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eirekay White Desert - A travel report by Eire
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White Desert,  Egypt - flag Egypt -  Maºrø±
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eirekay's travel reports

Full Moon and Sand Dunes - Camping in the Desert

  17 votes
Page: 1 2
The Great Sahara is a sand sea that changes like and with the wind. It also is a volcanic waste land, an undulating living body and a fairyland of wind cut formations. With all our expectations, camping in the Desert was beyond all imagination!

Volcanic mountains have sprinkled iron ore in a thin layer over the Black Desert
Volcanic mountains have sprinkled iron ore in a thin layer over the Black Desert
As we left Bahariya Oasis and entered this sea of sand, visions arose. These are days 4 and 5 of our 9 day Oasis Hop through Egypt's Western Desert. Camel back dunes, so named for the hairy low brush on their tops, dot the flat lands. High dunes and low hills vie for attention as each cut a brilliant shape against the blue sky. Light wind lifts the sand off the surface so that the top 6 inches are a constantly moving force. Prose are not just inspired but required when describing the desert.

Our driver pulls off and lets air out of the tires of our Land Cruiser - better for traction. As he mounts one dune after another, sudden accelerations are followed by brief halts and quick turns. Dunes alternate with a crusty rock landscape. It is just the three of us - the driver, my son John and I. John has a request - can we stop on the top of one of the dunes so he can take a running jump off the edge? John leaps, flies, arms spread in triumph, and lands, with the grace of fearlessness. On a dare, I take a run at it too, but I perform a full face plant and get a mouth of flying sand. Laughing, I marvel at how soft, and of course, warm the sand feels.

BLACK DESERT: So named for the iron ore deposits that have been shot out of the many volcanic peaks that form a chain around us. They look like natural pyramids dropped on the flat desert floor. The iron is sprinkled around in small round pellets, coating hillsides while sand dunes fill the spaces in between.

Our driver catapults us over one last dune before cranking down the gears to climb up a sand filled cradle between several crusty black hills. Ah, our camp spot. No tent tonight; just a two walled wind break in traditional Bedouin style. No need for a lantern; we are graced with a full moon. Our table? Traditional mats with cushions for chairs. We wait for the temperature to drop from the high of 49c. It obliges - a nice cool 41c. Guess we won't need those sleeping bags after all.

Favourite spots:
Campfire under a full desert moon
Campfire under a full desert moon
As we settle into our desert abode, we scout for a spot to view the sunset. Sunset on the desert is a spectacular brilliant red. It has become a daily ritual.

The moon rise is equally spectacular - full and bright orange as it pokes over a dune. We can see and hear small animals hovering outside of the glow of our campfire. Desert foxes, large scarab beetles, small rodents, something slithering. Our driver tells us stories of lost tourists over lemon grass tea and almond filled dates. It becomes apparent that the choice of driver is critical - once you are out on the desert, only a true knowledge of the landmarks could guide you back out.

In the morning we awake to a pale rose sky. Sunrise has become another daily ritual. After a quick breakfast, we pack up our Cruiser and head out to wash up. Our daily bath is in the nearest local well, hopefully after livestock (camels, mules and goats) have been watered. I have to wear pants and enter with a male relative - John will do.

What's really great:
Miles from anything and anywhere, we came across this Phaoronic dwelling in the Desert
Miles from anything and anywhere, we came across this Phaoronic dwelling in the Desert
FARAFRA OASIS:As we drove 200km south toward the White Desert, the desert landscape changed by the moment. We pulled over to walk a landscape sprinkled with perfect round softball sized geodes. Next stop, we climb a sparkling crystal hill. The hottest part of the day is spent in Farafra, only 30 Km from the Libyan border. The blue varnished village, to ward away the Evil Eye, is quaint. A couple of must dos: BADR MUSEUM, run by a famous local artist, displays traditional Bedouin arts with a modern twist while "Mr.Sock" sells camel hair socks, hats and scarves. Farms appear at every well, surrounded on all four sides by desert - one of these serves as our lunch spot as we pick our own watermelon.

