“Don’t flush”, Chrissy told me, “I have to go too”. I laughed from my squatting position over the sandy hole I had just dug with my hands. I quickly took stock as to how I got to this point – peeing while watching the sun rise over the White Desert in western Egypt.
The previous morning we walked out of the Steigenberger Hotel to find Mo standing there with a suitcase on rollers. We hadn’t seen him since our Giza excursion and so we spent some time catching him up on our time in Luxor while we waited for Sayed, our driver. I had loved learning about the various ancient eras of the Egyptians: marveled at the architecture; reveled in the linguistic scripts and enjoyed the stories of each pharaoh we came across. But, I was looking forward to this excursion most of all as it had the biggest potential of being the highlight of the trip for me.
My anticipation and excitement only grew during the four hour drive from downtown Cairo to the Bedouin camp near the Bahariya Oasis. The landscape changed from city streets, to suburbs to a barren landscape of sand speckled with low-lying bushes and the occasional tree. We passed colorfully decorated trucks, road construction and several armed government checkpoints. Already our experience was different from our Cairo and Luxor adventures.
We arrived to the Bedouin camp just in time to sit down for what we soon realized was an amazing lunch prepared just for us! Our specially prepared vegan lunch included some items we recognized, like warm pita bread, tahini, and colorful pickled vegetables. I was also intrigued to try some Egyptian dishes that were new to me: Egyptian rice, lubia (a white bean dish) and molokhia (sometimes translated to Jewish mallow, similar to a spinach flavor).
After eating way too much, we met our driver Ayman and we climbed into his 4 X 4. He was going to take us into the Egyptian Western Desert, including the Black Desert and the White Desert.
Our first stop was in the Black Desert about a 15 minute drive from the camp. We clamored our way up one of the remnant hills of what used to be a volcanic plane. Making it to the top afforded us amazing views in every direction of beautiful desert formations outlined with the black of the rocks. It was easy to imagine this location under water some 30 million years ago.
After sliding down the rocky slope again to the vehicle, we journeyed on to a little nearby oasis. I decided to cool off by removing my shoes and putting my feet in the refreshing water. Before I knew it, we were back in the vehicle doing what I thought was off-roading. Little did I know what we were in store for later in the trip!
Our next stop was at a location that had clearly been in a cave at some point. This was made obvious by the stalactites still visible despite the fact that they were fully exposed to the current day hot desert sun.
We had a good time exploring the area and found all kinds of interesting artifacts likes fossils, petrified pieces of coral and even what looked like a fennec fox skull. I was hoping to see this little white fox with big ears at some point during the journey. “Was this a predictive find?”, I wondered.
Our next stop was one of the most scenic locations of the entire excursion! With just a short walk through the sand and up some rocks, I was able to see clearly in several directions: the beginning of the White Desert!
The dune bashing got really fun at this point! We went to all kinds of places that I hadn’t realized a vehicle could go! Ayman took us up sand dunes, sideways on boulders and seemed to enjoy whipping around corners! Then, our usually quiet driver spoke to our guide in a soft but confident voice. The translation came to us with excitement, “The driver says to get ready to see something truly amazing”. I had no idea what to expect. I mean we had been seeing amazing things all along – what could be possibly be so exciting that prompted a warning?!
And then we saw them! Three wild camels. Little did this man know how much this meant to me. I had seen camel after camel enslaved at markets, at pyramids, and at other locations during my short time in Egypt. It was so precious to see camels just living for themselves without anyone beating, selling or exploiting them.
I could have watched them for the rest of the day, but our driver had a schedule to keep. And later as we watched the sunset at the perfect spot, I could see why. As we sped through the desert, whizzing by and between beautiful white structures formed by chalk, I couldn’t stop smiling thinking about the camels.
Ayman’s heavy foot did indeed get us to the sunset point in good time. And what a spot! I’ll let the pictures demonstrate what my words can not.
It was hard not to feel romantic in a place like this, but of course being a lesbian in Egypt would not allow for any open affection or tenderness between Chrissy and me.
As the warmth of the sun dipped out of sight, two things happened: the temperature began to drop and the joy among the group of guides that had gathered grew. A container of dates was brought out and shared with everyone, even with us. Despite the fact that I had been eating and drinking all day, this date was indeed something to celebrate! It was sweet, it was soft and creamy, and the fact that it was given to me as a part of sharing Ramadan in an incredibly beautiful panorama, it became the single best date I’ve ever had.
We climbed into the 4 X 4 again and took a very short ride to our campsite. We watched as Ayman fixed up his tent where he proceeded to make a vegan dinner for us. It was nice to sit by the warmth of the fire while we watched the super moon rise, whose brightness illuminated the whiteness of each structure around us. It was easy to navigate our way through the night.
After dinner, we dragged our single mattresses and sleeping bags over to a more secluded spot. I fell asleep quickly, despite the cold.
Waking up in the desert, watching the sun rise in the same spot we had just seen the moon rise the night before made the uncomfortable night’s sleep entirely worth it. As I watched the sun slowly emerge from below the horizon, I felt retrospective. A sense of loss still lived inside me – seeing my high school best friend on life support and her subsequent death, the loss of my marriage, my best friend Erick moving to Mexico… But I also felt grateful for the universe providing me with the strength to handle these losses and for helping me meet Chrissy, who matches my excitement for travel and who actually suggested we go to Egypt.
The White Desert is the perfect place to enjoy some solitude, so I went for a morning walk and took in the unique beauty of this part of the earth. I found myself noticing all kinds of animal footprints from the night before, including lizards, birds and the adorable fennec fox. Chrissy followed one set of footprints and found that a fox had taken an egg from the tent and carried it offsite where s/he licked it clean. Remnants of eggshell still remained.
After breakfast of pita bread and foul, we loaded ourselves into the 4 X 4 again to see some more sites. Thankfully, the jeep camp equipped with chargers so we could keep some phone charge for pictures.
Ayman stopped at several locations to show us some neat looking structures or the panorama.
As a final farewell to the White Desert, we spent a little time clamoring around on this structure that I think looks like a wave. What a beautiful place! Before we knew it, Ayman had adjusted his tires and we were back on the highway.
We made a stop in an interesting part of the Black Desert on our way back to camp. You could clearly see the lava rocks outlining each slope. And to my surprise, the rocks were heavier than I had expected.
After lunch we said goodbye to Ayman and climbed into Sayed’s car. It felt like a long 4 hours back to Cairo, but I enjoyed looking at pictures as the scenery changed from barren to suburbs to downtown. What a great experience!