The road that took us out of Luxor and into the Western Desert was incredible. On this trip, there’s been nothing I like more than just staring out of the window (transparent plastic part of the side tarps) and watching the scenery change. This was the perfect example of why I liked it so much. For what seemed like an hour or more we drove through a rocky canyon with steep faces looming down on us from either side of the road. The high winds that must have channelled their way through this region over centuries had carved out intricate patterns in the gorge walls that when you drove past them at 70km/h looked, for a second, like man-made hieroglyphs. By looking at the elaborate shapes and patterns in some of the boulders that lay at the foot of these walls you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d taken an accidental detour through the middle of a chess game being played out by giant Egyptian gods.
|Ish, Jen and Jules - showing how cold it was once the sun disappeared.|
|The moon rise over camp.|
|(Photo courtesy of Rob Dark)|
|Nothing was going to get in the way of this Scrabble game, so the Esky became a table in the back of the truck|
|Enjoying the sewage treatment. CW from front: Gab, Berbs, Kimbo, Paddy, Hendrik, AK, Kenji & Marjane.|
|Getting ready to dive under the reeds.|
|Safe on the other side, I'm met wiht some brown surprises. My face says it all.|
After getting dry, Hendrik joked about how the alleged ‘magical healing powers’ of the water might cause a big afro to pop out of Berbs’ bald head. I quipped that the same might happen to Hendrik’s upper lip. We sat in silence and watched for a while, but nothing happened.
|Pat aka Paddy|
|Kenj aka Hawaiian Brian|
|Ronaldo aka Big Bad Don|
|Spence aka Spence|
|Ish aka Vikram|
|Rob D aka The Darkman|
|Gab aka Cannelloni|
|Berbs aka Berbs|
|Saffer Rob aka Skommel Bro Episode 1 - The Phantom Moustache|
|If you look at it side on and in the right light, you can see some whiskers.|
|Hendrik aka Skommel Bro Episode 2 - Revenge of the Sith Ifrican.|
|Not so PC Kenj...not so PC.|
The afternoon was getting on so – still with escort in tow - we made good headway north for the next oasis. For bush camp that night, Marjane found an electrical/communications tower with big high walls defending its perimeter. In a comedy attempt to lose our tail, he let the police overtake us and drive on down the road in front of us as we stealthily turned off into the desert and tried hiding Roxy (nearly 20 tonnes of truck) behind the walls of the tower. They soon found us and like Egypt’s answer to Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez, were on stakeout all night as we set up camp, cooked dinner, ate, smoked some sheesha under the stars and finally went to bed.
|Homeless takes some time to reflect...|
|...before having a "Flashdance" moment on the dune.|
I slept like a baby that night but over breakfast the next morning, some of the guys said that the police made a hell of a racket when they changed shifts in the middle of the night. There wasn’t much chance to catch up on sleep on the truck as we were at our next destination by 1030hrs.
|Son - geared up to go explore Mut's old town.|
|The chosen one.|
After the customary coffee and sheesh we were all aboard Roxy again and heading to the outskirts of town where there was another ‘hot spring’. We were a little bit apprehensive about re-enacting the sewage swim we’d had the previous day, but the set-up looked a little more inviting: there was a massive circular pool, large patio area with tables and chairs and a bar...with beer too expensive to be buy (25 Egyptian Pound a pop...that’s $4.20). Entry was 10 Egyptian Pounds each but we were fine with that: half of us relished the chance of another swim whilst the other half were more excited about the free hot shower afterwards.
|Kay gets some practice handling an Egyptian pipe.|
|Who peed in the pool?|
|Everybody gets ready for a group version of Homeless' signature move, "The Spastic Dolphin."|
|The deep breath before...|
|...and the aftermath.|
Further out of town, we came across “Muzawaka” tombs (somewhat by accident) which completely knocked us for six. The site was non-descript aside from a couple of large, flat-top rock formations so typical of this continent. There were no touts, no buildings (ok, maybe one small one), no security, no other tourists and best of all, no entry fee. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, we were on the verge of tomb overkill (sounds like it should be the name of a goth band) and had already had a good dose of them in Luxor. But. This. Was. Unbelievable...
