A Desert Experience
by Lara Iskander
The deserts of Egypt have a lot to offer, for each is unique in its beauty and landscape. Rocky hills and mountains, endless stretches of soft sand, amazing dunes, green oasis and springs rising in the middle of dryness, all creating a wild beautiful scenery.
The Sinai is unlike the rest of Egypt. It's a varied, beautiful rocky desert, a land of mystery and a holy place.
Traveling and discovering Sinai can be done through several ways. There is the comfortable journey; relaxing and enjoying the landscape and surrounding beauties and staying at one of the hotels around the towns of Dahab, Nuweiba and Taba. On the other hand one can take the experience to its fullest and try out the adventurous desert life. That was our choice.
Desert safaris and camping might not sound very appealing to some in the beginning but with the help of a professional guide and the Bedouins, things usually turn out smoothly, topped with a lot of fun and adventure.
Our "Sinai Desert Adventure" began from Cairo late in the evening, with a 460 kilometers drive ahead of us, and that was our first mistake.
The highways are safe but in case of any car problems, traveling in daylight is always a safer idea.
Luckily, when we did encounter some car troubles just after the Suez Canal tunnel (100 km from Cairo) we were able to fix it and start off one more time, still in high spirits; eleven people heading towards St. Catherine in 4 cars where our friend - the desert expert - would be waiting for us.
The drive was long but fabulous particularly for nature lovers. With the first rays of sunrise appearing, we witnessed dramatic contrasting colors blending into the jagged granite peaks, soft sandstone hills and wide sandy valleys of the Sinai desert.
On the way we passed an interesting area known as "Wadi Feiran"; it is a beautiful oasis full of palm trees that create a spectacular view. If traveling by day, it is worth while stopping at "Deir El Banat" (maidens' Monastery) located in the Oasis. It is a nice stop if ahead of schedule.
Shortly after dawn, we finally reached our meeting point about 60 km before Taba. We followed our guide to the camping spot, going finally off-road into the sheltered valley, "El Zarnouk" where we found a Bedouin tent and a nice breakfast table all set up with plenty of food and freshly baked Bedouin bread "Farasheeh ".
After 24 hours on the go, we were in desperate need of a rest which was also necessary to be able to go on with our program or actually the high light of the trip, hiking through the "White Canyon".
It wasn't difficult for anyone to wake up after a brief sleep in the open air because of the morning light and the drastic change of weather, as someone said: "we fell asleep during winter and woke up to a hot summer day", typical desert climate.
Once again, we were off-roading through the sands and rocks, this time in a big old pick-up Land Cruiser belonging to the Bedouins, a bit bumpy but plenty of fun.
We were impressed with the Bedouins' ability to maneuver the huge 4x4 through the rocky desert no matter how hard it might have seemed to any of us.
The "White Canyon" earned well its name. Most of the massive and breathtaking cliffs are just as white as snow. These deep canyons have been forming over thousands of years due to water and wind erosion.
Hany Zaki, "our desert Fox", gathered us for brief instructions. He insisted on saying we were going to be "ascending" and "descending" not "climbing". Probably that was just to encourage us and avoid making us feel we were up for a serious climb. We all saw what we were going up against with the first glimpse of the Canyon entrance; too late for second thoughts.
We walked through the narrow passages taking in the beautiful sculptures and did some interesting but fun "ascending"/"descending" till we reached the lush green oasis of Ein Khudra lying at the end of the Canyon.
There we were welcomed by the Bedouins with the traditional "sweet" cup of tea. Some people arranged to camp at the oasis. As for us, we had a long walk back through the Canyon again where the car was waiting for us.
Back at the camp a huge, delicious meal -for meat lovers- was being prepared by the Bedouins; lamb and chicken barbecue.
Afterwards, came the time for some adventurous "off-roading", driving through the hills, past scattered Bedouin encampments, women out grazing their sheep and goats and vivid green oases.
View of "Ein Khodra" oasis from the top of the Canyon.
The Group Takes a Rest
One of the expected things, while four wheeling, in the desert is car troubles; either having to push or dig sand from around the wheels of a stuck car, which is part of the fun, or having a car break downthat isn't very entertaining!
One of our cars just stopped for some reason after we had cut quite a distance in the desert heading for a valley called "El Makhroom". Although all the guys seemed to be good mechanics this needed more equipment than what we had. We girls had a real good time listening to music and watching the sun set behind the mountains while the machos gave it their best shot
Since it was becoming dark, we decided it was best to leave the car and head back to camp, still keeping the high spirit as we were used to such events from previous trips.
The Bedouins assured us that it would be very safe leaving the car in the middle of the desert and that they would inform all the surrounding Bedouin camps!!! They were as usual hospitable and one of them offered to spend the night in the car, should they be unable to fix it on the same night.
Back in camp, it was time to relax around the campfire, playing games and enjoying the desert night skies. To our surprise the Bedouins drove in a couple of hours later with the car in perfect condition. They were received with loud cheerful cheers that would have easily woken any of the nearest towns!
Next morning, we made an early start after packing and headed towards another Bedouin camp to thank them for their help the previous night; we ended up being invited for some more tea.
Once again we hit the road, this time aiming for the beach. We drove another 60 kilometers to a primitive "resort" called "Basata" (Simplicity), where we were to spend the day. It lies about 50 kilometers after Nuweiba and is considered one of Egypt's eco-friendly resorts, with its own greenhouse, generator, bakery and desalination plant. The huts are charming, each with a unique design made entirely from natural materials.
The place is known for its strict rules laid by the owner who runs it closely; cell phones, television and loud music are forbidden to maintain the quite atmosphere of the resort. There's a communal vegetarian or fish dinner prepared each night or if guests wish, they may cook for themselves at the kitchen, writing down what they've taken and paying for it at the end of the stay.
The beach in Basata is famous for its beautiful corals. Snorkeling is definitely a good idea and all equipments can be rented. It is the perfect choice for a three day relaxation away from civilization.
Rest and some Beach Volley Ball
Basata beach with the huts in the background;
Last Updated: June 9th, 2011