I took a short trip to the Bahareya Oasis with the intent to go see the White desert.
I left on Monday morning with the 8AM bus from the Turgoman station in Cairo with the intent to find a safari to join once in Bahareya (Winging it!). Unlike the other times I had taken buses, the proportion of foreigners in this bus was quite high, maybe 25 or 30%. As I cannot read the ticket, I sat where I could thinking it was my seat and ended up talking with a French man on a 2 weeks visit.
We talked for a bit before I got asked to move to my real seat and I ended up close to a young white man. I had seen him enter the bus with his 2 friends and he was sporting some purple colors mired on his face in a tribal way and one of his friend had an eruption of pimples all over the face and body. As he asked me later what I thought when I saw them, I replied I thought someone had a crazy night and the girl had quite a case of Acne!
As it is usually the case, and got reminded once more, things are usually not like they appear. Crystal (the woman) had contracted chicken pox while setting foot in Egypt. She had been taken to the hospital where they had prescribed her a purple cream she had to cover most of her body with. And as a sign of support, Alex (my neighbor) had put some of this cream on his face. The third person in their party being Andy. We had a nice conversation with Alex and we decided I would try to join their tour once in Bahareya (Translation: I kind of sneaked in on these poor American fellows that would learn to regret to have accepted me joining them.. ah ah ah!). For the little story, Alex and Andy are actually volunteers with the Peace Corp in Bulgaria helping with different projects. Is that not cool or what?
Anyway, I negotiated the price for the tour with the guys at Ahmed Safari Camp once in Bahareya. I ended up paying less than the guys since I jumped the middle man…
We got served lunch (Tuna with some soft cheese with tomatoes and cucumbers as every lunch we had at the Camp from that point forward!) and then checked into our rooms.
We then got a car and a driver for the rest of the afternoon that took us to an oasis garden (some palm trees and fruit trees fighting their way through the sand) then we went to one of the oasis hot springs. It was actually a sort of pool with water at 30C flowing from a pump. Most, if not all, of the oasis springs are hot with temperatures ranging from 20C to 90C. Dipping in the spring was very nice. You just have to not mind the locals checking you out. Women should wear full bathing suit with a dark tee-shirt so as not to offend them (or not attract their attention if you want to see it like this).
After the hot spring, we got invited to a Bedouin tent that, accompanied of his kids, served us Bedouin tea. It was quite good (laziza) but still not as good as Raphaele’s! (Note for later: Get Raphaele to make some tea for me when I am back)
We then went to some sand dunes close by to play with some kids before finishing by catching the sunset from the top of the local highest pic called the English Mountain. It also gave us an opportunity of really seeing how the oasis is surrounded by the desert.
The evening was nice with a good dinner and some dancing with the Bedouins. I spent some time playing ping pong with the locals and Ahmed, an Egyptian teenager in vacation at the camp, whose younger sister Nehmet had shown being a great dancer.
We ended the day by going star seeing away from the lights of the camp since Alex had brought his star map. It reminded me of some trips to Yosemite I did in the past years. I learnt some cool stuff and am more than ever into learning more about Astronomy.
The next morning, we got the car and the driver again to go see the local monuments. We first went to see some of the golden mummies of the 26th dynasty that were recovered lately in the oasis. Then we visited two nice tombs with some great murals including a part similar to the famous weighting of the heart. The driver took us to another place that was not worth it and we ended up back at the camp to see the ruins of Alexander the Great’s temple that is situated 5 minutes away walking. Nothing very interesting for the non-expert I am though. The tombs and the mummies are more than worth the EGP30 ticket after all.
I then spent some time around the fountain located in the entrance hall of the hotel. I just dig the whole thing made from stones recovered from the desert. I want the same one for my home.
The main reason you come to Bahareya after all is to go in the desert so it is what we did in the afternoon. We got joined by an Indian man that had met the 3 guys in Cairo and the 5 of us packed in the Toyota 4×4 (For the story, Bahareya is nicknamed Toyota land due to the high number of Toyota 4x4s. The only other ways of transportation being donkey carts and bicycles.). Our goal was to reached the White desert and camp there.
On the way to the White desert, you go through many different landscapes.
The first one is the black desert that is quite a sight. We climbed to the top of one of the black mountain to check the surroundings and appreciate the warm wind blowing in your face.
The next stop was at the Crystal mountain where you can see quite impressive formation of crystals. I searched the sand for some cool samples and had some good finds. Some people not understanding preservation of sites were knocking directly on the crystal formations in order to get their own first grade pieces. No comment!
We also had some cool off road driving in the sand but no jumping of dunes as I was hoping for ;). Maybe you need to go to the Sahara to get limitless stretches of sand dunes.
We had some additional stops before reaching the white desert. It is actually a landscape of white rocks surrounded by sand. The white rocks have been eroded by the wind and sand over many centuries creating a landscape of funny shaped white sculptures. Quite impressive!
We finally settled a bit further in the white desert after some haggling with Mohamed (the driver) that had intended to join us with another group from the same safari camp while we wanted to be alone to enjoy our own piece of desert! Mohamed setup a camp and prepared some yummy food while we were roaming around. I set up to search for fossils that are plentiful around here since the whole place was once underwater. The sunset was hidden by clouds so no luck on that one. Dinner was great. Definitely the best Egyptian dinner I had since I am here. Mohamed cooked some great rice Middle Eastern style as well as great chicken and yummy vegetable stew. We were not the only one to think it smelt good since we got joined by a little fox after a while. Sadly, this little fellow was not afraid of us at all showing the effect of mass tourism on the ecosystem. Well, I was part of it!
We had a campfire and shared some campfire stories. Then Andy and I went for some star watching. It was really cool and I caught 4 shooting stars :).
The night went well. It was a bit windy at times but I was comfy in the sleeping bag with my clothes and fleece. We all woke up very early to catch the sunrise. Quite nice :).
We then made our way back to the oasis stopping in the garden desert where you can find flower shaped rocks. I think they are fossils of vegetation.
Some more ping-pong and pool playing before catching the bus back to Cairo.
This part of the trip was definitely very cool. Being the desert for one night was quite a feeling. If you come here, I definitely advise you to do the safari. It can be done in 2 days from and back to Cairo if you are in a hurry. The camp I ended up going with is recommended by the guide books and is good in my opinion. You just have to be careful with the price they want and make sure you are persistent with the different things you want to do and see.
[Edited on 5/17/2006 to add pictures]