Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Black Desert and Agabat Valley, Egypt

Wind lines in the sand of the eastern Sahara Desert

Leaving Abu Simbel set into motion the longest day of traveling of my entire trip. We drove three hours from Abu Simbel, checked out of our hotel, and got a ridiculously good Egyptian pizza. It was like regular pizza, but had two layers of crust. One thick and one thin on top. It was greasy. It was cheesy. It was delicious and completely filled me up for our overnight train ride to Cairo. The train was supposed to leave at 6:30pm and get in at 5am. The guys working on the train laughed and said that they never get in at 5am. They said 6:30, if we were lucky.

Our sleeper car.

Our sleeper car was not nearly as posh as our first class car had been. However, it was good enough for me. It was a lot more comfortable to stretch out in a bed to sleep for eight hours than trying to figure out how to get comfortable in a bus seat. They even served us dinner and breakfast. In the early morning, we rolled into Giza and hopped off the train.

Thea in the Black Desert.

We met our driver who was going to take us to our desert tour at the station. Unfortunately, we didn't meet Betty's mom's friend's friend, Thea, there. They went to the station that was actually in Cairo. After too many phone calls and a ton of confusion, we met up with Thea and were off to the desert.

Desert road.

I had wanted to bike the desert road since I had considered making this trip. It seemed like it would be a lot better biking because I would be avoiding the busy Nile Valley. However, I also liked the idea of biking through nothingness for days. However, since we ran out of time and the ferry wasn't running, biking it wasn't going to happen. Squeezing in a tour could. We searched the Internet for tour companies and finally settled on one marketed by a German woman. Normally, I try to go with locals, but I didn't want any miscommunications or questionable business practices to vex my last few days of my trip.

Desert panorama

Betty in the desert.

After our 5 hour drive through the desert to the Bahariya oasis, I got to meet the German woman. She spoke perfect English and then directed me to her Egyptian husband who actually ran the business. He did not speak perfect English and I quickly realized the website was to sucker in people like me. The best part is that the Egyptian guy didn't even guide the tour. He passed me off to a Bedouin guy with his own truck and supplies who spoke even less English. I felt bamboozled, but it didn't matter. Our guide was brilliant and we had a great time.

A close up of the Black Desert.

Black Desert panorama.

Thea and Betty hiking in the Black Desert.

After a quick late breakfast, Thea, Betty, and I set out with our guide, Reda. We drove on paved roads for a few minutes, but soon turned off into the sand. Our first stop was the Black Desert. It is black because of volcanic rocks that are in the area. I have no idea where the nearest active volcano is (maybe Etna in Italy or Uganda), but a volcano from long produced enough black rocks to still cover most of the area. I was envisioning pitch black desert just like the black beaches of Hawaii and Greece. This was just a dusting, but was still great.

Sand swept desert dune road.

Desert dune.

Desert rock formations.

After a short hike in the Black Desert, Reda took us who knows where to do off roading tricks like spinning his wheels out, up and down dunes, doing donuts, and fish tailing. I was definitely a little nervous. However, our guide had been doing this for 10 years and knew what he could and couldn't do. I had to keep reminding myself of that and eventually started to enjoy it.

Agabat Valley.

Agabat Valley.

Sand dunes in the Agabat Valley.

Our original plan had been to spend one night in the desert, that would have been at the White Desert. By staying a second night, we got to the visit and sleep in the beautiful Agabat Valley. The valley is where the yellow sands of the Sahara Desert meet the white cliffs of the White Desert to make brilliant formations. Betty found some sea shells lodged in these rock formations. This area used to be part of the ocean. There is something so serene about that part of the desert and the formations that we saw. I can't really say what.

An arch in the Agabat Valley.

I was going to just include this picture of Thea on an overhanging rock, then Betty showed me this photo of me taking the original photo.

The moon rising in the desert.

When we went to set up camp for the night, our guide would accept a little help but not much. He didn't need it. He was a machine and was used to doing this stuff. The first thing he would do was set up a three-sided wind shield. One side was against the car and the other two came our perpendicular from it. We ate, and later slept, in this space. After that, he got right to cooking dinner. He started a small fire to cook the meat in and used a gas cooker to cook everything else. The meal that he whipped up was one of the best of my entire trip, except for maybe the meal he made the next night.

Our view from the campsite in Agabat Valley.

Sunset in the Agabat Valley.

After dinner, we went for a stroll, but didn't do much else. We had Bedouin tea from the fire. We enjoyed the stars. We slept. It was wonderful. The calm and serene of the desert night was a great way to slow down the trip. We had been going, going, going since we left Dabab. Zoom to Cairo before leaving as fast as we could to see Luxor quickly, then Aswan, then Abu Simbel, then all the way back to Cairo, and finally down to the desert. The desert was the perfect place to unwind. I can't recommend it enough.

This is where we found some of the petrified coral and shells.

In the morning, we went for one last stroll around the area. Thea ventured the farthest and found the most interesting thing we saw in the desert. She found petrified coral. The first pieces we saw were very smooth and looked like wood. However, the second larger pieces that we found were clearly coral. It is so amazing to see these things from the sea in the middle of the desert. We always learn about these things in natural history classes, but it is another thing to see it. Look at those pictures and imagine it all being underwater.

Me hiking in the Black Desert.

1 comment:

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