It’s been five years since the Revolution kicked off. It’s been four years since I lived in Cairo. And it feels like a life time since I went into the White Desert. To this day I still recall this trip as the best weekend trip of my life, and I look back on my time in Egypt fondly and hope that there is a brighter future ahead for this remarkable and vibrant country.
There are still a lot of travellers that I encounter who want to go to Egypt – and why not? Thousand year old pyramids, fantasies of drifting down the Nile and uncovering the story of Tutankhamun. Let me tell you a secret – the best parts of Egypt aren’t the pyramids, it’s not even the treasures they have stored in the Egyptian Museum. The best parts of Egypt? It’s vast untouched wildernesses – from the Red Sea to the Deserts. This is where you will truly fall in love with the country. These are the places that you will remember for a life time.
We’d been in Cairo for a few months by this point, us a bunch of graduates seconded into local oil & gas companies (that’s a story in itself!) and we so desperately wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
We booked an overnight tour with Select Egypt leaving early Saturday morning and returning Sunday night.
Destination: Egypt’s Black and White Desert.
We left before sunrise, and one roughly 6 hour journey later we had reached the desert (to be fair, it’s all sand out there so how do you really know where the city ends and the desert begins?) We stopped on the way in Bahariyya Oasis for a spot of lunch and a cool down.
On the way, we encountered a truck bogged in the sand. Now, how the truck got off the road… well that’s just part of the mysteries that is Egypt. Nonetheless – our tour guides were generous and friendly (as are all Egyptians) and promptly decided to help out.
Soon we were off again, Ahmed at the wheel. All of our over night camping equipment strapped to the roof of the car.
Habibi, habibi played every so cheerfully on the radio (its one of our favourite songs). We pulled off from the highway to our first stop: El Akabat. El Akabat has quite impressive rock formations! Stunning to the eye and completely unexpected as it wasn’t in our original itinerary. Our tour guides didn’t really tell us much, but it was a pretty cool pit stop. So we took a whole bunch of super excited photos with them.
Of course our geologist friends wanted to examine the rocks and discover the heritage of these mysterious foundations. I give you – the geologists: Christian, Will and Sophie.
After this photographic pit stop we were back on the road enjoying a little bit of sand driving! Our drivers were pretty adventurous and drove us up a couple of sand dunes which we loved (of course)!
That is until we got bogged.
After all the fun of driving up and around the sand and then digging ourselves out, we finally reached the White Desert.
Ahhhh… the White Desert. The White Desert National Park is one of Egypt’s treasures. It forms part of the great Sahara, and was actually featured in David Attenborough’s ‘Africa’! The “white” is a result of chalk, chalk formed by million year old chalk-shitting micro-organisms. The million year old chalk layers then get erode over a vast period of time to form the incredibly delicate and intricate formations that you can see today (also known as ventifacts).
We’d also booked an add-on to our tour to ride on camels part of the way to our camp site, and we didn’t regret it one bit.
Watching the sun set in this unique part of the world whilst lounging on the back of a meandering camel was unforgettable.
And then we were off! Off into the sunset each on our camel. The camels were surprisingly comfortable. Plenty of room to move around, very stable. Sophie and I were so comfortable we took off our shoes.
Our camels were very tame, and soon we were walking into the sunset with them. Let me tell you something – when the sun sets on vast endless desert horizons, that is worth stopping for. That is surely something worth seeing in this life time.
As the sun went down we continued on the road with our camels towards the camp spot. Our 4×4 had driven ahead of us and guides were already busy setting up camp. We would be dining and sleeping within four walls of carpet and sleeping directly under the stars. It was magical.
A camp fire was made as night came, and in the distance the glow of other camp fires could be seen. “Before the revolution”, Ahmed said “The whole horizon was lit with small camp fires, but now, now there are not so many.” It was one of many moments which we had all encountered demonstrating the impact of revolution, not the media portrayal of the revolution (all the protests and tear gas), but the impact on local tourism and every day people’s livelihood.
We joined forces with a few other groups that night and sang and danced around the camp fire. We forgot that Egypt at that time had no government, that the streets were starting to run a little wild and left our worries behind along with the chaos of Cairo.
There would be no showers, there would be no luxury of being clean from all the sand. We simply all changed into our most comfortable clothes and crawled into our sleeping bags and blankets to stare up into the sky and talk about the vastness of the universe.
The next morning, those of us who were early birds woke up to this sunrise:
And this, and this and this…
Breakfast was served when the whole gang was up. Our guides went to the effort of heating our pitas that morning which was a luxury, especially waking up to the coldness of a desert morning!
We were soon all up and excited and ready to explore in the white desert in the day time! It would be a full morning of roaming around on foot, exploring and playing in this enormous sand pit
After playing around all morning, we soon had to leave to make it back by night time. Our last two stops for the day would be Crystal Mountain and the Black Desert. We were sad to say goodbye to this amazing wilderness, back to Cairo aka. civilisation and back to work.
** some photos courtesy of Will :)