroom facilities weren’t brilliant we didn’t have to do any digging! That evening we had a traditional Bedouin dinner and then went into a big tent thing where there was singing and dancing. They are such a happy people, my only nit-picky thing is the fact that all of the men seem to be chain smokers! Come on boys- give it up!
After a good night sleep we got out into the desert, its absolutely amazing looking out at the desert and all you can see right to the far horizon is sand dune after sand dune. It makes you feel very small, and a little thirsty! After this we found a bloody great sand dune and did some sand boarding. It was crazy fun- and the best workout on the planet climbing those damn dunes! In the fun I somehow managed to bugger my camera (I think it may have gotten a little sandy on the inside- oops!) so I was unfortunately without camera from then on- thank goodness for Emma who doesn’t take photos of anything that let me commandeer hers for the rest of the trip. Then we headed on to a natural spring nearby. It was lovely. It was like a warm swimming pool and you could jump off a bit at the edge with about a 4m drop into the water (or be boring and use the steps on the other side). I of course jumped in about 10 times it was so fun. You had to jump right out because there was a bit of a ledge below and aim for a certain spot in the water which was deeper because it was the actual source point for the spring. When you landed it was like being in quicksand or mud at the edge of the hole, but in the centre it was all bubbly and it exfoliated your legs. Great fun! While we were there another group turned up a little later than us. They were a big group with about double the amount of people we had but out of the lot of them only 2 of the guys had the guts to jump in off the big ledge bit. It was hilarious, all of us in our group (which was as you know 8 girls and one guy) were practically doing loops to keep jumping in, but the others were nearly all big scaredy cats!
After the lovely swim, which unfortunately turned me bright orange due to the sulphur in the water (think very bad fake tan) we had a nice lunch. That afternoon we went for a camel ride. Mine, named Bruce of course, was very smelly but like to go quite fast which was nice! Emma managed to nearly fall of her camel (and would have had the camel guide not caught her! Further enhancing her reputation as being a bit unco! (Sorry dear but it’s true!).
That evening (still orange) we headed back out into the desert for another nights sleep. We got to our campsite well before sunset and thus got to see the sun setting over the dunes which was lovely. That evening, by popular demand, Mohammed made lentil soup again. Again, it was to die for, and then our group treated our guides to some fantastic around the campfire singing (whether they liked it or not!).
The next morning we made our way back to the Bedouin camp for some well earned showers (still orange and smelling slightly of camel) and then drove back out into the desert we stopped at the fabulous medieval mud-brick town of Al Qasr. It was really nice and Khaled gave us a little bit of a lesson on Islam which was quite interesting. After lunch we headed to the Farafra Oasis where we visited an art gallery which was sort of also the artists house. The whole building was full of works of art as well as being a work of art itself. My favourite was his sandstone sculptures- the amazing colours….absolutely lovely. We stopped at another spring but it was only Mark and Khaled that jumped in here. I spent the time feeding apples to some donkeys nearby (I bought the apples and they weren’t nice so I thought the donkeys would appreciate them- I really do love donkeys!) It was lovely at the spring- while we were there a bunch of women came along and did their washing in it while their little kids played. It was nice just seeing people do normal everyday things in such a harsh environment and doing it so cheerfully too!
That night we camped out in the amazing white desert- a spectacular region of wind-eroded limestone formations. The continual erosion has left a layer of fine white dust on the desert sands, hence the name ‘white desert’. It was unlike anywhere I had ever been before. Looking at all the limestone formations made you feel like you where on another planet they were so alien looking! That night we had our final serve of our favourite soup (I think poor Mohammed was getting sick of making it!) and we had our final night under the stars.
The next day we had an obligatory group photo under one of the famous limestone formations (it kinda looked like a mushroom) and made our way slowly back to Cairo. On the way we managed to pick up an armed policeman (whether we liked it or not) to be our escort. Secretly I think he just needed a lift back to Cairo! It was a very long exhausting day. We got into Cairo in the afternoon peak hour. The roads were utter chaos! One thing that caught my eye (and that I wish I would have gotten a photo of) was a family of 5 riding on a single little motorbike- I don’t know how on earth they all managed to fit on! – it was not what I would call a family vehicle!
In the evening we made a trip to the Pyramids sound and light show. It was dreadfully tacky but certainly worth a visit if not purely for the chance of seeing the great pyramids and the Sphinx lit up at night. After this it was a final farewell dinner at a restaurant that Khaled recommended. It only seemed to have one thing on the menu which was this noodle and lamb thing with crunchy onions and chilli- but it was really yum- and cheap! Wish I could remember what it was called!
After this it was goodbye to our group and guides. It was quite a sad farewell because we had such a brilliant time with some truly wonderful people. I know I will be back to Egypt but not for a while yet because tomorrow I’m off to Jordan!
PS Still a little orange but no longer smelling of camel!