An hour back on the road and we are "off road" again. Large rock mounds are scattered as though they were dropped from the sky. A small palm enclosed oasis stands in the middle of nowhere while a doorway carved into a low standing rock cliff beckons. "Beware - Scorpions" warns our driver.

Formations turned rose at Sunrise, Here our family of three watch the setting moon.
Formations turned rose at Sunrise, Here our family of three watch the setting moon.
WHITE DESERT: Even having seen the pictures, nothing prepared us for the wonder of the formations in the White Desert. As we hike around our first "Mushroom" we are in awe of both the chiseled shape and the enormous size of the magnesium and chalk structures. Carved by sand storms, we walk past a dog in a hat, a bird beside a tree, a chess piece, a guy looking at his navel and a female sphinx. On the ground are whipped peaks of fossilized chalk, looking like ice bergs or snow.

We park between several forms and set up camp. The setting sun turns a brilliant red and the formations around us are tinged a pale orange. John settles on top of a mound mesmerized as he watches the changing colors. As we sit down to dinner, the foxes can be seen in the distance. A momma fox approaches, looking for food while her kits can be seen just outside the range of our fire. As we wake in the morning, the formations are a gentle rose. The moon, still full, can be seen setting in the distance.

Our White Desert campsite as we start dinner. Our
Our White Desert campsite as we start dinner. Our "Chess Piece" formation on the left.
When we made our arrangements, we were told not to worry, everything is provided - we envisioned fixed camps, accessed by a well traveled road. Instead our camp spots were literally wherever our driver stopped. I am glad we didn't know in advance just how far out or away we would be or I might not have dared it, being on our own. Luckily we built a quick rapport with our driver and trusted him absolutely.

Safari Egypt provided the driver, vehicle, all the necessary gear, including sleeping bags (didn't use them), pads, the wind enclosure (no tent), everything. We were completely taken care of. This turned out be a good thing as John's luggage didn't arrive in Egypt for 7 days. We were in the desert with scuba gear but our headlamps and light camping stuff were still in New York. Ironic, huh?

While this was not a pampered camping experience by any means, it was incredible and all the better for being striped down to the elements!

A momma Desert Fox eyes John's feet. She came quite close.
A momma Desert Fox eyes John's feet. She came quite close.
Taken literally, we had quite a bit of "Nightlife"! No howling animals but if we woke to a noise, we were certain to see something under the light of the full moon. The beautiful sand colored foxes, small but lithe with their tall ears, were my favorites. Scarab beetles, the size of a soup spoon were quite common during the night and left delicate, lacy foot tracks traipsing across the sand. Small rodents, not mice or rats but more like gerbils or hamsters, scampered around. Warned about scorpions - we only ever saw one - we were careful to watch where we were sitting, look closely before leaning on anything, scour before laying down mats. In the morning we marveled at the variety and sheer number of footprints around our campsites.

John watches the Sunset over the White Desert
John watches the Sunset over the White Desert
John's Top Five:

1) Dune Jumping

2) Watermelon eating

3) Riding a donkey on a farm

4) Sunset on the White Desert

5) The Indiana Jones of all of it

Mom's Top Five:

1) Any Sunrise

2) Any Sunset

3) Hiking to the top of the Volcano Mt. (top photo)

4) Roast Pigeon

5) Naming the formations

Another of Zedan's feasts - Lunch on a farm. Each plate was carefully and artistically arranged.
Another of Zedan's feasts - Lunch on a farm. Each plate was carefully and artistically arranged.
Nothing beats a meal cooked over an open fire. No cook stoves on this trip! While the fare was simple, it was always delicious. Our Driver carefully prepared tomato and cucumber salads for most every meal, served with fresh pita and creamy goats cheese. Dinners consisted of roast pigeon or shish kabob - not a screwer but a tasty sausage made of a mixture of ground lamb, goat and beef with spices. Fresh eggs greeted us for breakfast, with guava or casaba melon and marvelous juices. Lunches were canned meat, usually tuna, with more fresh fruit. WATERMELON in Egypt is an amazing experience. Never have I had such crisp, flavorful melon, grown in the Oasis no less!

