Inter-Planetary Camping - Part Two

Badry’s Sahara Camp is a delightful collection of cement and straw huts lining a central lattice-covered walkway filled with tables and chairs. We were shown our huts and after thoroughly exploring the 8’x8’ room, replete with built-in concrete twin “beds” covered with thin mattresses and some blankets, we stored our stuff and met out at one of the tables where we were offered tea.

We relaxed a little, further exploring the campground area which included a large straw-covered hut with blankets, benches and chairs, a small kitchen, 20 or so of the double sleeping huts, electricity (yeah!) and a pink-tiled bathroom with two showers, sinks and four stalls with real toilets! I was delighted.

We had the whole afternoon to pass as our plan was to stay at the campground for one night, then head out into the desert the next night (with Badry’s guides). To pass the time, Khalid offered to give us a tour of the Bahariya area. So we started at the low-lying marshes lush with greenery and lakes.

Then we headed up and over huge sand dunes which presented us with our first chance at “off-roading.” Ben had offered to drive his new Nissan Xterra for our outing, however at this point I think he started to regret this. If it wasn’t at this point, it was certainly the following day when we spent the better part of an hour digging his car out of the encroaching sand. But for now, Khalid, our guide, did his best to demonstrate the best method for sand-duneing – just gun the engine and have faith in God.

We were lacking initially in both so it took a few attempts for us to actually ascend the hill. It was not the last time I would feel as if I were heading up at a 90-degree angle while praying that we’d be in a hip and exciting Xterra commercial and not end up in a what-not-to-do DMV video. We did actually take a moment at one point and review the car manual in case it had anything of interest noted under “Driving up sand dunes.” Despite his initial hesitation Ben got the gist of it and there was no stopping him from this point forward (or rather, he was able to suppress his inner “we’re all going to die” and “I hate this guy” (referring to our guide) thoughts and just floor the accelerator).

At the top of one hill Khalid offered to take us in pairs in his car so we could get the true feel of off-roading. Ben and Jim went first and Ron and I stood on the hill and watched them zip down the hill, spin around, then careen up the hill at such a rate of speed they actually went airborne as they hit the crest. It looked great! So then it was our turn. Ron sat in the front and I climbed in back. No seatbelts (there were barely doors) so we just grabbed whatever we could that we felt might have been welded to the frame and held on. We flew down the hill with the windows open and the wind tearing through; we came to the bottom of the hill, spun around and without hesitation we zoomed back up the hill, leaning far back into the seat as the angle of ascent increased dramatically and then, without warning, we were airborne, then suddenly landborne and with howls of extreme delight we spun around to face our starting point, which managed to create a great wave of sand that crashed in on us in all our open-mouthed joy. Great fun and I have the sand-blasted teeth to prove it.

We continued our exploring, clamoring up various mini-mountains to gaze at the oasis all around us. We stopped by two natural hot springs (which were really hot to the touch – at least the first one was as I didn’t get too near the second one which was being used as a bathing locale for some men, so I hung back near the car and studied the pretty flowers). (Be sure to look for the small people and cars in some of these photos. Gives a better sense for the enormity of scale.)

We also wandered past a gaggle of camels during feeding time so I got my first chance at taking lots of camel photos. I have this continuing desire to smooch some camel lips, however Ron cannot fathom my interest and thwarts my every attempt, so I was only allowed to photograph and could not get within hugging-distance. (Don’t they have the most kissable lips?)

We made it back to camp at which point Khalid offered to take us up one more hill to watch the sunset (the photo below is Khalid on his beloved truck). We all squashed in his truck and had another exciting, almost-tipping-over ride up the mountain behind the campground. We gazed at the sunset over the oasis; watching quietly as it slowly dipped below the horizon. Then for our final terrifying ride down the mountain for today, Ron decided to videotape our descent from the view of the front seat. I’m sure the audio will be a garbled mass of laughter and screaming and I can only imagine that the video itself could induce seizures (we have yet to re-watch it).

Our evening included dinner and relaxing under the stars. It was wonderfully quiet with the silence broken occasionally by a cricket or tree frog, or braying donkey or far-distant car horn (though who anyone would be honking at escaped me – I think honking is as natural to Egyptians as breathing). We finally retired to our Snow White huts and I would have slept wonderfully had it not been for the oppressive heat and biting bugs. Apparently Ben and I were the only ones to notice this, so at least Ron and Jim slept soundly. I never thought to bring any bug-spray as there just really aren’t annoying bugs in Cairo (they find it too crowded, I’m sure), so I spent the night trying to convince myself it wasn’t stifling and the buzzing insects were white noise, or wandering around the campground staring up at the stars because at least there was a breeze outside. Oh well, I was sure I’d sleep better tomorrow night under the stars out in the White Desert.