Western Desert - Egypt

Thurs 24th September: Leave by car (Toyota Corolla) at 1 in the afternoon from Cairo, via 6th of October towards ‘El Wahat’. We finally arrive at around 19:00 in Bahareya Oasis and it looks like the desert, feels like the desert and smells like the desert. At first sight Bahareya looks like a bunch of 2 floor cement houses thrown together close to the main street, but then we take a few alleys and find out that there is much more to do here. After looking at a number of hotels & camps, a friendly local guy on a motorbike by the name of Ashraf Lotfy directs us to a hotel with a very good reputation. http://www.whitedeserttours.com/about.htm

The ‘International Hot Spring Hotel’ is run by German Peter Philipp Wirth and his Japanese wife Miharu Shimazaki. The staff is very friendly and the rooms are well equipped with either a fan or A/C. After settling in our rooms we have a nice dinner in the outdoor restaurant and then head for the hot spring. The hot spring is a small circular pool that heats up to 45 degrees during the day. In the evening however it’s still a bit and after a sizzling 20min we go straight to the room and we drift off to dreamland in a matter of minutes. Sooo relaxing… http://www.whitedeserttours.com/hot-msag.htm International Hot Spring Hotel - Doubleroom: 350 p/night (Prices are for Egyptians)

Fri 25th September: After sleeping in and having a late breakfast we decide to go around the town of Bawiti and take a look at some of the local attractions. The main attractions are the ‘museum’ (why in brackets I will explain in a moment…), the tombs of the pharaohs, the graves of Alexanders’ soldiers and some more graves. Our first stop is the local Bahareya museum.

Only a few minutes drive from our hotel we find ourselves in poor looking alley buying tickets from behind a window with bars in a little shack. Literally 20m in front of that poor shack is an old looking building and the doors have a lock on it. As I approach the metal prison looking doors, a few soldiers/officers jump out surprised at the visit of a living being.., I presume. I show our tickets and as we walk to what can only be described as death row, are guided to a small room. The room is no bigger that 8m by 8m and has about 6 glass cases with the mummy’s of pharaohs from the area of the valley of 10,000 mummy’s. That area is sealed off to the public, explains the officer/guard to me. But what we are shown here are some of the best preserved mummy’s. “After all, the rest of the mummy’s where literally stacked up on top of each other in the valley.” The mummy’s are beautifully decorated with gold plating and the drawings of the journey to the underworld are still very clear. Amazing. There is also a mummy of a child, the guard explains that the baby was no older than 6 months, that’s what they discovered when they investigated the mummy with X-rays in Cairo, according to the guard. I can’t stop but wonder what these local guards would think if they knew how these people really lived back then.

We go back to our car to visit some of the tombs, it’s exactly a 2min car drive on the other side of the main road. On top of a small hill a bunch of rocks stacked on top of each other show a dusty sign with the words; ‘grave of the pharaohs’. The sight looks de-motivating, dreadful, energy draining and of course, dusty… We decide to go up the hill and into the unknown anyway… boy, were we in for a surprise…

A guy comes up from a shack behind the ruins and guides us towards a metal door that barricades the stone structure. At first sight, there is a shaft going straight down and whoever found this shaft built stairs downwards for the visitors. It is a bit strange, a shaft… straight down? How were they ever able to cut a square shaft with so much precision back in those days?? This was very strange… The stairs are very steep and when we reach the bottom after two sets of stairs, about 10m down, we have to bend a little to enter a small opening in a wall. What we find next is a small square room with two pillars and in the walls there are four openings where the tombs used to be located. The whole room is painted with drawings from the time of the Pharaohs. The drawings show the removal of the organs by the god Anubis, the journey to the underworld and some strange, unexplainable drawings of a blue pharaoh, sitting with his wife next to him in front of a table with a blue vase from where a blue smoke seems to rise.., some sort of magic I presume. The image of the blue pharaoh repeats itself numerous times in and around the tomb.

Back on top we go to another tomb where the same scenario unfolds. We go down steep steps, crouch through a small opening in the wall and find ourselves faced with numerous paintings that tell stories of a time long ago.. and again, strangely, the image of a blue pharaoh appears several times on the walls of the tomb. As we leave more questions seem to be arising and answers seem to be fading… we move aside these thoughts and go on exploring the rest of the Oasis. Upon return, we have dinner and a good night sleep.

Sat 26th September: ‘Beeter’, as Peter is known by the locals, has a wealth of knowledge under his belt about the Sahara Desert and as a true professional gives us a briefing before we leave on our desert trip on our third day. After absorbing all the details for a trip to the Black desert & the White desert, we pack our bags and are on our way with our driver in an ’88 old but well maintained 4x4 Toyota Landcruiser.

