I have divided up our White Desert camping tale into multiple parts. Even though it was less than 72 hours in total, our experiences fill volumes. Enjoy!
Camping. The smell of the woods on a crisp Fall day, the sound of the fire crackling, the hoot of owls and rustle of critters in the undergrowth. These are the images many of us grew up with.
Now wipe that from your mind and imagine sleeping under more stars than you’ve ever seen before, watching the Milky Way creep across the sky, digging your car out of sand dunes the size of small mountains, staring at terrain you’ve only seen in Star Wars films and yelling at the desert foxes as they try to snag your camping pillow. Now that’s White Desert camping!
At the end of May, just as the heat was settling in over Cairo four of us, myself, Ron, Ben and Jim, set out on a weekend adventure like no other. Jim had done this before, but for the rest of us it was an initiation into the closest thing we’ll experience to a moon walk.
I had made lots of calls and sent tons of emails in the weeks prior trying to arrange a guide and equipment and everything, but in the end we opted to throw caution to the wind and follow Jim’s advice and just head out to Badry’s Sahara Camp (which is where he had stayed before).
Once we found the Cairo-Bahariya Road (which took a little doing), we followed it parallel to the railroad tracks and headed out far beyond any future settlements of the Cairo sprawl. For most of the four-hour drive the 2-4 lane road was ours, with only the occasional car or truck sharing the desolate (and sometimes amusing) scenery.
We stopped at the first (and only) rest stop and gas station. Had there been more buildings, it could have passed for a ghost town, but as it was, it was just some ramshackle buildings offering bathrooms (though after looking around I opted not to partake in them, which became a theme of mine during the weekend), some snacks and a gas station. The latter was a great example of non-capitalism in that we were told we had to wait to gas up until after the employees finished lunch. So we sat in the car while they relaxed in the office and watched us.
We eventually gassed up and drove on and after dozing for a while Ron woke up and looking out the window commented sleepily, “Well, it’s less boring now.” And he was right. The bland flat desert landscape had changed to include hills and small sand-mountains. But despite my hope for a glimpse of desert wildlife I saw nothing but sand and plant life with a strong will to live.
Suddenly, with such a drastic delineation you could draw a line in the sand, the scenery changed to lush tropical trees and blooming bushes lining the paved road. We had obviously arrived in the Bahariya Oasis. While it wasn’t quite as dramatic as those crisp blue lakes surrounded by towering palms that you see in the movies, it was a beautiful change. Following the road we soon found ourselves in the semi-bustling town of Bawiti. At the arched entryway to the town, we informed the Desert Police that we were going to be staying at Badry’s, whom we had called a few hours earlier to confirm he had space (he did). They checked our Dip cards and allowed us to proceed. We didn’t know it at this point, but having us in their town caused quite a ripple of potential Presidential worry. We found out later that before the dust from our wheels had settled, they were calling Badry to let him know we’d arrived. We did the same soon after, as the plan was to grab some lunch in town, then follow his guys back to the camp.
Our dining options in Bawiti, according to the guidebooks, came down to three choices. We drove by all three (the town is primarily comprised of a main street, with smaller offshoots), and chose Cleopatra. They seemed delighted to have us, considering we were their only customers. We chose a relatively clean table outside in the shade. We didn’t order anything other than water and sodas, he just brought us food. I partook of the salad bits and bread, while the boys also enjoyed chicken bits and some beans (I knew from the get-go this wasn’t going to be a trip of culinary delights for me, and considering my primary concern was the availability and quality of my bathroom options, I was fine with eating light). One thing we did learn from this experience is that it never hurts to bring your own silverware. While some may find the excitement of finding leftover chunks of previous diners’ meals enticing and flavorful, we all opted to chip them off as best we could.
We relaxed after eating, enjoyed the breeze and waited for Badry’s guys to meet us and lead us back to camp. They arrived soon after, and we caravanned it to the site of our first night in the Bahariya Oasis.