03-Nov-2005 -- After a long month of celebrating Ramaḍān, Egypt was ready for the `Īd Holiday; a time for joyous celebration. During this period many of the expats living in Cairo experience a rare need to enjoy the peaceful serenity of the desert and its never ending dunes. As did we.
We heard that the desert between Baḥariyya to Sīwa was worth exploring and could be reached in less than a day driving from Cairo. Knowing this, the preceding weeks were filled with paperwork and phone calls preparing for our 5-day trip, as we required military permits to visit this particular part of the Egyptian desert. Even on the morning of departure we had not yet been able to successfully navigate ourselves through the maze of Egyptian bureaucracy.
However, in high spirits, half of the group left Cairo on Tuesday, October 1st and headed for the Baḥariyya Oasis. The same night a phone call came from the remainder of the group: the Egyptian army had given us their consent in black and white. Thrilled with this victory, a visit was paid to the Border Control Police station in Bawīṭiy. Some of us had been there before, unfortunately without the necessary permits (for more information see 29N 28E). Now armed with faxed copies of the permits on which the ink was still wet, our arrival led to stunned stares. In all these weeks of preparation no one had managed to inform the local policemen of our coming. Egypt, "No problem". However, the commander decided that it was necessary for an officer, who needed to be supplied with a sleeping bag, to come with us on our trip.
The next morning the entire group, fifteen men strong plus a large boxer dog named Gorbatsjov, had managed to gather in the Hot Spring Hotel. After breakfast, a second visit was paid to the Border Control Police station. The commander from the night before had run off to Cairo to celebrate the `Īd together with his family. Also, the officer that would join us was still in Farāfira, 140 km from the Baḥariyya Oasis. The ones left behind in the station ensured us that he was 'just about to leave'. He would arrive by noon, in šā'a-Llāh. No one left in the station seemed to have the authority to make a decision, so we were forced to "let the cat out of the bag" or in other words, our beloved doggy out of the car and reveal the money in our pockets. This seemed to have the desired effect; an under officer suddenly managed to contact the commander. He got permission to come with us and when we finally left the Baḥariyya Oasis, lunchtime was as gone as rain on a hot day in Egypt
For the remainder of the day, the team played Follow the leader as he took us from one place to another and finally set up for camp. While the fire crackled softly and the setting sun put the sky on fire, our laptop was the centre of attention. (picture) Satellite pictures showed an unvisited degree confluence not far from our current position. This desert having proven to be so hard to get into, now gave us a perfect opportunity to "claim" a point as ours. We only needed to convince the guide. Using the under officer as interpreter, we discovered our guide had never heard about longitudes and latitudes, had never seen a map and did not even own a compass. None the less he agreed to follow us, as very few guides in other places of the world would.
The next day the guide showed us some of the rare and beautiful places to be found in this desert and took us to the remainders of an airplane that hadn't flown since World War II. Being anxious to continue with our own plans, we asked the guide to drive in the last car of the convoy and went in our own direction. Of course, our guide was obliging and happy for the role reversal. Before long the appealing landscape changed and we were surrounded by a hard rocky surface, with no going back. Bouncing in a car for about 5 km, somehow made all passengers feel slightly nauseous. Fearlessly, we carried on and navigated with the help of the satellite pictures through a labyrinth of sand rock formations. The terrain became easier to conquer and we steadily came closer to our goal. While moods were rising with a distance of only 5 km to go, the guide decided to start protesting. On a trip of a couple of hundred kilometres, our slight detour of about twenty kilometres made him afraid he would run out of gas before we could reach Sīwa. Promising him we were almost there, he took the lead again and hurried away in the direction we had pointed at. Astonished and confused, he slowly drove back to us, when we suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere to run around excitedly and get 'all zeros' on the GPSes. The presence of numerous tracks almost right on the degree confluence could not lessen our delight about succeeding in a primary visit. Encouraged by our cheerfulness, Gorby immediately started to dig a hole, right on the confluence point. There we left a bottle with a message for the next visitors.
We turned around and went back to the road as we needed to collect stamps at the several checkpoints on the way to Sīwa. At one of them the under officer acknowledged he had lost one of our permits. After lots of Arabic shouting through the radio, we were allowed to move on, now without one of the so long fought for papers. The next day we arrived in the Sīwa Oasis, where a long queue formed for the cold, but necessary shower at the Desert Rose Hotel.
Piët: Wieke, Dionne, Mariel, Donna
Bron: Jan, Jane, Cor
Nette: Oliver, Tatiana, Leonard, Daniel
Gelderblom: Rick, Ineke, Dirk, Femke, Gorbatsjov