Thursday 5th April
Luxor to Desert Camp El Kharga Oasis
Up really early today to leave our hotel in Luxor. Started out of Luxor at 5.40am – we were not able to travel direct out to the desert because the road was closed (previous incidents with tourists) but had to travel on the Luxor to Cairo road northwest for about 280km, through all the towns and villages with lots of traffic, and about a million speed humps and scores of police checkpoints, calls to prayer, donkeys, sugar cane trucks, minibuses, taxis, everyone honking their horns, children waving, people sitting on the side of the road etc. Egypt is amazingly chaotic and really noisy. Anyway, the police stopped us eventually and insisted on giving us an escort. We are not sure if they knew exactly where we were going, but they accompanied us anyway, all the way to the desert road which started as we travelled south from Asyut, a very large city on the Nile (all the cities are right next to the river and they all look pretty similar – crowded, dirty and not particularly inviting). Everything looks half-finished in this country and there are piles of rubble and grot everywhere. The people are quite cheery though and wave at you as you pass. We stopped for breakfast on the road near a canal that is near the fields that grow everything from sugarcane to vegetables of every sort. While we were stopped, a man strolled past and asked us could he travel in our truck with us – this happens quite a bit and the answer is always no – so he just stood there and watched us and after a while walked off – and every car, minibus, motor bike and truck that passed honked its horn at us. When we stopped for lunch, the police accompanying us sat nearby and watched us eat our lunch…..they seemed quite amused. [We should explain here that the police escort changed each town – like we were the baton in a relay race. The police car would wave and peel off and we would think we had finally got rid of them but soon a siren would be heard and the next car would pull in front of us. They were useful in getting us through the towns and they were all having fun with their task.] After lunch and a short drive through Asyut, we started south on the desert road towards the El Kharga Oasis. The road was much better here – no speed humps except near the check points – we had to stop each time and tell them where we were going….finally at about 6pm we pulled into an oasis and tried to find somewhere to camp but the locals didn’t want us there but soon after we found a gravel road that headed off a little way into the desert so we went in there about 300 metres and parked the truck on the road and set up camp on the desert sand. The sun was down by this time and the desert had cooled down – it was almost a full moon and this part of the desert is beautiful with hills in the distance and alternately smooth sand and ripples in the sand. We were cooking tonight so set about our task and everyone sat round and had beers ice cold from the ice. It was a really pleasant evening and we sat up till about 9.30 finishing up with a quiet rum and coke and then to bed with the desert wind blowing outside, although not strong enough to raise sand. Hot day, cool evening.
Friday 6th April
El Kharga Oasis Desert Camp to Dakhla Oasis (Magic Spring)
Up at about 6.30am as we had to cook “special” breakfast this morning (David cooks fried eggs that everyone loves). The gas took an age to boil the kettle – it was so windy – but finally managed to get everything done and then packed away, tents and bags on the truck, we left and headed towards the town – about 100,000 people live here – and we visited a museum that had many Egyptian artefacts and was very interesting. We spent about an hour there, and then did a bit of shopping. The shops all shut early on Fridays for prayers so after we bought snacks, drinks etc., we started to drive to the Dakhla Oasis where there are about another 100,000 people. These oases are quite extensive and have crops, date palms and water in the middle of the desert. We are about 350km from the Nile River here and the water comes up from permanent springs under the desert, like the Artesian Basin in Australia except the water is fresh. We arrived at the Magic Spring campsite in the afternoon. You can do a camel ride into the desert or an overnight stay camping in the desert from here. Two of our group decided that they would go and stay in the desert overnight – the rest of us stayed at the camp relaxing. There was a spring in the camp that bubbled up all the time so we went for a swim in the spring – it was warm not hot, but cool after you got out and sat in the shade. The owner said that the water came up from 1,500metres under the ground. The sand under our feet was very spongy and bubbly, but the water pushed you up and floating rather than pulled you under. It was a very interesting feeling especially when you were directly over the hole from where the water came. After we had a swim, we sat around for the rest of the day relaxing and reading. We had pitched our tents under the shelter on the concrete and after dinner we went to bed and could hear the bubbling of the spring as we went to sleep. Regina (Natalie’s mum) had brought Easter eggs for everyone and we had some after dinner. Really nice touch.