Our first stop is on the hill top of some dunes, the driver accelerated his car and we went straight up a steep hill to get to a full stop right on top. To call the view and atmosphere from there beautiful is an understatement, it is truly amazing and breath taking. We spend some time there enjoying the quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Next we go to the Black Desert and the driver drops us off at the foot of a hill for us to climb promising to pick us up on the other side. Uuuh...., okay we reply… We enjoy a nice 30min walk in a hill with an opening in the middle. The hill is covered in black rocks, magma that was pushed upwards during the continental drifts millions of years ago, according to Peter, our Desert Expert. It’s a nice walk though, amazing how nature shapes and creates itself, really beautiful…

Arriving on the other side of the hill we are happy to find our driver present and ready to take us to our next destination, Crystal Mountain & the White desert. The pictures speak for themselves…

Sun 27th September: On our fourth day we have a late breakfast and wander up the black mountain. Just a short walk away from the restaurant, we trek up some steep steps to a truly spectacular view. The black mountain totally surrounding us from behind as far as the eye can see. In front of us the village and farmland spread out only to be covered by desert in the horizon. After climbing down we begin to pack, leaving Chez Peter, with a whopping bill since we bought several maps and guides for friends and family.

Several check points later and after about 150 kilometres we reach the White Desert National Park. This park encompasses an area of a couple thousand square meters! We venture into the White desert in Farafra, and since we didn’t have a 4x4 we stopped at about 3 kilometres, into the multitude of stone formations. We set up camp near a large boulder, as nightfall descended we were suddenly surrounded by an unbelievable amount of stars. It is worth mentioning here that we were one of the last visitors to the White Desert that set up camp free of charge, according to Peter, starting October 2009 there will be a charge for visitors of the ‘White Desert National Park’. It was like someone threw confetti of glitter into the dark blue sky. With only scarabs and desert foxes as companions we lit a fire and enjoyed the beauty and serenity of nature with a soothing cup of tea.

When finally we fell asleep, only minutes later we jumped up in fright to scratching noises just outside our tent. We looked around our eyes adjusting to the darkness, and to no avail couldn’t spot anything around us. So accepting our fate, we passed out again.

Mon 28th September: Sunrise came too early for our sleepless night, and the heat and flies quickly started swarming the tent. We hurriedly ate our breakfast and sped through the park onto the main road. We decide to skip Farafra due to its unpleasant, cement block buildings and uninviting atmosphere and drove down from Farafra through several little villages down to Al-Qasr in Dakhla. Al-Qasr is a small village situated about 20km from the main city of Dakhla Oasis. Recommended by several friends we were told to stay at the Desert Lodge. As we drove down there were several clearly placed signs to the Desert Lodge, and as the name implies it truly is a desert lodge. http://www.desertlodge.net/ Desert Lodge – Doubleroom: 400LE (Prices are for Egyptians)

With mud-brick houses and buildings this lodge looked like something coming out of Timbuktu! This eco-lodge is well planned and decorated, with ¬¬32 spacious rooms, all of which are equipped with only fans, the hotel motto is: ’We go into the desert to quench our thirst for freedom.’ After checking in and having a walk around the area we retire for dinner. With a nice warm meal in our full bellies we tumble into bed.

Tue 29th September: After a tiring and warm night we splash some more warm water on our faces and head down to breakfast. Breakfast at the Desert Lodge contains the basic grub: boiled eggs, fruit, and yogurt and jam selections.

We decided to take a look around the area of Al Kasr and found several little shops mostly catering for the locals. We drive then towards our main attraction for the day; Deer El Haggar (Stone Monastery) which is about 5 Km from the town. The Stone Monastery was quite difficult to find as the road towards it is situated through a local village, with no distinguishing signs. After speaking to several locals for directions we decided to ask if there was a small kiosk that sells water or drinks as we were extremely thirsty. One local small boy no older than 10 finally runs alongside the car taking us through a mixture of alleyways and lo and behold a small hole in the wall shows an elderly woman sticking her head out with all kinds of junk food and drinks behind her. As we ascend from the car to order some drinks we are flooded by women and children alike all staring at the main attraction of the day which was us.

After buying our drinks and heading off to the Monastery we see a woman walking with a bread basket on her head with what looks like to be freshly baked bread. We pull over and ask her where the local bakery is and she looks at us dumbfoundly and states ‘There is no bakery…I baked the bread!’ The woman kindly gives us three loaves. The bread is amazingly fresh, and so thick that it’s more like a large saucer. The centre was soft like cake and the outer layer was crunchy.

After a few morsels of bread we headed towards the Stone Monastery, and whizzed through it as it was a very hot day and we were extremely tired. We then retired to the hotel for a warm shower and a lovely outdoor dinner, set up outside on the patio of the hotel overlooking the city.

Wednesday 30th September: After we finished breakfast we headed towards the car for a 250Km ride towards Kharga. Shortly before arriving at Kharga the road turned to wet and fresh tarmac, which exploded into a rain of dust and black as we drove through it. Once in Kharga we headed towards the Gas station to wash the now blackened car.

