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Published: April 20th 2008
After months of planning and weeks and days of stressful pre-trip preparations, I finally departed for my first 4 day field trip as the teacher instead of the student! Ever since I arrived in Egypt, I have had the idea of taking the high school students to the Western Desert as part of their PE class. Part of the high school curriculum requires students to learn about physical activity in an alternative environment, as well as look at some basic survival skills and first aid. Back in February, I picked the second week of April as a perfect time to take a break from the routine of school, enjoy the not-too-hot early summer weather and head out for a week in the sand. I sought out a reputable tour company and hotel, researched what other local schools had done in the past and sent out a parent letter with the kids...IN FEBRUARY. However, despite my best efforts and a series of obstacles and last-minute changes the trip actually happened last week and thankfully was totally worth every minute of stress..even if I had to wait until the morning of our departure to really know how many students were in fact going!!!!!
talk about last minute!
Monday morning the students arrived at school with their bags packed, ready for a 815am departure. In the end there were only 12 of 20 students who were able to go so the rest (who were required to still attend school) looked on jealously as the campers hung out in front of the school out of uniform. I created a packing list, showed examples of what to bring and explained that camping was not the same as travelling and a good backpack was best. However, amid the backpacks I spotted a pink rolling suitcase as well as a Dolce and Gabanna rolling bag (retail price approx 600$) wow! The bus of course was over an hour late but suprisingly it was a luxurious bus with tons of space and a DVD player. The supposed 5 hour bus ride took over 7 hours due to traffic and included such educational additions such as an Egyptian truck stop bathroom (GROSS!) and a pee stop at a natural gas factory where we had to ask the security guards special permission to use their washroom!
We finally arrived at the Bahariya Oasis and hopped off the bus eager
for a refreshing dip in the promised natural spring baths. By the time I got off the bus, there were already students rushing back screaming at the discusting colour of the bath. After an inspection of the rooms and a conversation with the guide, we decided that this was not hotel that was on the website, not the hotel that had been arranged, nor was it anywhere near the equivalent. So after a late lunch at the hotel, we piled into the 4x4 jeeps destined for the Minamar Resort, which was supposed to be our original destination. Apparently they were having trouble with electricity and the generator and did not have a/c. I figured we would give it a try and "rough it" if we had to!!
The Minamar was much better, although it had the appearance of being quite unfinished..rustic I guess. After spraying can upon can of bug-killer and a few room changes and spider squashing, the student screams subsided and everyone was assigned to their rooms..girls on one side of the building boys on the other. Since we were late arriving etc we didn't get to see all of the temples and tombs that we were
supposed to see but nonetheless we took care of the important things and went to a "clean" natural spring for a cool dip and then a hike to watch the sunset and look out over the town of Bahariya. After a delicious dinner of meat, potatoes and rice we returned to the hotel for the evening. I walked around like a drill sargent demanding the kids write in their journals that I assigned them and then it was some free time and lights out. Sleep was intermittent due to the frequent loud noises coming from different rooms...but really we couldn't blame them it was the first time many of these students have ever slept away from their homes and spent it with their friends no less!
The next morning we had a spartan breakfast of boiled eggs, white buns and nescafe. GAWD I HATE NESCAFE! anyway, we headed out to see another natural spring, the black desert and then at last the white desert where we would set up camp for the night. The natural springs are a square cement hole about chest height (well..for me anyway) filled with natural water that smells like rotten eggs because of the
high sulphur content. The sides of the cement are all rusty and mouldy looking. The kids were not impressed at first, but thank goodness for a few adventurous kids and us brave teachers who helped chide most of the timid ones into the water. The black desert was pretty cool. It was a regular sandy desert that had been covered with lava rock from volcanic explosions millions of years ago. We hiked a beautiful sand dune that I stupidly did in my flip-flops so my feet were burning by the time i reached the top. The sand was very similar to the dunes i went sandboarding on, fine and soft beautiful brown sand. We raced up and down the dunes a couple times and then back into the jeeps for some dune driving. It takes a lot of skill to drive in the deep sand; there are many courses in egypt to teach people this fine art because its so easy to get stuck. Our driver was very skilled, but crazy...I definitely had to yell KHALAS (enough!) a few times because I didn't feel comfortable. Next up we drove along the beautiful, flat highway (yes there is a highway running
through the middle of the desert that is in better condition than most roads in Cairo) to the white desert. It was cool to see the gradual change from the black rocks to the white rocks. The road in the white desert looked like a road up to a ski hill with white, snow-like sand blowing across the road and white rock mounds that really looked like snow. Between the white "snow" and the tumbleweeds, I must admit it felt very Kamloopsish! The rock formations in the White Desert are unlike any landscape I have ever seen in my life and as usual the pictures do not do justice to the vast expanse of the desert and the feelings of being so minature in comparison. We remarked many times it felt like the kind of place that you would film a star wars movie, or a movie about another planet because the views were just so foreign to us. I know that landscape doesnt generally thrill teenagers like it does adults, but even the sleep kids who had stayed up all night were pretty impressed with the White Desert.
We walked around taking pictures and then met up with the
the view of the "town" of bahariya Oasis from a mountainside
drivers to help set up the tents. Normally this tour totally caters its guests in all aspects and it does not include any walking, setting up of tents etc...but I had brought a guest into the school last week to teach the kids about survival in the desert and tent set up so it was the perfect opportunity to use the skills they had learned. We got camp set up just as the sun was setting behind the odd-shaped rock formations...a beautiful sight. After a mandatory journal session, I introduced the kids to the art of marshmallow roasting. After dinner, we played around and listened to the guides play their traditional drum beats. When 1130 (bedtime) rolled around I started shooing the exhausted kiddies into their tents. Bedtime was interrupted by a desert fox who was boldly trotting around our camp sniffing out some food. Once we got everyone into the tents, we could hear the high-pitch whining noises of more than one desert fox!! Those kids weren't sneaking out of their tents that night!!! But the guides slept beside the fire outside our tents and we had already been told that they were harmless creatures who might steal your
shoes if you left them outside over night! Just as we were falling asleep a Egyptian Hamaseen (windstorm) began and our tents madly flapped in the wind all night long, blowing sand particles into our mouths as we tried to sleep.
Everyone was pretty tired in the morning after such a long night but with the warm morning sunrise we had a bedouin-style breakfast of boiled eggs, bread, chocolate cake and nescafe again by 730am. After packing up camp and a few visits to the dune bathroom we drove to a few more rock formations and then back to the hotel for a much needed de-sanding (also known as a shower) We gave the kids some free time to play volleyball and relax while us teachers had a nap! hahah Of course one kid cut his knee on a piece of glass and another kid had to get to the pharmacy because he was feeling sick. The guide informed us that he had planned for us to skip our camel rides in order to see the temples and tombs that we had missed but I convinced him that the kids would much prefer camels to temples...thankfully I was right and
we went to a farm where they breed camels for consumption but not before squeezing a few more tourist dollars out of em by offering hour long rides through the mountains. The ride itself is pretty tame with all the camels tied together and over half of them pregnant mothers, but we were led into the hills by a little egyptian boy, no older than 7 years old and just chatted with the kids laughing at all the silly stories that had accumulated over the week.. We drove into the hills and watched our last desert sunset and then went back for dinner and more marshmallows. No issues with curfews this night because everyone was exhausted.
The next morning back on the bus and back to the school where the field trip came to a sucessful end.
One more week of school and then everyone gets a week holiday where I am going with two of the other teachers to Morrocco for 5 days.
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