The Bahariya Oasis, Part I: The Western Desert
by Jimmy Dunn
Why pay 20 million dollars for a trip into space when you can go to the moon for so much less? OK, its not really the moon, but the landscape is surreal; alien in every way, and it changes from one moment to the next. It is the type of place that creates wonder in adults, where such feelings were long ago thought lost. It is a land not yet fully explored, with twists and turns that reveal ever changing landscapes. This is the Bahariya Oasis, and the nearby, or rather, encroaching western desert.
We often receive inquiries on the feasibility of renting a 4 x 4 vehicle in order to travel independently to this oasis. Actually, any car will do. The road is well paved, though one must watch out for the occasional patches of sand drifts on the road. The day that I arrived, there was a rare summer sandstorm, but that settled out rather quickly. Getting to the oasis itself is not much of a problem, though it is a long drive and the authorities will probably require you to have a tourist police officer along for the ride. However, there seemed little to be afraid of on the road, and the presence of our officer appeared more of a formality than anything else.
The Actual Oasis
Once at the Oasis it is likewise no problem to kick about the local villages and there is a lot of places to explore. Here we find ancient streets and the mudbrick houses that sheltered the oasis population of long ago. Yet one immediately feels the bonds between the modern city with this distant past. However, going into the desert is a different matter all together. Here, there be dragons! Well, OK, no dragons but it does seem a bit like the end of the world. Most of the best locations to visit in the desert are well off the paved road, and the very beauty of this region is also the reason one cannot go it alone. First of all, it is very remote, and regardless of your mode of transportation, be it camel or 4 x 4, it would be very easy to become disoriented and therefore lost. However, even if one is equipped with compass or perhaps a GPS, there are still problems to consider. Obviously there is also the occasional though rare sandstorm, but the real problem is the jagged rocks that often jut up with the ability to puncture even the best ATV tires, and once a vehicle is disabled, cell phone service is often nonexistent. Hence, the best of the tour operators that service this area bring backups, spares and are well equipped for any emergency.
We took the plunge into this wonderful landscape with the people from the Oasis Panorama Hotel. While many westerners will probably prefer a shorter, 4 x 4 adventure, this trip was much more than that, combining a five day camel excursion with a casual stress management program. While the team at the Oasis Panorama can provide any type of desert tour, this particular adventure was conducted by the same experts who arrange team building and stress management programs in Europe. With the exception of myself, the rest of the tour members were Dutch who apparently needed a complete break from the grind of corporate life, as well as cell phones, the Internet and the rest of our electronic lives. Hence, everything was laid back and easy, with the great quiet of the desert their medicine and the slow rhythm of camels their therapy.
One of the Dutch girls looks ready for adventure
The evenings bring simple pleasures, including well made meals cooked by the Bedouins on open fires, songs from shared cultures, a little primitive dancing and, well yes, the well stocked supply of beer! Accompanied by one real drum, one plastic bucket disguised as a drum, and
Disco in the Desert
much handclapping, the Bedouins sing a traditional song incorporating the events of the day, which, as the trekkers begin to be caught up in the music, encourages them to dance. We sleep under the stars which, with not even the glow of a nearby village, sparkle and shine with the glow that few people will ever experience No one is made to rise early. Again, the pace is casual, our time pieces have lost their meaning and use. After breakfast and a somewhat extended coffee break about the morning fire (while the Bedouins pack up our camp), the group sets off on the first trek of the day. One older gentlemen decides to take a break from the camels, and so is taken by one of the 4 x 4s to our lunch camp further up the trek. For the rest of the group, it is about a two hour ride, followed by a long and leisurely lunch break, and then another several hour ride to this evening's camp.
lAlong the way, we have plenty of time to examine the unusual terrain, sometimes dismounting to collect a few strange rock specimens or to examine the alien desert structures. This part of the desert landscape changes rapidly, so here we find very hard, lava rocks, while a short distance away, beautiful crystals or soft white clay graces our path. Sometimes it seems we must be, regardless of our logical minds, approaching snow covered mountains, while at other times, the black lava seems still ready to flow from the top of nearby hills, while ancient petrified forests pass beneath the hooves of our camels.
Our fearless leaders joins in the dance
Author on Camel
A quiet breakfast
This is indeed a magical place. Our leader tells us that this camp or that, surrounded by crystals or black flower rocks, are places of power and energy. While I am not usually prone to this sort of spiritualism, here, I can believe.
And more strange formation, here and below
Last Updated: June 12th, 2011