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Published: February 28th 2012
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel sake. The great affair is to move. (Robert Louis Stevenson.)
After four nights in Luxor the place is becoming a little too familiar. For most people this would be good but I am getting itchy feet. The path we have chosen may not have been the right decision but procrastination does not sleep well with travel.
Destination; The Libyan Desert. Now don’t get to excited it isn’t in Libya but also in Egypt.
Driving west from Luxor passing banana plantations, fields of wheat and lucerne, sugarcane, potatoes and onions. Children walking to school and the general buzz of life. It soon comes to a halt where the reach of the Nile ends. It is literally a line drawn in the sand, a wall of mud bricks dividing the two.
Travelling in our mini bus with Hamood and his offsider to keep us company, we head into the desert. The amazing thing about the landscape is its changeability. Gravel plains, gravelly gorges, seas of sand, mesa jutting up out of nowhere and now and then the green of an oasis. So
contrasting to the barren desert it’s dreamlike. One has to rub the sand out of his eyes to make sure it is not a mirage. Checkpoint Charlie’s everywhere. Who is going to invade this land, and who would want to? I don’t know. But we are checked and double checked over and over again.
First stop Al Dharga obviously an oasis town, quite large with a population of 90 000. We visit an old necropolis (Al-bagawat) one of the earliest surviving Christian cemeteries in the world. Apparently Christians fleeing from the Romans managed to settle here about 400 AD. This town was on the caravan route from Sudan north. Many a slave would have passed through this town or died on the way, 40 days between drinks. Also famous for ivory, gold, ostrich feathers and skins. The town prospered in Roman times when they built a fort to protect the route and introduced irrigation. Wine and wheat exported from here to Rome. Seems a long way.
More sand hills, coloured stones of white, black and orange. The wind is fierce today and sand blows across the road in our path. It feels like a chapter out of Arabian
Nights. A huge outline of cliffs has appeared on our right and is shadowing us as we drive towards El Darfha. We come upon the sea of green, like reaching Coleambally in summer. I expected a small, date palmed oasis but instead find a huge irrigation system stretching as far as the eye can see.
First stop a mineral spring bubbling from 1000 metres below. Kathy and Natarsha take a regrettable dip, finding the therapeutic benefit surpassed by the penetrating stench of sulphur. Alfalfa everywhere! I don’t know if I have mentioned it or not in my ramblings but it is the main crop of Egypt. It is cut green by hand and sold or fed to the livestock. 5 years of lucerne than fababeans. A pigeon coup common in every back yard. Something I have never seen before. It is of mud construction, silo shaped, about 15 metres tall with holes and perches poking out all the way up. 20 pairs live inside and the young are consumed on dinner plates.
Our hotel is Bedouin run. A concoction of dome shaped rooms and oddly decorated gardens. It is fantastic or should I say the people are. The
only thing in life that really counts. They will bend over backwards, forwards and inwards to make not only to make sure your stay – but your life is perfect. Kathy and Natarsha have had their faith in Egyptian men restored. Dinner was normal but dessert is held in a round room, shoes removed around an open fire drinking tea, smoking shisha, playing music and discussing the world’s problems ( I was drinking beer not very Muslim like). Great time had by all.
The White Desert awaits us today, but wait, it must wait longer, because our Bedouin guides (pronounced Bed-win) have to organize first. A cousin here a cousin there; fuel, food, visits, family. Everyone is looked after. I don’t think there is any skulduggery going on here only brotherhood.
Ali is our guide, Salam his offsider, Mohammad joins halfway there for the ride, why not?
The white jagged rocks jut out of this moon like landscape. Everyone an image of something, a bird, a dog, a pharaoh, only your imagination the limiting factor. Mushroom shaped sculptures emerging from the white sand and black rock. It cannot be described. Check Kathy’s
I know I am repeating myself but stuff me we are a long way from Harden. The White Desert is 500kms west of Luxor. I have learnt from the Bedouins that the police are not here to protect, but to take bribes for Mubrak (The Ex Egyptian President). Thankfully that situation is changing and most let you through. Corruption seems to thrive amongst poverty.
To know someone intimately you must sleep the night. The same applies with nature. We are camping the night in the White Desert with our Bedouin brothers. The stars, the sand, the shapes and the friendship. Our camp is very basic, not unlike a “Rosevale” camp. Fire, stories, music and crap. The main difference – our Muslim friends do not consume alcohol. It is cold, blankets are limited and our hosts bordering on useless. Yet as always, we survive the cold, the music and the language barrier. Kathy and Natarsha keep repeating how much we paid for this experience. As they cuddle together under their blanket in the desert night.
The night has passed and with every new day things are brighter and optimism returns. It was worth it.
Bawiti in the Bahariya Oasis is our stop for tonight. The mud bricks, dusty streets and date palmed farms depict this frontier town. Situated 380 kms from Cairo in The Sandy Desert it is the main starting point for Safaris’ to the White Desert. Land cruisers roam the streets looking for prospective clients (very few to find at the moment). Kathy and I wander the backstreets greeting people with “Salem” and distributing whistles to the children. Donkeys are as plentiful as motor vehicles in these back streets. We stumble upon a Stella sign, apparently the only one in town. Sipping on the elixir of life and chatting with one of those ships that pass in the night (Swiss this time). We relax and watch the life of these Egyptian’s pass us by. Without doubt the most enjoyable part of travel.
The wind whips up the sand and nearly blows us off the road. It is an amazing scene. Vision is reduced to about 100 metres as the sandstorm envelopes the landscape. I have seen some dust storms at home but they pale into insignificance compared to this one. The shifting sands swirl across the surface of desert, forming ever-changing
lines, that despite their transience, somehow appear also orderly and in union with the greater patterns of nature. I have heard and read about these storms, but to experience one is exciting with a trustworthy driver and tarmac road, but would be frightening on a camel. Our driver has to get out of the vehicle to check something and is nearly blown away. His offsider has to help him back in. We decide a trip to the bush dunny is not a good idea.
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