I went around to find the cleaners and supervise their work. A young lad of about 16, came out and told me the tarmac could not be washed off expect with gasoline. So I told him to get 5 liters of gasoline and he started pouring it over the car, with everyone observing quietly. Half way through I suddenly see a wisp of smoke arising from the back of the car and venture over to investigate, only to find the 16 year old boy with a cigarette in his mouth and cloth of gasoline in his right hand and a bucket of gasoline in his left. Screeching and screaming at the boy at his stupidity, he merely shrugs it off and puts his cigarette out with a scowl. An hour later and the car a good deal cleaner we leave to our recommended hotel, Pioneer SolYmar which costs 400 p/night including breakfast and dinner. http://solymaregypt.com/pioneer/

The hotel although looking old from the outside is quite pleasant on the inside. The hotel is large, spacious, and modern, it has a large outdoor Swimming Pool, which was the first we have seen in 1000 Km. After a dunk in the pool we head towards dinner. Dinner at the SolYmar is quite the experience, a buffet of every possible meat, chicken, and fish dishes not to mentions the salads, soups and desserts! So naturally we pigged out majorly!!!

Thursday 1st October: After a small breakfast due to last nights dinner, we decided to go the Govt. Land office and ask about some information about the different types of land available. Once we found the place we were ushered to meet the general manager of the place, an elderly woman named Mrs. Aziza. She kindly gave us a large amount of information and a CD which detailed all the different types of projects available.

After that we decided to visit the Bawagat Cemetery. The Bawagat is a bunch of different tombs, all showing the early Greco-Roman period in Egypt. There were paintings of different biblical stories on the ceilings of each tomb. Some obviously more preserved than others. The most notable were the Tomb of Exodus, and the Tomb of Peace. As we were walking around the tombs with our guide/guard, we come across the path of a small white snake. The guard automatically ventures over and starts stepping on it with his foot, once he sees the snake coil back in a defensive stance rising and swarming towards us. With a sudden stomp he kills the snake and throws it into the sand. As he stared at us a smile gleaming from his twisted face, we stared back in horror at the murder of a poor soul. He leers and suggests looking at one more tomb which has a real mummy inside. We agree quietly still thinking of the snake, when suddenly our attention is directed to a small unlit tomb where lies a skeleton clearly decapitated from the waist down sitting in a hole not more than a couple of feet into the earth.

After that exhilarating experience we head towards the Temple of Hibis only to be stopped at the gate by a guard declaring the temple was closed. The Temple of Hibis was under construction and therefore we could only take some sneak pictures on the way back to the hotel.

Friday 2nd October: Since we were the only guests present at breakfast, we ate silently and then prepared for the drive to Luxor. Four hours and several unmarked check points later we arrive in Luxor. After searching for about an hour for the El Nakhil Hotel, which is hidden in between the alley ways on the West bank of the Nile. we check in and still have some energy left so decide to visit the Karnak Sound & Light Show. The show brought us back in time and was very entertaining and informative. El Nakhil Hotel - 280LE p/night http://www.elnakhil.com

Saturday 3rd October: Breakfast at El Nakhil Hotel consists of a light meal with a beautiful view of the Nile in front of us and the greenery of the farmlands surrounding us. We meet an American/Swiss couple that were staying for the weekend. Together we decide to venture in the Valley of the Kings and visit some of the newly opened tombs with amazingly fresh-looking hieroglyphics. Only one word comes to mind when describing them; breathtaking! Next we climb the steps of the temple of Hatshepsut, a monument carved from the mountain where it lays hidden in its shadow. In the evening we have dinner @ the infamous restaurant Kabebgy, they offer western and Egyptian food and we opt for the latter after which we head home and go to sleep.

Sunday 4th October: We decide to relax today and prepare for the drive to Ain Sukhna on Monday. In the afternoon we have a nice ‘Subway’ style sandwich with a view on a Mosque built smack in the middle of the Luxor Temple.

Monday 5th October: After breakfast we leave for Ain Sukhna at 10:00am and take the new ‘Tareeq el Sahrawy’ (which is in the direction of Luxor airport) towards Safaga, Hurghada, Zafarana, and eventually El Sokhna. We finally arrive at 17:30 to sleep and relax for a few days… until the next journey…

Other options: Cairo (-Alexandria - Marsa Matrouh) - Siwa Siwa Safari Paradise Hotel 350 p/night - Doubleroom (breakfast & dinner) Contact person reception: Mahmoud http://www.siwaparadise.com/bungalo.htm

Distances Cairo - Western Desert locations

"On road" in the Western Desert (between Siwa and Baharia, only possible with 4x4, current ‘new road’ is under construction with still 90Km to go, about a year until its finished)

From Cairo to Siwa Oasis via Alexandria around 800 kilometers / 500 miles From Siwa Oasis to Baharia Oasis around 400 kilometers / 250 miles From Cairo to Baharia around 320 kilometers / 200 miles From Baharia to the White Desert around 180 kilometers / 110 miles From the White Desert to Farafra Oasis around 30 kilometers / 19 miles From Farafra Oasis to Dakhla Oasis around 290 kilometers / 180 miles From Dakhla Oasis to Kharga Oasis around 200 kilometers / 125 miles From Kharga Oasis to Luxor around 320 kilometers / 200 miles

(this article first appeared on http://www.worldisround.com/articles/355920/text.html, with pictures)