One of the big flat rocks was pocked with holes which later proved to be tombs. It’s morbid to say it, but we were astonished and excited that we had pretty much unrestricted access to dozens upon dozens of mummified bodies, human skeletons and remains. You could touch them if you felt so inclined. There were two or three tombs that were barred up and all of the others were open for everybody to investigate, so we did just that.
|Mummified bodies in the first (barred up) tomb we were shown.|
|This and all of the other skeletons shown below, were in open tombs.|
I wandered on my own to the far side of the rock and it wasn’t long before I was tripping over (literally) human femurs and staring face-to-face with empty eye-ball sockets less than a foot away from me...I tell a lie, they were a foot and a shin bone away from me. The old guy that passed as a guide/crypt-keeper didn’t speak much English so we didn’t really learn much about the place but I’ve since read that the tombs date back to Roman times. If my research is correct, the better kept ones (that were barred up) were the tombs of Petosiris and Sadosiris but they’ve been closed up to keep them safe from humidity and over-zealous tourists.
|Kimbo, sitting on the edge of an open tomb with a grisly cadaver mere centimetres away.|
|Not really sure what this guy (our guide/the crypt-keeper) was playing at...|
|...that's Hendrik sunning himself in the background by the way.|
We left there and found a decent bush-camp just off the road and it was here that our police escort finally left us. That night Berbs cooked up his signature Cottage Pie with garlic bread (UCKING FOURSOME!) and I camped on some higher ground so I could get a good view of the sunrise from my tent in the morning...
The ‘Farafra Oasis’ and the fabled “White Desert” (45km from Farafra) were next on the agenda. The oasis lies halfway between Dakhla (the one we’d just been to) and Bahariya (the oasis closest to Cairo) and is the smallest of Egypt’s Western Desert oases. The White Desert – known to some locals as ‘Sahara el Beyda’ - is the stuff of a million picture perfect postcards sold up and down Egypt.
|Egypt's White Desert|
As the name suggests, it’s a sea of white unlike the rest of the dirty yellow but more than that, it has thousands of free-standing chalk-rock formations scattered across like giant mushrooms or Easter Island statues...to be fair, you could spend hours finding familiar shapes in the rocks. We didn’t. We got out Jen and Jules’ Frisbee (that’s after the Skommel Bros had got their daily fix of destruction) and created a big playing field in between all the wind-carved statues.
|The destruction begins as Skommel Sr. picks up a large rock.|
|Skommel Jr. goes for the karate kick as Sr. eggs him on.|
|Must. Break. Stuff.|
|The destructive streak rubs off on Spence and Paddy...|
|"Area of outstanding natural beauty."|
|FRISBEE!!! (Photo courtesy of Rob Dark)|
We ventured on til we came across a campsite (of sorts) complete with swimming pool...but it didn’t look like the place had seen a lick of paint (or a tourist) since before Moses was born. We soon turned around and moved on (after hearing the road further ahead was only passable in a 4X4) only to stop at another spot amidst even more impressive natural sand sculptures. This was our bush-camp for the night (which Marjane later referred to as one of his all time favourites)...it’s up there for me but still doesn’t beat some of the remote ones we’d had in Sudan or Mauritania.
|Saffer Rob takes it all in.|
|Ish takes the walk of shame with the spade...we all know what he was up to.|
|I made it onto the truck notice board.|
|The reason why Mark J Kilburn is called "Berber"|
It was a similar story at some old Roman ruins further down the road: unrestricted, unmarked and free-standing and by all reports free to visit but as soon as the whiff of the tourist dollar was windborne, the locals were creeping out the woodwork like something out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. We were all a bit disappointed to not visit ‘The Valley of the Golden Mummies’ – they’d only been discovered in 1996 and we could now see why; Ronald had the exact co-ordinates on the GPS on his phone but Marjane couldn’t find it for the life of him.