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Published: November 21st 2010
When I was looking into travelling in Egypt, one place stood out above everything else - I'd go and see the Pyramids, the Cairo Musuem, Luxor, etc, almost whether I wanted to or not, but I'd read a blog on the White Desert almost 10 months ago, and for me, that was the main attraction in the country. The desert just seems so bewitching, alien, and exotic. In Siwa, it was all that and more. And I hoped for the same with the White Desert, on the edge of the Sahara.
I sorted out a tour easily in Bahariya (the touts don't let you relax for long), and set off just before midday for another overnight tour. The tour was a mad dash through as many sights as the driver could fit into one day - a salt lake, a hot spring, sand dunes, the Black Desert, Crystal Mountain, and the the White Desert after a long drive. I was only really here for the White Desert, and I was trying hard to convince myself I was having fun. But compared to my time in Siwa, I could have been digging graves. The tour finally picked up when we were
driven to the bottom of a conical scree-covered mountain, and kicked out of the car. It must've taken 30 minutes to scramble to the top - 2 steps forward, 1 step back - but we finally made it to the top. And the view was worth the scuffed knees and breathless - oasis to one side, with palm trees swaying in the breeze, and on the other, an endless, endless panorama of desert and mountains.
After a brief lunch, (where me putting in my contact lenses proved to be the days excitement for a the shop owner's daughter) we headed off into the Black Desert. The Black Desert - so called because it's covered in small black rocks from a volcanic eruption - was interesting enough, but still tame compared to Siwa, and that was my benchmark for now. We drove on, through an apocalyptic landscape - the sandstone had been eroded into conical, volcanic looking peaks, the earth looked as if it was charred and covered in ash, and nothing was growing as far as you could see. But as Martian as it all looked, my expectations were too high, and I remained underwhelmed as we drove on.
This happened with each stop, and my fake enthusiasm was quickly running out. And then, with the sun low in the sky, we rounded a corner to view El Akabat Mountain, and I was blown away. We were in a valley, on the top of a sand dune almost 100 meters high, and as the valley opened up before us, and warm sun flashed across the desert, gigantic boulders reached out of the sand towards the sky. My writing's letting me down, and it does't sound that special, but it looked perfect. Just Perfect. The warmth of the setting sun. The rounded shapes of the rocks. The colour of the sand. The shadows reaching into the distance. I sat in awe, my heart racing with the beauty of it all, and tried to take it all in. But I couldn't. And the pictures just don't come close. But I know I'll have that moment with me for a long long time.
We left too soon (a lifetime wouldn't have been long enough for that view), but had to drive onwards towards the White Desert, and the apparent highlight of the trip, although El Akabat was going to take
some beating. After a long day, we arrived as the light faded, and as we bounced over the snd, eerie rock formations sped past like ghosts in the night. The White Desert is, full of thousands of statues of rock, unsurprisingly as white as snow, that have been eroded by the wind into fantastic, and obscure shapes. One resembles a mushroom, another a chicken, and so on. But with the light fading fast, we caught just glimpses of what the desert held. As the light disappeared, and the campfire died, I fell asleep under the desert stars for a second time, and it felt like I was waiting for Christmas Day with the sunrise...
I awoke with the sun still below the horizon, but with daylight seeping into the sky, and illuminating the desert around us. What was just ghostly shapes last night, became one of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen (easily rivaling El Akabat the previous day). As far as I could see, these white rocks reached out of the sand, in the all manner of shapes and sizes. The white rock, perfectly highlighted against the golden sand, and blue sky. Whereas the Black Desert
has looked alien, apocalyptic, and dead, the White Desert looked alien and beautiful. I don't know why it looks as it does, but it really is unbelievably beautiful.
I tried to find the perfect picture, but the camera just couldn't do it justice, so i gave up and contented myself with sitting back and watching it all instead. I reached out to get my mp3 player, and as I pressed play, Orbitals' 'One Perfect Sunrise' started to play. I grinned so much it hurt, turned up the volume, put the song of repeat, and again watched in awe. I thought I'd seen a lot already this trip, but that sunrise was indescribable and un-photographable.
We'd woken up in one of the most fantastic places I've ever been, and all three of us on the tour seemed dumb struck. I could have stayed in that desert for at least a week, and suddenly the tour seemed far too short. Unfortunately, the one person who didn't share this feeling was the guide, who was intent on leaving behind this scene of perfection and travelling at 60mph to the nearest piece of asphalt. He begrudgingly let us out of the car
for photos twice , but insisted we head on. With a heavy heart I sat in the back of the truck, and stared out of the window as the White Desert disappeared - it's beauty lasting until the very last moment.
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