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Published: November 7th 2008
No it isnt snow
Views of the White Desert
(This photo courtesy of Henrik)
Does a bear shit in the forest? If so what do you do in the desert?
We spent the previous night under the stars in the black desert (Sahara Suda) close to a train line that stretched for miles into the middle of nowhere. The black desert was not what I had visualised the desert to be - thinking that all deserts would be filled with mountains of red or white sand that stretched out endlessly (Okay! I only had the tv to compare it to). Instead the black desert was mounds of sand almost completely covered in small black lava rocks.
We arrived late at night and immediately started preparations for our dinner (sadly I was on the cooking group tonight). Unfortunately the wood that we had originally sourced and tied to the truck a few days earlier had somehow fallen off the truck - so all options of a campfire bbq was ruled out in favour of gas stove top meal of chicken satay and boiled rice.
The next three days would be spent in the desert, with stops in between at the various Oases along the way. That being said - it was a given
that we would be roughing if for the duration of our time out here - so out came the numerous packets of baby wipes, toilet paper and shovels to make the experience somewhat more pleasant; with the left sand dunes dedicated to the women and the right sand dunes being dedicated to the men. In saying that, standing by yourself in the middle of nowhere, with no noise whatsoever and using nothing but the moonlight and stars as your light source is a truly liberating experience. The light of an almost full moon and the silence of the desert was something so peaceful that any encroachment by modern day life trivialities would have been disdainful.
Even for those that wanted to, pitching a tent would have been an impossible task because the spikes holding the tent up could not be secured properly in the sand. So we each found a spot close together in the sand, laid out our roll mats and slept in our sleeping bags under the stars. As per usual - I picked the wrong location and spent my time doing 360 degree turns in an attempt to stop sliding down the hill, whilst avoiding the
little bits of lava rock along the way.
It turned bitterly cold throughout the night so I slept huddled in my sleeping bag as close to the person beside me as I could without sleeping on top of them. Shockingly even in the middle of desert, even at 3am you can still be awakened by the clatter of a freight train as it makes its journey through the desert - where it goes no one knows!! - but the stars in the sky once I was awake were like diamonds. I wished I knew how to read stars because in the darkness they were intensely bright and so vivid you could almost reach out and touch them. What exactly is an Oasis?
Our journey into the Western Desert cut across the Oasis of Baharia and ended up at the Dakhla Oasis. I imagined them to be rich fertile watering holes in the middle of the desert surrounded in Date Palms and Bedouin tents. This may have been the case 100 years ago but it certainly isn't the case anymore. Instead of tents, you get dirty, dusty roads filled with equally dirty, dusty houses and the usual unfinished
buildings. Gone are the watering holes which are now replaced with refrigerated watering stations for the locals and 'supermarkets' (ie road side sheds) for the locals and tourists to stock up on snacks and soft drinks. You still, however get the lush vegetation and date palms, which make a pleasant change from seeing nothing but desert and rock as far as the eye can see.
On the way to our next desert stop for the night we stopped off at the Farafra Oasis to stock up on some food and water to get us through to the next day. According to my guide book 'Farafra remains an undeveloped speck...that is only now discovering the cheap thrills of concrete'. Needless to say there was very little to see or do in the town other than a visit to Badir's Museum - A self taught artist who has built his mud house museum to house the many works of art he has crafted from what he has found in the desert. The White Desert
The White Desert starts about 20kms from the Farafra oasis and the changing landscape can be identified by the move away from yellow sandy
dunes and the odd speckle of black rock to almost white sand pierced with large white chalky rock formations (similar to the crazy formations in Goreme's 'fairy chimneys') that look like giant mounds of egg white meringue with peaks in the middle of the desert.
We got there in the late afternoon so as to avoid most of the days heat and found our location to set up camp. This time we had managed to gather enough firewood at the oasis to set up a camp fire for dinner and get a hit of warmth for the night. The only thing missing were the marshmallows but everything else was in plentiful supply - Dinner of lamb & vegetable kebabs with mashed potato were wolfed down as were the copious amounts of spirits and beer that was shared around by the group.
I once again found solitude in my walks out into the desert looking for the perfect 'spot' and loved every minute of it.
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