Saturday 7th April
Dakhla Oasis to the White Desert
Left our beautiful campsite at Magic Spring around 9.15am and reached an old town – El Qasr – still in the oasis – there we had to do some food shopping for the last couple of days of this trip – while the others were shopping we walked around and had a look at an old cemetery, where there were bones on the ground…..all the graves were very old and sandy. We then went back to the town and had a semi cool drink, by now it was very hot – around 37-38C. It gets very hot early in the day here and stays hot till after sundown. The only cool time is just before dawn. Anyway, we headed off and after about three hours driving and no shade, we stopped for lunch on the side of the road at a concrete shelter – open with seats but with a roof on it. Just enough shade for everyone to sit and have their lunch while the sand blew across everything. Really enjoyable lunch! We reached the White Desert at about 4pm and drove into the National Park on a sand road that had white rocks marking the way. In the truck, you have to keep going on sand or else you will get bogged in the sand, so we roared along at about 35km/hr., not stopping until we reached almost to where we were camping – about 5km into the park – and we stopped because we were bogged in the sand. Out with the sand mats and we got out first go and then set up camp right near the most amazing limestone rock formations – totally white – this truly is a one off place – incredibly beautiful. By this time it was about 5.30pm and the worst heat had gone and so we all set out in different directions to take photos of this wonderful place. A lot of tourists come to this place and there were some there in 4WDs and one group on camels, but no one camped near us and once night fell, there was total quiet and it was a beautiful sight when the full moon came out at about 8.30, all the rock formations were bathed in a soft light that was totally magical. After all the tidying up was done after dinner, Lynn decided that she would sleep outside the tent under the desert sky, so we that’s what we did, on our mats in our sleeping bags. We only woke at about 4am and then slept the rest of the night in the tent. Truly a wonderful experience and a beautiful desert.
Sunday 8th April
White Desert Camp to Bahariiya Oasis via Crystal Mountain and Black Desert
Up once it was light – the heat was intense by 8am, but most people walked around again to take more photos in the morning light because things looked different than yesterday, had breakfast and unbelievably the Easter Bunny had visited us way out here in the desert with chocolate eggs – yummy!! After breakfast and packing up, Natalie took some posed photos of Gertie (the truck) in the White Desert which was just as amazing as yesterday, after which we set off back towards the main road on the sand track, thinking all the time that we might get bogged. We did get bogged but not till the last hill before the road, so again we put the sand mats under the wheels and (first time again) Gino got us out and we continued along the main road and within about an hour had reached Crystal Mountain, just off the highway. We all walked around in the 40 degree heat for about 15 minutes picking up bits of crystal and looking at the rock formations. Although it is all desert, it is also all different each kilometre that you travel. But the heat is very wearing – and it’s only spring here. The summer in June, July and August must be unbearable. We continued on through the Black Desert (the overlying rocks are black and give the appearance of the desert being black, but the sand is yellow underneath) towards Bahariiya Oasis, the most northerly of the desert oases in the Western (or Libyan) Desert. We arrived in the town around lunch time and had to do a bit of last minute food shopping for lunch and dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow. The town appeared quite unfriendly to us (maybe because we were uncovered – Lynn had a skirt below her knees and a scarf over her arms – but the women here are all totally covered) but we soon headed out to the campsite where we were staying for the night. We had lunch there and waited till it was considerably cooler to pitch our tents on the grass. We relaxed and read during the afternoon and then had our final dinner on the road and went to bed at around 10.30pm. Today had been really hot (over 40C) and the day’s travel quite scorching.
Monday 9th April
Bahariiya Oasis to Cairo
Woke up today to find there was a cool breeze that had arrived in the night and it is at least 15C cooler than yesterday. Had breakfast and drove into the town (there are tens of thousands of people live in the different oases and they are all very extensive places with quite an amount of agriculture and substantial buildings in each town). Here we visited the Museum of the Golden Mummies. These were mummies that were found nearby in the desert accidentally in 1996 when a donkey put its foot into a hole and its handler looked into the hole and saw gold reflected back at him. There are about 10 mummies and most have gold decorations around the head. They look kind of Roman and of unknown age, and they are not all in good condition but nonetheless are very interesting to see. After the visit we continued towards Cairo through the desert. There are small oasis towns on the road and sometimes even a planting of eucalyptus trees on the sides of the road. It is hard to imagine living in such a challenging environment, so hot in summer and pretty much dry all the time, but many people live out here in the oasis towns of El Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra and Bahariiya. The desert to the west extends to the Atlantic Ocean about 5,000km away. We had lunch in another roadside shelter, a truck stop, with shade. It wasn’t as hot today, but it was very breezy. We then had about 100km to Cairo; it is a huge city, over 20 million people live here. We drove around on one of the ring roads and finally reached the centre of the city, crossing the Nile a couple of times due to one way streets and reached our hotel at about 4.45pm. It is situated in Giza and is in a central location and is quite comfortable. Cairo is very crowded and fairly noisy with lots of car horns. We will be here in this hotel for three nights as the trip finishes on Thursday 12th April.