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Published: February 24th 2016
In the planning stage of this trip, I needed to put together a list of what I would like to see while I was traveling. The idea was to dream big and whittle things down to fit my schedule. The Black and White Deserts of Egypt were one of the must haves. Guidebooks did not really help in the planning process for this outing, so I turned to my friend the internet. The next day my request for information was answered and we were ready to head to the desert.
Our guide Mohamed picked us up right on time at 6 AM in front of the hotel. We were all a bit wary of what was going to happen today, because when we mentioned to the hotel concierge that we were going to the White Desert he looked flummoxed and told us that he didn’t know that it was open for tourists. Hmm, not sure what to make of that, we all nodded, smiled and independently went to our rooms to check out the Tripadvisor site about this tour. I had no firm knowledge that this was a legitimate company, but after finding a couple recent reviews, all positive by
the way, I felt reassured. Right away we had a nice connection with Mohamed. His sense of humor was as vast as his knowledge of Egypt. Past the Pyramids and through the desert we rode. The drive was about 4 hours from Cairo to Bahariya Oasis where we were to trade drivers and vehicles. We met Yasser our new driver and chef at his home and I’ll be honest, he was a bit intimidating at first glance. Dressed in Bedouin robes and sandals, he seemed quiet, but had a good rapport with Mohamed. We all warmed up to one another quickly, finding his humor quick and his smile genuine and warm.
In the guest area of Yasser’s home we enjoyed our first lunch. Since we were going to be traveling through the desert, the lunch was light, but very good. He served us tuna with grated carrots, Babaganoush, Shakshoka a dish of egg, capsicum, tomato and onion, a flavored cheese, potato chips and Pita bread. It was all very nice and a good way to start the trip. I will say that sitting on the floor and eating is not something Dave, Merry Jo nor I are accustomed to
or comfortable doing. I was a little dismayed that I can no longer sit cross legged. Regardless, we will do whatever it takes for a good meal, and it was a small price to pay for this lunch. After lunch and tea, Mohamed and Yasser went to the mosque for Friday prayers and/or service. While they were gone, we slowly started to explore our room. Before I knew it, Merry Jo had met Yasser’s wife and was invited into the family’s part of the home. Dave and I were sitting in our room when Yasser’s nephew came and told us to come. He was probably 13 or 14 years old and had a basic knowledge of English. He took us out back to see where they raise chickens, ducks and goats destined for the dinner table. It was touching that he was sharing this part of his home with us. There were 2 different orange trees growing and he made sure to pick oranges to share with us. On the way back to the room where we were supposed to be (we are what I refer to as free range tourists) he picked fresh mint for us. Soon Mohamed and
Yasser were back and we were ready to hit the road.
In a Toyota Land Cruiser we set off for the Black Desert. They are building a new road to the desert to make a 2 lane each way road. There are no lines, markings of any sort and to be honest we sometimes drove on the old road, sometimes on the new road. No matter which road we were on, the consistent factor was that we were driving fast. Yasser has worked with Mohamed for 7 years and knows the road and desert like the back of his hand. Without warning, we were heading off into the desert through the sand. None of us were sure what we were doing, but knew that it was going to be good. Suddenly we stopped in the perfect scenic spot overlooking mountains of black and brown. The Black Desert is called this because of dark lava on the sand. It was beautiful and worthy of the many pictures that we took.
Our next stop was the Crystal Mountain. Glittering in the sun, crystals were everywhere. There really is no explanation for how this came to be. One theory is that
a meteorite or many meteorites hit the Earth, causing great heat to turn sand into crystal; however, there is no crater which would have resulted from this. Not sure what caused this, but it was a definitely happy occurrence because this place was amazing. Mohamed and I climbed to the top of a large, sandy, shimmering hill to take pictures and soak up the view. Standing on top of the rock, in the sun with wind blowing through my hair, well, what is left of it, I was invincible. After days of the hustle, bustle and noise of a city with over 17 million residents it recharged my soul to be out here. As the wind blew, it carried sand with it in swirling dust clouds. Waves of sand snaked across the rocks covering them, leaving shiny crystals exposed in various places. I think I speak for all three of us when I say that we did not want to leave even as we knew we must move on to our next unforgettable viewpoint.
Sure enough, the next viewpoint rose to the challenge in the form of gigantic pillars of rock standing tall on the desert floor. The colors
of white calcite, sand and dark rock combined to create an indescribable vista. I will post many photos and stop writing so you can go check them out. Let me know when you are ready for me to continue…..
And we’re back. Moving along quickly and I do mean quickly, we slid and sped our way to the next stop. Yasser could push the 4x4 to slide in the sand for a dramatic entrance to our new viewpoint. I was sitting in the front seat beside him and enjoyed watching him work the Land Cruiser and simply play in the sand. I think he was having as much fun as we were. We headed into the Valley of the Shapes to watch the sun set. The reason this place is called this is because shapes pop out of the desert in many different forms. The big three are the sphinx, mushroom and chicken and mushroom. As we drove, Mohamed would point out different formations and we would say what we thought it looked like. The sunset was in a word- spectacular. As an added bonus, it was a near full moon, so the moonlight reflected off the desert leaving
us awash in light. Not a bad thing when one considers our hotel for the night consisted of tents surrounded by rock formations.
