Saturday, 12 November 2011

Oasis in the Western desert

We arrived at Baharia tired after a long drive from Alexandria, the journey was interesting for a number of reasons...firstly we had to get out of Alexandria via the motorway. The motorway has no rules, you not only have people cramming on the lanes you also have drivers (usually motorbikes) going the wrong ( yes driving at you) way as a short cut to wherever they are going. We do not have very good maps so were relying on directions from people who could understand what we were going on about. It wasn't long before James had had enlisted the help of a driver (who he asked directions from through the window while we were driving) who very kindly offered to take us to the turn off we needed that would lead across the first part of the Western desert to Baharia Oasis. This culminated in James doing a spectacular drive across 4 lanes of traffic that would have lost him his license back home, to get to a cross roads and the turning for the Western desert road. The drive was great, fantastic landscape and hardly any other vehicles, it was hot though about 30 degrees in the shade and James persuaded against the air con as we 'had to acclimatise for Sudan'. By the time we arrived in Baharia (6 hours later) you could say that I was not at my best, part cooked in my own sweat and tired and we could not find the bedouin camp that we hoped to stay in. To be honest I was all for tryng to find anywhere just to get out of the heat but James managed to track down the manager of the camp who asked us to wait and he would find us...oh and could we 'give him and some of his stuff a lift back to the camp?'. The car is crammed but James said yes of course then realising this might be a challenge went off to get me a cold drink before I turned into a puddle. A very bad tempered puddle. Amazing what a cold can of pop and a wonderfully lovely bedouin man can do for your mood.

The manager turned out to be Mahmoud (big lad isn't he) , who was just so nice that not only did my 'irrits' disappear but I quickly found myself offering to stuff myself in the small space between the seat and the roof that required me to utilise my years of yoga practice.
He invited us into his house while he collected his 'stuff' and got his younger brother to get us some of the fresh dates they had been harvesting for market.

I had never eaten these before and after I had I wanted to marry Mahmoud (so did James). Then we piled into the car and drove up to 'Nature Camp' which is on the very edges of the Baharia oasis and the desert. I am so glad James persisted in his search for this place as it turned out to be by far the most beautiful place we had stayed in during our whole stay. Not only was the camp stunning but the food was the best and all of the staff were wonderfully kind and helpful.

 Before dinner we went for a short walk to the hot springs (James thought this might be a good idea in the moonlight later but I declined after sweating like a navvies armpit all day). The next day included singing 'Happy Birthday' to lovely Kate, afterwards I got appropriately tearful as my baby is now 20! and headed into Baharia village to visit the 'Golden mummies' (so named because of the golden death masks they wear) and the Tombs via dodgy ladders, both were worth the trouble.

Then were then back on the road, this time to the black and white deserts to camp.....and feeling somewhat restored and rested I thought it was time I had a go at driving.

Of course I was brilliant. I drove for about an hour along a fantastic and almost carless road. Milo (our car) is a little slower on the
brakes than I am used to but it was pretty good to have my first experience of driving him out here. We drove through the black and then into the White desert, the landscape becoming more beautiful and surreal as we went on.

Of course we didn't know where the tracks were for us to follow into the desert but we didn't let that stop I say we shouldn't be allowed out. But the desert fairies were looking out for us as we got talking to bedouin tour group who said for us to follow them. So we did. James did a bit of sand dune surfing with Milo.....

and we charged around the desert with the bedouin and a bunch of Chinese tourists. This was about dusk, and the kick back from sand and dust was considerable, the bedouin dudes drove fast and were off the tracks and out into the sand of course we got lost......luckily just as we were going 'Oh dear' another 4x4 turned up and led us to where the bedouin were. They were lovely blokes, really friendly, offering for us to share their food and laughing at James for not driving as fast as them.
The night in the desert was magical, big sky, big stars, big moon, big happiness.