Every village stop included a quick market trip to purchase fresh bread. Melons, tomatoes and vegetables were usually acquired directly on a farm as we passed through. These stops were just another of the many pleasures that mealtimes brought us!

Other recommendations:
We thought this one looked like a Dog wearing a Hat.
We thought this one looked like a Dog wearing a Hat.
* Bring powered electrolytes - there is no Gatorade or similar beverage available and dehydration is an issue at 51c.

* Salty snacks. We had brought pretzels as a car snack without even considering the benefits that the extra salt would have. Such luck!

* HEAVY sunscreen, as in 50 spf. Zinc for noses. Sunscreen under chins. The sun is much more intense in the desert and reflects off the sand.

* Change lots of small bills - there are no ATMs in the desert oasis and little opportunity to change money or change larger Egyptian pounds once you leave Masa Madroud.

* Our driver asked me if I wanted him to stock the car with a couple of cases of water at the outset of our trip. This was a TERRIFIC idea!

Published on Tuesday August 5th, 2008

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Mon, Mar 07 2016 - 08:45 AM rating by mahamoud

Desert trips Invites you for the perfect adventure Live the Morocco Adventure in 4x4 , Deserts, local homes and locals. contact info,,this tour wil take you to family homes and attractions, special events such as having a touareg tea in the wildreness, coocking classes inside real berber family, and a specialist cook will travel with us to ensure you the best moroccan food every day.

Wed, Sep 14 2011 - 03:28 AM rating by shervin19

This report Is very nice and incridible. Very usefull.

Thu, Sep 04 2008 - 10:01 AM rating by marianne

Eire, Excellent, very informative and entertaining to read.

Sat, Aug 30 2008 - 02:48 AM rating by downundergal

What a great report!
I am sure that John would have had some terrific stories to make all his mates very jealous.
So many times when you take a risk it turns out to be an unforgettable adventure and this one was definately that.

Mon, Aug 25 2008 - 03:18 AM rating by terje

I applaud for another adventure report! :-)

Tue, Aug 19 2008 - 07:52 PM rating by jorgesanchez

another of your many lovely reports. thanks

Mon, Aug 18 2008 - 02:59 PM rating by murrayskinner

What an awesome destination and report. I would love to visit Egypt, but often wonder about safety as i truly enjoy getting out there and off of the beaten track. Well done, great photos and even better insight. A pleasant read to be sure.

Thu, Aug 14 2008 - 02:56 AM rating by krisek

Very practical info and great personal touch. I really love the impressive picture of the full moon, and the iron-ore volcanic cones! Many thanks indeed for letting us know about this place. Seems like a great escape and hangout.

Sun, Aug 10 2008 - 05:20 PM rating by mistybleu

Great descriptions that are so vivid; a really enjoyable read with wonderful illustrations.

Sat, Aug 09 2008 - 09:04 AM rating by rangutan

Absolutely great, adventure at its best, well presented [4.8]

Wed, Aug 06 2008 - 07:40 AM rating by bralaoui2007

nice trip, nice descreption that make us to feel like we travel there...i m a man from the desert of morocco..realy the desert of egypt is defferent that the moroccain desert and that is great !!athers paysages,athers cultures and athers colors,

Wed, Aug 06 2008 - 05:51 AM rating by horourke

Five stars are just not enough

Wed, Aug 06 2008 - 05:35 AM rating by louis

Hi Eire,
Great report. You shows completly different Egypt that I knew before. Great adventure with really good pictures. From me 5*

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