Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Black and White Deserts, or, How the West was Fun

To cap off my week of vacation, I went with my friend Eric southwest of Cairo to the Bahariyya Oasis. It's in the middle of the desert and after a five-hour bus ride there, I couldn't believe all the trees and vegetation that seemingly popped out of nowhere.

We didn't spend much time in Bahariyya because we were heading back into the desert to spend the night under the stars with our guide, Ghareeb, which literally means strange. Weird. Ghareeb picked us up from the bus stop in his 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser which was stocked with blankets, mats, and food. We had a quick lunch and then sped south into the Black and White Deserts.

The Black Desert gets its name from its mountains which are covered in black ash. Ghareeb said that they all used to be active volcanoes. The sights are beautiful and grand but the sites are not suitable for camping so we continued on.

Ghareeb and our trusy 4x4 waited for us while we take pictures. I only made it halfway up the mountain. I'm tired of climbing mountians.

As various points, Ghareeb would suddenly veer off the road and we'd start cruising into the desert. Driving in the desert is scary but exhilirating. Also, there are no signs in the desert so you need someone who knows where they're going. I had no idea where we were going.

Slowly, the scenery began changing and the black ash faded out and beige sand made a come back. We made stops along the way and enjoyed the views:

Crystal Mountain: This part of the desert had mountains covered in quartz crystals.

Agabat: Pictures don't do this place justice. These rounded rocks are enormous--we saw them from a high dune which we then proceeded to speed down. Fun.

Our final destination was the White Desert which is filled with chalky rock formations. The area has been designated a protectorate by the government. There are thousands of rocks and many of them resemble actual things--none of them shaped by man. All the rocks are covered in a white powderish material (no, not that) making the desert looks like its covered in snow.

The tree and the chicken.

The Sphinx.

The Rabbit.

Crazy rock formations all over the place. The desert is your blackboard.

A nice sunset.

We set up camp in the White Desert. And by we, I mean Ghareeb. I have never gone camping before. I enjoyed it. Starting a fire is hard but I was very thankful once it got going because desert was getting cold without the sun. Ghareeb grilled us chicken, made lentil and tomato soup, rice, and some veggies and it was all delicious. We saw stars and a few other camp fires and talked. It was very peaceful. I slept with three camel blankets on me (very heavy) and was warm whole night except for my feet which went numb from the coldness. They eventually came back to life in the morning. I got another great sunrise and after a quick breakfast, we were off to Bahariyya--once our car's engine heated up from the cold and once we helped another camp nearby push their 4x4 onto sturdier ground (it had sunk into the sand).

Our camp site.

Sunrise in the desert.

The adventure in Bahariyya ended nicely but the trip back to Cairo was grueling. Traffic is no fun. It took us over six hours to get back--should've taken four. I start working again tomorrow. All in all, an excellent week off.