I’m still struggling to write about my trip to Lesvos. When I first got back to Cairo I felt like I needed a few days’ distance to explain it well. But almost immediately the refugee situation in Europe changed dramatically, and I was at a loss about what to say about it. Four weeks later it’s still changing and I still haven’t written anything. Meanwhile let me tell you about the trip we took recently to the Black and White Deserts.
A hired driver transported us, along with our friends Scott and Justine, for five hours along a desert highway. It was after dark by the time we reached Ahmed’s house in the Bahariya oasis. I didn’t know what to expect of an oasis. The pictures I had in my head all came from cartoons, pop music, and 19th century novels. Bahariya appears suddenly as a green place in the barren desert, but in addition to the palm trees there are roads, houses, and businesses, including two substantial towns.
Ahmed is a pleasant man with a reserved, patrician air who organizes tours in western Egypt. His wife had prepared a tasty dinner to welcome us.
After dinner our host introduced us to his cousins Mohammed and Mahmoud, who had been loading a Landcruiser with equipment and provisions. They were to be our guides. We climbed into the car, and with Ahmed following in another vehicle headed out to the open desert to set up camp.
Ahmed returned to his family at the oasis, leaving us in the capable hands of his cousins. They set up our tent, a wonderful canvas and cotton print construction like the ones you see in the tent-makers’ souk in Cairo’s old city. We turned down their offer to build a campfire – after a full day of work and the long drive, we were all ready to sleep.
Although sandstorms had been predicted, we woke up to an almost clear sky. We wandered off separately to explore the tall dunes surrounding our campsite, returning to an Arab breakfast of hardboiled eggs, bread, cheese, jam, and halwa.
The highlight of the morning was a visit from a fennec fox.
Our guides decided to pack up the bedrolls but leave the tent in place. If the dust storm didn’t come then we would camp under the stars in the White Desert, but if it did we would return to this spot and sleep inside the tent. There’s nobody around to bother your tent out in the middle of the desert.
We made many stops on the way to the White Desert.
We stopped for lunch at a tiny oasis, this time like the ones in the cartoons.
We arrived at the White Desert at dusk.
Mohammed and Mahmoud set up a windbreak for our dinner table and sleeping mats.
The dust storm hadn’t arrived but unfortunately it was too cloudy for us to see the full moon. Still, the temperature was perfect and we enjoyed a shisha around the campfire while the guys barbecued chicken for dinner.
We saw the fennec foxes in the moonlight all around; one brave girl came close to the fire for a cup of water and then lay down like a little dog in hopes of some leftovers from our meal.
The next morning we explored our surroundings while Mohammed and Mahmoud made breakfast.
Looking back at the camp Justine and I realized that the wind had really picked up and the visibility was getting bad so we returned before we got lost. Our omelets were a little gritty.
We quickly broke camp and there was a funny episode when all the rolled-up sleeping bags blew off the top of the car and we had to chase them across the desert on foot. Sightseeing was a hampered somewhat by the wind and dust.
In the late afternoon we returned to Ahmed’s house in the oasis for another tasty meal. Afterwards Ahmed took us for a walk around Bawiti, his oasis town, before the long drive home to Cairo.