Less-Touristy Egypt

While Cairo and the main Southern tourist routes were interesting and informative; Exhausting is also a prominent word that jumps to mind. Not just the whirlwind schedules that generally “happen”, but the incessant barrage of tout’s and hassled by vendors at every turn of our head. We had met up with the McBride family a couple days ago, and have been sharing many stories and enjoying new experiences together. Part of the story swapping naturally involved good and bad aspects of Egypt so far. They had selected Egypt as a country to do an external (Intrepid) organized tour in and obviously had a much better experience for it. I have immediately pinpointed Egypt as the one country (so far) that I never wish to return to again. The sights and treasures are completely amazing and worthwhile. The general attitude of most all people that come in contact with tourists (in any way at all) is disheartening at best, and deplorable at worst. Luckily none of the McBride’s share in my opinion.

We did agree on the many missed opportunities related to tourism in Egypt though. For anyone to stand out and garner all sorts of extra tourist business would be incredibly simple. An quick example would be breakfasts. Most all hotel rooms include a basic breakfast. These have typically been slightly more substantial than the sparse continental breakfast offered in North America. These breakfasts include omelets or eggs as a minimum extra. Even after barely a week of these standard breakfasts one gets pretty tiring, (never mind a whole year!!!). In India there are many other choices you can order separately; French Breakfast, German, Dutch, English, American. All of these have different combinations of breads, eggs, sausages, bacon and fruits as suits each country’s typical eating habits. In Egypt though, there is no choice at all. All options are the same, sadly. Similarly, any store that actually had prices written on tags for items would be inundated with business just for the lack of having to negotiate.

Two things that Warren, Janice, Claudette and I all agree on is: India is by far the filthiest country we have visited so far; and the Delhi International (& Domestic) airports is by far the worst airport any of us have been to yet. They (unfortunately) had to spend considerably more time there than we did though. We only arrived at the international terminal and departed from the domestic terminal. They weren’t even allowed in to the international terminal until just a few hours before their flight departure. Instead, they had to go across the road to the “waiting” terminal. Even better, they had to pay by the hour to sit in terrible and inadequate seating over there.

We arranged to initially meet up with the McBride family at the “new” Cairo bus station early one morning. The station itself was still under construction and was only just recently partially operable. This place will be very spectacular and a fine showcase for Egypt when it fully opens in the next few months. A pretty nice piece of infrastructure, especially compared to the distinct lack of any other notably adequate buildings.

We took the public bus down to Bawahti over a four hour trip. It was less time of actual travel, but we made a few stops for bathroom breaks and for even more vendors to try and sell us crap. Upon arrival we were harranged pretty badly by tout’s wanting to take us to their “partner” hotels or wanting to “help” us book a desert tour. The town was pretty small but nice though. Janice, Connor and I trekked off to find the hotel we had booked from the Lonely Planet, and left the other five on the side of the main road with the bags. Usually the Lonely Planet maps are pretty good, but this time we had a little difficulty following along the narrow, twisty streets. Instead we headed off in the general direction that the map showed, and stumbled upon it (by dumb luck I’m sure!) about 15 minutes later. The OLD OASIS HOTEL was reasonable and decent looking. He had really nice rooms for $58 and crappy old air conditioned ones for half that. Needless we took the old crappy ones, but spent most of our spare time relaxing in the nice grassy garden area playing crib, reading and swapping stories. There was a swimming pool (so to speak) available but it was a hot spring fed, mineral laden murky pool and the kids chose to run around and play tag or hide ‘n seek instead.

After a “down day” of relaxing we headed out into the dessert for some interesting stops and a night sleeping out under the stars. The sights along the way were pretty amazing. We stopped at the black desert, which was an archipelago of volcano’s with broken black rock everywhere lazily interspersed with sand. We climbed one particularly large one which gave us a spectacular view for quite a distance with all the little black “bumps” (former volcanoes) spread in the foreground and all across the horizon. Next on the road was the “Crystal Mountain”. It was a large outcropping of calcite crystals. They were all over the sand as we approached from 20-30m away. Warren was formerly a geologist and was a phenomenal asset (and a friendly one too of course!) to have along. He described many things for us along the day, (indeed, along the trip so far) which was great to have that technical and historical perspective. The last stop was the white desert, which turned out to be a vast expanse of chalk. There were many 3-8m odd shaped formations as well as flat areas not covered by sand. The formations were wind carved into all sorts of wonderful and amazing shapes. It struck me as something right out of a Dr. Seus book. Perhaps his regular illustrator had previously visited the area and had been inspired…

After walking around the area just off the main highway and taking all sorts of incredible pictures, we ventured into the white desert. The two Toyota Land Cruiser drivers first deflated the tires a bit before driving through the dessert like maniacle teenagers without a care for the passengers they forgot were with them. About five or ten kilometers of swerves into it we stopped at a brilliant place to set up camp. The two guys weren’t very communicative (no tour guides or organizers seem to be in Egypt; getting information is worse than pulling teeth!) about what we were doing or when the entire day. Setting up camp was certainly no different. We just explored around a bit and took all sorts of more photos while waiting for the open campfire cooked meal. While the food was good, the chicken was served with the guys fingers. Yeach! And seconds on the potato stew mix was served with the guys spoon that he was eating with from his own plate. Even bigger Yeach!

One of the most interesting things we all noticed was the snowdrifts. The white chalk rock is spread across the plains with the very cool upshooting white rock formations and sand spread around the white. This makes it look like white snowdrifts and infrequent patches of light brown “ground” (the sand). This was really a reverse montage, and if one tried driving at a high speed through a foot high white drift, it would launch the vehicle and likely rip out the undercarriage. The white chalk rock is not as soft as it sounds either. It was certainly not granite, but was considerably harder than the chalk that Paul used to whip at me in Grade nine science.

That night, it turned out to be an almost full moon night and the scenes all around us were completely spectacular over the next several hours. Warren even managed to wakeup in the middle of the night and catch some shots of the moon setting. We woke up the next morning to a fairly sparse breakfast and then five hours of long, boring travel and a bazillion checkpoints to get to Dahkla Oasis.

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