Thursday, November 8, 2012
Things are Black and White in the Desert in Egypt
What on Earth do we make of this? This is the White Desert in the middle of Egypt. That's right, it's part of the Sahara west of the Nile River and it's valley. This isn't something that you can see anywhere else on Earth.
It's positively mindbending at night. People have likened it to being on the surface of the moon. That's why most people who visit this massively amazing and puzzling landscape take a tour that allows them to spend at least one night camping in it. Let me tell you how it works.
You can take a tour that will drive you to your destinations in the desert in wonderful 4 x 4 vehicles and say that you've been to the White Desert and spent the night in the Sahara. That's fine. But here's my idea.
Do it the old fashioned way. Take the time and the adventure to join a Camel tour and do it like the Bedouins do. Take a few days and go camping in the lunar landscape that is the White Desert. Here the formations look like phallic symbols, but they are merely Limestone formations that have come from thousands of years of wind and rain, from a time when Egypt and the surrounding areas were not desert at all.
You can book tours through several companies. There aren't very many who do the camel tours and even less that provide Bedouin guides. Make sure you book the right tour to have the best experience. There's nothing like pitching a tent and spending the night out under the stars in the White Desert. The landscape is something that is only enhanced by the sunset and the sunrise.
It is the desert. It's the very same Sahara that you see on TV. This area is just unique. So is spending time with the native people's of the area. The Bedouins have inhabited this area and most of the eastern desert areas since the dawn of civilization. A lot of them have adopted newer lifestyles with the onset of cell phones and satellite television, but there are some that still live traditionally. They herd their animals and live off the land, even though there's not much to live off of. I always advocate the experience of spending time with other cultures, and the Bedouins are a wonderful people who believe in close families, close communities, and mostly are Islamic in their religion. They believe in hard work and tradition. You don't get to see that every day in this day and age.
Just remember to follow the rules of the people that you are visiting. Women in particular have to follow some strict rules. They won't make you wear covering on your head and face. They don't wear it for a fashion statement. The coverings are taught in the Muslim faith. They prefer that non believers not wear the holy head coverings. Now if you want to go to the natural hot springs in the Farafra Oasis, the women will only be participating in the afternoon. Make sure you plan the time for that. It's tradition, and if you're going to bathe in their water, you should do it by their rules. Always remember that when traveling, but definitely remember it in areas that are extremely traditional Muslim and not too favorable with Americans these days.
The White Desert has some of the most amazing desert landscape you'll ever see. It's worth a few days to investigate it, and the idea of traveling with the Bedouins on Camels just seems right.
But there's more.
This is the Black Desert. It's not far from the White Desert. I find this fascinating. Here the landscape is full of old volcanic cones and ancient lava rocks. It's a stark contrast to the White Desert and it's Limestone formations. This is a popular side trip while out investigating the White Desert. Most tours include both simply because they are so close to one another. They are within about 100 miles of each other. They also love to see the contrast.
Remember, these areas are just desert, like any other desert, but they have that something extra. So, if you're already braving the political map to visit Egypt in this time of turmoil, take a side trip out into the real Egypt where the Bedouins are still alive and holding onto their traditions. After you've seen the pyramids and the Sphinx go and see the real Egypt where people live and work. Take a trip on Camels to a landscape that you can't see anywhere else. Visit the Oases of Bahariya and Farafra. See it for yourself, because pictures can never do it justice.
So remember, it's not that far from the Bahariya Oasis to the desert. It's a real adventure. Take a trip on Camels to see the amazing scenery. Step outside your tourist persona and dive into a traveler's persona. It's all right there in black and white.
Just remember, life is about experiences. You don't want to miss this.