We started our Egyptian journey in the Desert. We were picked up at the Cairo airport by our French connection. They informed us that the Djed travel agency had contacted the police, telling them what we were planning and identifying where we would be staying: Eden Garden. Talat, the owner of Eden Garden had to grease a few palms to make it possible for us to visit the desert and we ended up reimbursing him a good amount of extra money for this. Thanks Djed for all the extra pain and money you cost us!
Why is it “illegal” for tourists to visit the desert? A few years ago, 12 were killed and 10 injured in the western desert. The tour was run by a large tourism company which was told not to enter the area. The local tour companies knew of the activities in the area and were avoiding them. Since then, the government has banned travel into the desert for tourists. All the operators in the area are now suffering because a non-local company ignored warnings and got some innocent tourists killed.
Long Drive into the Desert
We started with a long drive into the desert. We were handed off by our French hosts to a young man and his wife, the sister of Talat, the owner of Eden Garden. She was in full cover with only her eyes showing. We were told it would only take four hours, but it took at least two hours longer. I was thinking we were going to end up in Libya! We were not sure who these people were or where we were going. Well, there was no reason to worry. After the long drive in the dark, we found ourselves at Eden Garden where a warm fire awaited us and shortly there after a wonderful fresh cooked meal.
We are later escorted to our “room”, a lovely stand alone building with attached bathroom. The hole in the bathroom door where someone must have unlocked the door is interesting. We sleep under heavy camel hair blankets.
Before heading off into the desert, we have breakfast with Adri, our fellow traveler for the day. We have fuul, eggs, vegetables, potatoes and the ever present pita bread. The coffee is what is called Nescafe. It is just instant coffee packets in water.
The black desert is so named because of all the Basalt found on the surface. It lay in small pieces all over. Many small mounds can be seen, all of which were once active volcanoes.
The Black Desert with it’s basalt was wonderful, but the White Desert is magical. The white limestone looks like snow on the ground and it shines in the moonlight.
Dinner is cooked up on site with a gas fire for the rice and vegetables with the fire for barbecue. The night is very cold. Sitting by the fire keeps our fronts warm while our backs are cold. We are given camel hair blankets to wrap ourselves in. There are little barks in the night from all directions. These are the foxes keeping us under surveillance.
The next day we venture out after breakfast to see some of the interesting formations, then back to Eden Garden.
When we get back to Eden Garden, we all get a gift of wool socks hand made by Talat’s family. They are very warm, comfortable and functional in the desert. Ahead of us lies a 6 hour drive to Giza to catch the overnight train to the second leg of our journey.