24-Apr-2005 -- As a Dutch expat with family living in Egypt, our two sons studying in Holland regularly visit their parents. Since the 2 years we are in Egypt now we have been doing some serious desert camping and travelling.
Deserts are not new to the Gelderblom family; we have conquered deserts in Oman, Namibia and Botswana. I grew up with compass and keeping record of distances to keep track of where you are. The GPS system - though as an engineer I understand its working - still the device that tells you exactly your position keeps amazing me. A Degree Confluence Project has a natural attraction to desert rats like us.
So the sons were coming over for a visit, and a confluence point visit looked like a perfect father-and-sons quality time project! The website showed us 29N 28E was still "free" and in the area nearby where we had done many desert journeys before. We packed up the Mitsubishi Pajero, with the standard equipment set of water, tools, tents, jerry cans, shovels, sand ladders, winch, back-up solar panel, GPSes, and not to forget: our family desert dog called "Gorbatsjov" (Boxer dog with asymmetrical white spot on his head) and the 4 of us drove down the Wāḥāt desert road from Cairo to Baḥariyya Oasis.
The navigation system we use is a laptop connected to a Navman GPS USB transmitter. The laptop has downloaded from Internet the latest (yr2000) MrSid satellite images, calibrated via the GPS waypoint management software "GPS Utility". To avoid hard disk trouble due to rough terrain, the program is run from a memory stick. This combination allows you to do the usual GPS things, but also decide en route changes while you are in the desert: when you cannot go down a too steep escarpment, the sat images allow you decide where to go for better alternatives. You need to learn to interpret the images, though.
So pre-trip planning showed us part of the trip was going to be soft sand, which the Pajero loves to do. Especially with tires half deflated it becomes a real "sand dancer". Next to a good vehicle you need some good drivers/diggers, and luckily enough, the family received an in (sand) depth training from the Swiss-Egyptian phenomenon Peter Gaballa during Christmas 2004 travelling through the Abū Muḥarrik area from Baḥariyya to Kharga via places with names like "Mad Man's Pass" and "Labyrinth of Fear". Even our Gorby is good in digging!
We turned into the desert from the Wāḥāt road closest to the confluence point (about 120 km). The desert there is quite nice, small escarpments sticking out of the gravel plains. The surface is soft but quite do-able. We travelled past al-Qārāt al-Šuhb and Williams Hill, both rocky outcrops in the plain visible from a distance. Later on, there is a stretch that is somewhat boring, just flat area with little accents. Finally, dunes show up, and they become bigger and bigger, up to 5 storeys high, really beautiful! Naturally, this is where the soft sand handling skills start to be utilised. Exploration on foot, clever GPS-ing, sand laddering and digging were all practiced. We noted in this area there were absolutely no other tracks at all to be seen, at which stage you feel that SMS-ing regular waypoints via satellite phone to wife and daughter back in Cairo felt a good standard practice! We understand now why smugglers and border control police both will never go here!
The final 29N 28E point lies in a little flat area surrounded by these high nice dunes. We arrived just before dark. Wind was picking up, so after the pictures and the inevitable message in a bottle we hurried to a suitable niche in an outcrop, and as per family tradition, we pitched the tents in full darkness. After 5 weeks of Namibian desert camping, we can pitch tents blindfolded... Campfire was lit, meal was cooked, and we saw the full moon rise over Ġard al-Kabīr. Yes, we are desert addicts...
If you want to know what this green "Biertje?" text stands for on the spare wheel cover and our T-shirts, well, we're Dutch, and we drink beer from a well known Dutch beer brewery with logo of the same colour. They carry this text as the repeating phrase in all of their advertisement campaigns in Holland over the past few years. Every Dutchman knows, so it is a secret sign of recognition amongst the Dutch in Cairo... It literally means: "Do you want to have a beer?", so when driving in a convoy, it is intended to make the cars behind you thirsty...
Finally, it turned out we should have read Harald Waldvogel's remark on permit paperwork for this area. We completely innocently travelled through the area, which was no problem, until we decided to get some more fuel in Bawīṭiy and passed though the military checkpoint on the road from Sīwa and could not produce the permit. So we ended up in the Border Control Police station in Bawīṭiy, where we explained how it was possible that we did not travel from Sīwa but from Cairo and ended up at this checkpoint coming from the wrong direction. During my past 2 years in Egypt I already learned that the Egyptians are very friendly - more than the Dutch I would say - and they proved it right, as after my explanation and apologies the whole family had tea in the police office and we had an interesting discussion about life and culture in Egypt versus in Holland! We actually had to rush as it was still a few hours driving to Cairo and we wanted to arrive home before dark. And that is where this nice little expedition came to a good ending!