Inter-Planetary Camping – Part Five

Our intrepid guides finally decided to set up camp and chose a spot far from the other few camps around. (After nightfall we could barely see the flicker of the other campfires in the far distance.) While they set up our sleeping area and got the campfire going, we explored a bit and relaxed. (Our "camp" is off to the left in this photo, near the red dot that's the Xterra.)

One of the first orders of business was to designate “pigeon rock.” In Arabic the word for bathroom is “hammaamm” and the word for pigeon is “hamaam”. Yeah, great fun at dinner parties. So a large three-story rock a ways off from camp was designated the pigeon rock and I called the right side as the girl’s side.

As the day came to an end, we all watched the sun set over the desolate scene. There was no sound of cars or horns or donkeys or birds or even the wind. Just silence.

Our guides prepared dinner for us, with fresh fruit, baladi bread, a vegetable stew and rice, and chicken bits for the carnivores. I don’t know if they laced the vegetables with chocolate, or the day’s excitement just altered my senses, but the rice and vegetables were some of the best I’ve ever had.

As the night enclosed around us, the stars above came out in abundance. I’ve been fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights from an observatory in Manitoba, Canada, however even then I did not see the number of stars that blanketed the White Desert sky.

We had all brought sleeping bags with us, even though bedding was provided. So we chose our spots and laid out our bags on the layers of rugs and blankets that had been spread out for us next to an L-shaped fabric wall supported by the two vehicles to block the wind. It took a while, but I think we eventually all fell asleep, only to be woken a few hours later by Ben screaming, “Go away! Go away!”

It was not a nightmare of being swallowed by female sand that awoke Ben, it was the two desert foxes who were bringing their squabble closer and closer to his head. As the fire was dying, before we all went to bed, we had seen two wonderful little beige foxes skittering around our camp. They were very interested in the grill that the chicken was cooked on. We could hear their little growls of delight as they wrangled with any leftovers they found. Our guides had told us that we might feel the foxes run past us, or over us, throughout the night, but that they shouldn’t really bother us. Ron, of course, was convinced they’d be gouging out his eyes as soon as he nodded off. (Traveling with Ron and Ben can be like bearing witness to a Worry-Wart-of-the-Year competition. They’re like two old men trying to one-up one another in guessing all the ways they could die in that instance. It’s a hoot!)

The foxes darted off following Ben’s yelling and we all settled back down again. Ron decided he’d head over to pigeon rock since he was awake, so he grabbed a flashlight and walked around the left side of the rock. I lay there waiting for him to return and watching the band of the Milky Way above us slowly ripple across the sky. Eventually I sat up and tried to see if Ron was heading back. It was so dark I couldn’t really even see pigeon rock, despite its size. Then suddenly I saw off to the far right a bobbing light; like someone walking around with a flashlight. I wasn’t sure if Ben and Jim were awake, so I quietly said, “Is that Ron out there? Why’s he walking back and forth?” From the pile of bedding to my right a sleepy Jim muttered, “He’s been doing that a long time.”

Ben volunteered to go bring him back to camp, so I waited now for both of them to return. Ben returned, said he’d spoken to Ron who had just gotten a little turned around, and he’d be heading back soon. So I waited some more, watching as the bobbing flashlight started to get smaller and smaller.

This wasn’t good. He was heading the wrong way! So I donned my shoes, grabbed a flashlight and headed out to retrieve my husband. I was just passing pigeon rock, calling out Ron’s name, waving my flashlight around, when Ron suddenly said, “Ben?” “No, it’s your wife.” I answered. (The fact that he mistook my voice for Ben’s is a matter for another day.)

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I got turned around. I wasn’t sure which way was camp.”

“Why didn’t you head towards the campfire?”

“I thought that was an enemy camp. I couldn’t figure out where you all were.”

Enemy camp? Did everyone fail to tell me we were camping in “enemy” territory? It was too late to argue the lunacy of that statement, so I just led him back to our non-enemy camp. We made it through the rest of the night without any more fox squabbles or wayward wanderings.

We awoke the next morning just before sunrise, so we grabbed our cameras and set out to explore and find different views of the sunrise over the White Desert (once you get home and review all the photos, you realize how many practically-identical shots you took, over and over).

I did enjoy examining all the various animal tracks that surrounded our camp. Some obvious fox tracks, but then other not-so-obvious ones that someone suggested might be scarab tracks and who knows who else.

There was a bit of an issue with our guides sleeping in late that morning, so much so that the policeman (we never did get his name, he was less than chatty with us) eventually had to wake them up. They did provide hot tea and toasted bread with jam for breakfast and then packed up all the gear and we headed out. We stopped only once or twice on the way back to Bawiti.

Before we headed home however, we did want to put some more air in the tires and get gas. So our ever-professional guides led us into town to the gas station, and would have made it had their car not run out of gas itself a few blocks away. The perfect cap to a weekend with guides who continually proved their unpreparedness. You could say we got what we paid for, because if our memory is correct, it cost us about $60 each for the two nights, guides, and food, however based on my experience in Egypt so far, this is about what I would expect from anyone. And the bottom line is that we had a phenomenal time (and it helps to go into most situations with an open mind and low expectations).

We did get gas and air, and checked out at the Desert Police Station as we left. You could almost hear the sigh of relief that the American Dips were safe and sound and Obama would be happy. Then we headed out for the long dusty ride home.

Again, I didn’t spot any wildlife scampering around the desert, however I did see several dust devils (little sand tornadoes just wandering across the ground), which was always amusing, and one or two bemusing signs as well.

We were quiet on the way home; each of us digesting our weekend of adventures and misadventures (it’s a fine line in Egypt). But I think it will remain one of the most-unusual, most-amazing, and most-beautiful trips we'll take in all of Eygpt. At least until the next time.