The chinese touroids were loud, friendly, sang karoke (bit odd) and took photos.
The next morning we said goodbye to our new bedouin friends (who now want to marry Kate after seeing a picture of her) and headed on into the desert to find another place to sleep. After driving for a while and not seeing any tracks at all to get back into the desert, James stopped to ask stationed ambulancemen where would be a good place to go, they were explicit that it was unsafe so we headed on to the next oasis (Al Farghia) .
We spotted a tea shack at one of the roadside villages so we headed on in. The men (no women here they are all hidden) were friendly. They were either playing dominoes or smoking shisha, the shopkeeper asked lots of questions and even though I am a very great doctor he didn't get the gist of what we were saying about what our professions are. What ensued became weird. He asked for my photo and given I have been allowed to take many photos of joe public I said yes. About 6 photos later I began to feel pretty daft, then he began to ask health related questions which I thought were about his wife. It sounded like she had bad morning sickness then he went on to act out that he was trying to become a father but not having any success. He showed me that he was giving his wife asprin and he was taking tremadol to 'make strong'. 'No no no do not do this' I said trying to act out someone in liver failure (the wife) and someone unconscious and mad at the same time (the shopkeeper). 'what what' he said pointing to a piece of paper and a pen. Presumably he wanted a prescription so I looked around his shack desperately trying to see something that might help the language barrier. Now you have to appreciate there wasn't much for sale here. In the end I wrote next to a big drawing of a clock, jam ( it was either that or pop) and being a hippy prescribed ginger lemon balm and lavender 3 times a day. James had been sitting about 3 feet away from me while all this played out and missed the lot. In the end I had to give him the evil eye that it was time to leave and off we drove. Bit of a dueling banjo moment that.

When we arrived in El Farghia Oasis the checkpoint police decided as they had nothing better to do would escort us to our hotel.we didn't actually have anything arranged but you have to name a destination as you enter. The hotel I told them we were staying at (taken from the lonely planet guide) turned out to be €100 night! So our escorts kindly offered to show us the way to a bedouin camp that was more in our price range. Off we went but this time our escort stopped at the checkpoint and gave us directions. 15 mins later we were back at the checkpoint asking different police the way. They are all wanting to help here so the checkpoint police began stopping traffic asking if anyone spoke English. At this two guys said they knew where the hotel was and told us to follow them back into the town. Ah obviously the first police were stupid and told us the wrong way. We ended up at a hotel that even James refused to stay in. I didn't actually see this place from the inside but the outside was not good. As I sat in the car hoping that James wouldn't come back out and say we were staying there the first lot of army/tourist police found us. This time my acting skills were used to demonstrate we are stupid and shouldn't be allowed out and pointed to where James had just gone. They went in and came out with him (oh the shame) and wearily escorted us back to the checkpoint. We waved at our checkpoint army/police friends and this time followed the instructions properly. Would you believe it it was only 5 min further down the road? This made James rather smug as he had said we should keep looking and I said we should go back. The camp turned out to be closed due to the holiday but the hungover manager said we could camp in the grounds. This pleased James no end. I however was a little less sure (especially as tremadol man had thought I was fair game). The camp owner turned up and asked for payment and James went off and did some tough negotiating. Like a lion he returned with the news that he had bargained the price down from £8 to £6 and we could have use of a bathroom. Still unconvinced I decided
to sleep fully clothed and told James if I heard any funny business I would move so fast that I would take the tent with me into the car. James looked disappointedly at me saying 'Don't worry I will protect you' . For a whole hour I lay awake working out how to defend us (James was of course protecting me by snoring really loudly). Then my stamina deserted me and I fell asleep. The next morning we had breakfast and left the camp, locking the gates behind us and started down the road to Luxor.

The road to Luxor was splendid. I drove for about 60 k past mountains and sand dunes that changed in colour and texture from mustard yellow dust to pink to what looked like the topping off an apple crumble. The sky was big and blue turning to violet where it met the land.

Occasionally we would see birds, other life forms were restricted to the boarder guards who frequently asked us if we would like to take tea with them. The road was occasionally covered in sand, sometimes it became a rutted stony track. I learned how to drive Milo without breaking hard to slow and ease into lower gears. We arrived in Luxor t the side of the Nile, and found our hotel without getting lost even a bit! 

'free curiosity has greater power to stimulate learning than rigorous coercion’ .


  1. Driving the Milo hey Dee, proper adventuring now. go girl! Still jealous, looks amazing.

  2. Would love to see the hotel that even james would not stay in

  3. Thank god they have sand faeries!!! you could have been horribly lost!!! I am also intrigued about a hotel that even James wouldn't stay in!!
    Photos look amazing. Keep safe. xxx