Using the side of the Land Cruiser to hold up wall coverings, Mohamed and Yasser set up our dining area with rich carpets, a two burner propane stove, small table and foam pads. The walls shielded us from the wind, creating a cozy place to sit and talk. Yasser peeled potatoes, cut squash, made rice, soup and tended a campfire while Mohamed entertained us with stories, history and jokes. Over the campfire they cooked chicken and before we knew it, the delicious dinner was served. Now, I have enjoyed dining al fresco many times over the years, but this evening took the cake. The moon, the stars, the desert, the company and the food all worked together to make for a perfect evening. Soon, however, it was time for bed.
By now the temperature was getting colder as it does in the desert. Yasser and Mohamed set up tents for the three of us, while they were going to sleep on the carpets by the truck under the stars. We were given a foam pad,
sleeping bag and an incredibly heavy wool blanket. I was a bit dismayed that there was no chocolate on my pillow for the turn down service, but managed to get over it. Ok, so I was simply joking with them about that and didn’t really think it. We were fortunate to be able to camp in the desert so I was up for all that it entailed. I slept diagonally in the tent because I am so tall, but my head was still close enough to the zip up door that it was cold from the breeze, so I pulled the wool blanket over my head and was warm as could be. Sleeping on a foam pad on the ground isn’t something I often do, but I slept much better than I had expected. I will say that there was no way I was getting out of that cocoon I had created for anything short of a full dawn.
Dawn came around 6:30 and our day started. I’m not sure if I mentioned that this was rustic camping at its finest with no facilities at all. A trip behind a large rock served that purpose and showers were something
for hotels. Living large, I chose to not shave and wore the same clothes that I had slept in that night. Travel Brendan is something of a rebel when camping I think. After watching the sunrise we packed ourselves in the 4x4 and made our way back to the road. It was a quiet ride with us reflecting on all we had seen. Yasser was listening to a chanting recitation of the Koran while we drove which added a fitting backdrop for our drive.
Sooner than I expected, we were back at his house for lunch. This time, however, he had help from his family to prepare wonderfully moist chicken, peas and carrots, rice and a salad. After a quick change of vehicles we were on our way back to Cairo and headed to the Giza train station for our overnight sleeper train to Aswan. In order to miss the nightmare traffic, Mohamed had brought us back a bit early. He stayed with us at the train station so that he could help us onto the correct train. With no platform signs and announcements in Arabic, it was a good thing he did. Before we knew it we were
on our way to our next adventure.
I don’t do this often, but this was such a great trip with such incredible men that I encourage you to look them up if you come to Egypt.
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A Question of Balance
Some think it is easy to capture the essence of a rock formation in the desert but it is when you see a cracker shot that one sees the difference between the casual snap and the considered portrait. This shot is a cracker Brendan. The light embracing the arcs and angles to make these simple formations a thing of beauty. Brilliant.
Thank you very much. It's nice to hear that from a true photographer as yourself. I am in awe of your pictures on a regular basis.
Call me jealous
I am in awe of you B! Thank you for letting me tag along with you, via picture and words.... Safe Travels...
Ren & Andrew
That meal is exactly what I feel like right now!
I had to laugh at Travel Brendan realising that he can't sit cross legged anymore! Somewhere along the line, I've lost that ability too...and on EVERY trip I remind myself that I should practice sitting cross legged when we get home, but predictably, I never do. The tent didn't sound plush, but the rest of the adventure sounds fabulous!
I have resorted to sprawling on the floor these days instead of sitting cross legged, but that lunch was worth it. Guess I need to hit the gym and do some stretching. No, the tent wasn't plush. What really rubbed it in was that the trip started out in a 5 star hotel with every amenity imaginable. I have been toying with titling a blog Sleeping Around Egypt lol. 5 star bed, tent, train compartment, van- I have done it all.
D MJ Binkley
Dave and Merry Jo Binkley
So glad we've shared this with you.
I couldn't agree more.
It is just amazing to be out in a desert ... A few weeks ago I was in the LIwa near Saudi border But in a luxury hotel surrounded by sand dunes. And a few months ago I was in Mojave and Death Valley ...... The landscapes and colours you see are just mind blowing...what great adventure you guys are having. Lynne
Love the desert
Whether it is in a luxury hotel or tent outside, the beauty of the desert never fails to impress. I'm glad you have enjoyed them lately. If you are back in CA, give a shout.
Just caught up with your adventure. The photos are great! Since I know that I will never leave my homeland, I truly appreciate your blog. It's from a "normal" persons life, not a scripted perfect life perspective. Thank you so much!!
Hey there, I am a friend of Dave and Merry Jo's. Fun to read your blog as well. I loved the photo of the desert showing the size of the formations compared to the truck.
Lol. This picture popped up and made me laugh. Trust a chef to see a chicken and a mushroom in these rock formations!
You brightened my day
Thanks Andrea. That is what they really are called. I was simply the one thinking of what I would cook with them if I could.