Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Desert Trek

July 20, 2008

         So it's now Sunday and we just made it back last night from our trek into the desert. We woke up early on Friday morning, hopped in the Farek’s cab (he claims he was a little late because he almost didn’t wake up in time) and headed to the bus station for an 8am bus. As usual the police officers heading “security” decided to give the white girls more of a hassle than any other travelers but we eventually made our way past the xray machine and the guys posted at the entrance to the buses. This is such a normal thing now, watching all other travelers squeak by them with barely a glance in their direction while Christine, Sam, and I have to open our bags, show our passports, or tickets at least one more time than everyone else. This just proves the bizarre nature of the system here; if they think you’re cute they’ll check your information extensively. This may not be completely true, but more than once I’ve been the only one stopped in a line of passengers because they wanted to see my ticket again or check my bag just one more time. 

Anyway, we got on the bus, found our seats, and slowly began to realize that standing room only is apparently a commodity that warrents a ticket as well. They actually sell “seats” for people to stand and sit in the aisles. So, I rode with at least 2 Egyptian butts pretty close to me the entire 5 hour ride. It was pretty comical. 

I tried to sleep as much as possible but it was a Friday, so the bus driver was blaring the Friday prayer that most people take part in. Friday services, from what I understand, are very much like our Christian church services on Sunday and the US. It’s a time to get together and hear an inspiring message to get you through the rest of the week. However, rather than an hour or 2 service, this one lasted the entirety of the bus ride. Additionally, the man orating sounded like he was outraged the entire time he was speaking. It was almost like the holy-roller evangelists in the states. Needless to say it was not easy sleeping with this background noise.

Anyway, we reached Bahiraya, the oasis we were to begin our drive from, in about 5 hours (an hour longer than excpected) and pulled into the “Ahmed Safari Camp.” Catchy name, eh? We had lunch and packed our backpacks into the jeep that we’d be riding in. We started around 3 and managed to hit scenes in the black desert and white desert before we stopped around 7 to camp in a rock formation-strewn area. The rocks surrounding us were of all different shapes, made of the same beautiful white rock. The rock itself was almost chalky and broke off easily if you tried to wiggle a piece free.

When we stopped the driver jumped out and climbed to the top of the jeep and began chucking pieces of our campsite down. A colorful tent made with the typical multicolored fabric on one side and the tan canvas on the other. He laid down a big rug along the side of the jeep and propped up the tent (which was actually more like a wall) along side the jeep as well, with one corner jutting out from the front end of the jeep. The whole thing, I’m assuming, was only intended to keep the wind off of us. It was like a tent that had 2 and ¾ of the walls removed as well as the roof. 

The driver began dinner and Christine, Jake, and I busied ourselves with journaling, reading, or just sitting and enjoying the silence of the desert and the sunset. We watched the sun sink into the western sky and the biggest moon I’ve ever seen rise in the east. The moon was full and orange and one of the most striking things I’ve seen here. It was a perfectly timed moment, it looked as though the two were performing a kind of dance, taking cues from each other on entrances and exits. To make the moment even more picturesque, it was at this moment 4 little foxes showed up and began snooping around the site. They were looking for their dinner too; we were starving by that point.

We ate the best meal that we’d all had in our time in Egypt that night, prepared by our driver. We ate a rice dish with a t0mato sauce with potatoes poured over it and grilled chicken, all made right at the campsite. It was sooo good. We went to bed so early that night, under piles of camel hair blankets that still smelled of their previous owners, laying under the moon’s light that made the surrounding area appear like dusk. There weren’t many stars out because it was so light, but atht didn’t take away from the experience of sleeping in the middle of the desert. 

Right before we laid down, the driver, with his minimal English, warned us that the foxes would steal our shoes in the night if we didn’t put them in our bags. I barely believed it until we’d returned to Cario and met up with our Luxor friends who had done the same desert trip. They told us they had lost 5 shoes on a night similar to ours. Who knows why the little things want shoes, but I think it’s pretty hilarious that they steal them often. 

The next morning we got up and headed back in the direction that we began in. We passed all of the places we had stopped the day before, the rock formations and mountains, and eventually pulled off on a side path (it was hardly a road). We stopped at a large cement box with a pipe pouring clear water into the “pool.” This was the cold spring we’d been told we would visit. While it was not exactly what we’d expected, it was still refreshing to put our feet in. Christine and I refrained from changing into our bathing suits because there were a few onlookers around and we didn’t feel like bearing western values to the public as we’d done before. We instead hung our legs into the cool water and watched as Jake, our driver, and 2 of his buddies sat in the waist high water.

We ended up back at the base camp a full 3 and a half hours before our bus left for Cairo, so we ate lunch and then had the driver take us into the town to kill some time. We went into a lot of the little stores, most of which had only dates and olive oil (literally) and talked to some of the people who lived in the area. Egyptians are hilarious, I’ve definitely decided that. They’re just so happy when you really talk to them and especially when you joke with them. We videoed a pair of guys saying “Welcome to Bahiraya Oasis,” which took us a good ten minutes to explain to them what we wanted them to do. It killed a lot time and was just fun. 

We finally ended up on the bus and headed out with the expectation of a quieter ride. That was dumb. We encountered the same kind angry-sounding sermon all the way back to Cairo with the same number of butts in our personal spaces. I actually decided to use my ipod a little bit to drown some it out but the battery was running really low, all the way down to a tiny red bar. God intervened for my mental health, however, and the battery lasted the entire 4 hour trip! It was seriously a miracle.

Christine and I killed some time talking about what we plan to do when we get home. Her exact quote was, “I usually don’t think about what I’ll do when I get back anytime that I travel, but this trip I have it all figured out.  I’m going to take a long shower, eat some really good food, and then put something scandalous on and walk down the street, to which I will receive no degrading comments.” That definitely made me laugh.

We pulled into Cairo, hours later, and spotted Farek through the window. The guy is prompt, that’s for sure. We got back to the apartment and were greeted by Daniel and a full bowl of watermelon (he’s an expert watermelon cutter). It was a good trip.

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