Surviving the Western Desert

Egypt's Western Desert

After nearly four months of driving through Africa, the last leg of our Oasis Overland truck journey had finally arrived. We set out from Luxor after a too-brief visit and headed into Egypt’s Western Desert for four days of travel on our way to Cairo. I have to admit that it was a leg of the journey that I was not too excited about at first. Our time in Aswan and on the felucca had gotten me used to the trappings of civilization again, and I didn’t relish the prospect of heading out into the unrelenting heat of the desert for another stretch of several days. On the other hand, there were a few things to look forward to on the way: we would be driving through the White and Black Deserts, and hopefully getting a few more nights of desert bush camping along the way. This was the home stretch, and Cairo was the ultimate destination, the end of our marathon overland crossing of the African continent. Only one little desert left to cross…

As we left Luxor behind us and drove into the desert proper, we met our first bit of unfortunate news. We were stopped at the first of many police checkpoints, and informed that we would be required to have a tourist-police escort accompany us all the way through the Western Desert. This in itself was no big deal, but they also informed us that we would not be permitted to camp out in the desert either. We would instead be required to stay in towns along the way, which was a much less scenic option to be sure. In spite of all of the hardships encountered driving through deserts along our travels, desert bush camps were probably our favourite sites of all. The prospect of crossing the desert for 4 days and being denied a last chance at enjoying the quiet, starry desert nights was undeniably disappointing. But there was no room for negotiation on this, so we took it in stride as best we could.

Ruins in Mut Oasis

Our first three days of driving were fairly short and fairly uneventful. We spent the nights in El Kharga Oasis, Mut Oasis, and Farafra Oasis respectively, and our primary focus in each town was where to find cold drinks. This was often a challenge, since its the middle of the holy month of Ramadan right now. During Ramadan, Muslims don’t eat or drink at all during the day, and so most shops are also closed during fasting hours. Fortunately, a few shop owners would sometimes open up when they saw us coming through, since we were fairly conspicuous as a large group of very thirsty-looking tourists. Aside from the search for refreshment we did very little other sight-seeing. We did walk through the old part of Mut for a while, and snapped some pictures of the abandoned buildings with their collapsing roofs and walls, but that was about it. The one upside to staying in towns rather than in the desert was that we often had access to showers. I would normally hop in the shower and then put my clothes back on without even drying off, and within 10 minutes I would be completely dry again thanks to the heat. It was the only way to feel refreshed.

Poor old donkey, always left out in the sun

The oasis towns we stayed in weren’t exactly what we expected them to be, either. When I think of an oasis, I picture a clear bit of refreshing water surrounded by a circle of palm trees, bordered on all sides by desert sands. The scale of these oases was larger than that by a good margin, and therefore less quaint. They may be more interesting to see from above, where the borders of the oasis are visibly meeting the desert, but from ground level they mostly just resembled shabby towns. In Farafra Oasis Meghan did go to visit a hotspring and garden, which offered a bit of a different perspective. At first the idea of swimming in a hotspring in that heat seemed ridiculous, but considering the hotspring was about 37¬∫C and the air temperature was about 48¬∫C, Meg reports that the water was actually quite nice, even cool. It did smell strongly of sulphur, however, and it wasn’t the most idyllic setting either, but what else is there to do in a place like that?

Hotspring in the Oasis. Nice, eh?

On our fourth drive day we finally passed the last checkpoint before Cairo, and dropped off our tourist police escort. With only one night to go before we’d be off the truck for good, we were going to get one final desert bush camp in! It was really windy, but it was a great campsite. We listened to Barbara-Jeanne play ukulele for a while, and then I borrowed Colin’s guitar and we had one more jam session. It was our 30th different bush camp site of the trip, and an excellent finale to cap it all off.

The White Desert

On our last drive day, we drove through the White and the Black Deserts. It was stunning scenery, and it helped us forget the tediousness of the previous few days. The White Desert was characterized by white stone formations that dotted the landscape like giant mushrooms. It was blinding in the midday sun — the name “White Desert” is very literal. We stopped the truck and spent an hour walking through the formations. It was like walking through a silent, fossilized garden. We took the opportunity to practice a couple of yoga poses one more time.

Desert Yoga Club, one last time

After the Black Desert, we made a brief stop at Crystal Mountain, which unfortunately was not quite as magnificent as the name implies. From there, it was only a couple of short hours before Cairo was all around us. We spotted the tips of the Great Pyramids as they peeked over the city skyline at us, and the truck was all smiles. We made it! We’d successfully covered 19,730 km of African roads between Cape Town and the Egyptian capital. It was almost time to say our goodbyes, but there was still one more day to go, and a few very famous, very old sites to visit together…

We made it! One last truck portrait.

Comments

  1. Debbie Rosen

  2. Congrats on a fantastic African journey! What an entertainment your stories always are. I LOVE this last pic of the two of you!! Love, Mom

  3. Mama Kate

  4. What an inspiring journey! To have gone from the southern tip of Aftrica to the most northern part – amazing. We were intially very worried, but as time went by, got into the swing of your adventure and have enjoyed every minute of it. Congratualtions for following your dreams and making them such a beautiful reality for all to enjoy. What stories you will have to tell your children some day ;o)

    Amazing trip! I still need to catch up and look at all your african photos. I love those two yoga shots of you.
    Bisous!

  5. Vanna White

  6. Wow I had tears in my eyes reading your final journey through Africa… I could really feel the amazement in your reflection ‚Äì you have travelled the entire continent of Africa ‚Äì not many can say they have done that ‚Äì put that in your CV!
    Mark your warrior pose is absolutely fitting… magnificent warrior with tons of purpose! Meghan your dancers pose is stunning… how it symbolizes your dancing through Africa with a soft but very strong approach and purpose. How has Africa changed you?
    I can’t wait to see you soon.
    Lots of love

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