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Published: February 23rd 2016
Yasser cooks dinner
Camp dinner is the best
It was “Dawn Patrol” time again. Many travelers are aware of the scenario: up sinfully early and ready to go before the sun thinks about rising. It was our turn. We had many miles to travel this day and required all the sunlight possible if we were to see what the area had to offer. We were heading 600 km (350 miles) from Cairo into the desert.
We were met by Mohamed and Gamel, tossed our belongings in the back of the ten passenger van and off we went, leaving early enough to avoid the morning traffic, which is a plus when you’re in Cairo and honestly we were more than ready to leave Cairo. This was the start of what was going to be a fantastic day, well two days, but at this point, frankly, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Brendan had booked our desert safari online weeks before…..but what does a chef know about booking a desert tour…….a dessert tour possibly?
The day before when we mentioned what our plans were to a hotel staff member and he got that “really?” look on his face. He said, “I thought that part
Black Mountains Egypt
of the country was closed?” Oh boy….what to think now as we were to head off some 600 km in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It’s closed? After his comments we scurried back to our room to double check the trip advisor reviews and other recent postings. It looked fine, and so we decided we were in good hands with Mohamed.
Mohamed quickly allayed our fears as he described the day’s events that would unfold. We would drive four hours to Bahariya Oasis, meet Yasser, who would be our driver into the desert and have lunch in his home before resuming our voyage. We were here to see the Black Desert and the White Desert. And just to make it real interesting, we would be camping in the desert to boot. Camping? Yes, camping. We had not camped for ……well let’s just say it’s been awhile. We’re not the youngest folk around and honestly, our idea of camping is roughing it at a lower end lodging.
As we left the greater Cairo area the topography changed rapidly and continually. On the surface one might say there is nothing out in the desert for mile
after mile but clearly they do not have our astute observational skills. The land goes flat, the sand gets deeper, the winds blow and the sand shifts, rock formations appear, and then disappear, there is a subtle appearance of train tracks and then a short time later train cars resting on the tracks. We’ve learned a lot of mining goes on in the western desert and the train is used to move the iron ore and gravel.
Our excitement grew as we learned we were approaching the Black Mountains. As we look out the windows we see tall mounds, mountains and rock formations covered with volcanic ash, hence the name the Black Mountains. Next thing we know our 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser is off roading it! We were not prepared for this—what a surprise! Yasser has driven off the highway and appears to be heading into nowhere land. We are surrounded by amazing Black Mountains on all sides before we stop to walk around and take photos. The silence is amazingly deafening. The beauty is stunning. We are not in Cairo any more. We are somewhere we’ve never been….almost on another planet…but there was more.
White Desert Egypt
Back on the highway we went for a few miles before Yasser is off roading it again in the sandy desert. The tires slip a bit as he drives over the hills and hugs corners like Mario Andretti and he seems to like to speed. Clearly he’s done this once or twice before. It appears there is an attempt to put some excitement into this desert drive and Yasser accomplished it. He expertly drove around the rock formations and when we stopped it was announced that we are at Crystal Mountain. This is a geologists dream. It was like no other rock formations we’d ever seen…and we’ve seen a few in our day. Mountains of crystals, crystals of all sizes and shapes, the mountains glittered and sparkled. We stayed in the area for a long time climbing, talking and taking photos. It was one of those vistas where you simply run out of adjectives quickly and just stare. We had little to say because we had never seen anything like this before. Piles of crystals, mountains made of crystals. Unimaginable. Wow! We didn’t want to leave but after a decent amount of time in this location there was promise
of more…..you will want to see.
We are beginning to get used to driving up a sandy mound and back onto the highway to drive a couple of miles and slide off the other side. Getting into the groove of desert driving…and it’s a blast. Yasser whisks us here and there expertly, appearing to know exactly where he’s going only there’s no roads, just some time tracks from time to time. Built in GPS…that’s what he’s got.
Next we are in an area called Ahkabat where we see….. something that for lack of any better words, looked like Utah on steroids. Serenity…stunning beauty. We sat in the sand, played in the sand, wrote in the sand and sat imagining how this grand place on earth is not on some famous and fashionable list. Our hours in this location went all too fast. The sun was beginning to set on the day and Mohammed and Yasser wanted very much for us to enjoy the sunset in the white desert. We press on…
The white desert is far better known and shown in photographs than the Black desert or the Crystal Mountains we
Mohamed & Yasser
Excellent Desert Guide
had already seen. As we drove into the area again we were stunned by the enormity of the ventifacts. These are rocks that are shaped by the winds and the sand. They come in all shapes and sizes. Your imagination is the guide to what each formation looks like…a chicken, a mushroom, the Sphinx….wait….is that Elvis?
After sunset Yasser and Mohamed quickly set up camp. A fire was started, the camp stove were hummed, a dining room was created with carpets and beautiful wall coverings, to shield us from the wind and create a true Egyptian setting. We were fortunate to have a nearly full moon so we were never in complete darkness and could continue to enjoy the white formations.
We dined under the moonlight on chicken, rice, pita bread bed, vegetables and soup, all prepared by Yasser who used only his two burner camp stove and a campfire to ensure we were well fed. We’ve been with Mohamed and Yasser a few hours and our conversation is relaxed and enjoyable. We talk about life, friends and family in general and in Egypt specifically. They both have a wicked sense of humor and
we find we feel like we have known them for a long time. After dinner, we had tea and retired to our tents…tired but full of some great memories.
We rose before dawn and stumbled out of our tents in anticipation of the sunrise and the chance at more brilliant colors; the sky slowly filled with subtle blues, grays and pink sunlight and weren’t disappointed. It was if we had been magically transported to another planet, one of unique rock formations and stunning vistas.
We were moving a bit slow as we are not used to dining on the ground, nor are we used to tent camping. After breakfast, we made the long voyage back towards Cairo to catch the overnight train to Aswan and more adventures…
We are looking forward to our night in Aswan where we will be able to take a long hot shower, as there were no facilities while we camped. That’s right, if you had to go…you went behind a rock formation.
We’d like to give one final thanks to our new friend Mohamed who decided to run home and pick up his
wife and daughter so we could meet them. He then sat with us at the train station to make certain we got on the right train. We were extremely grateful because all of the announcements were in Arabic. The trains only stop for about ten minutes and it is more than likely we would not have gotten on the correct train. He is an incredibly thoughtful man and an excellent guide. When we made our arrangements with him we didn’t realize he provided tours and guidance for all areas of Egypt. We would have hired him to join us in Luxor and Aswan.
firstname.lastname@example.org desertegyptsafari We found difficulty describing the beauty that we experienced in the Western Desert of Egypt. As far as we are concerned this is a must see.
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