The White and Black Desert


Getting to the black and white desert by public transport definitely weeded out the uncommitted. Expensive excursions were easy enough to come by but intel to get to the Bahariya Oasis, the desert village from where the National Park could be accessed, was vague and ambiguous. When we arrived to the Turgoman Square bus station in Cairo, the place where we read that the bus left from, we were told that only Egyptians were allowed to buy tickets. Four bus stations, two taxi rides, two stints on the metro, consults with three branches of the Tourist police for permission, and much walking later we found ourselves in front of a small rundown mini bus, amidst a cluster of rundown mini busses. After the driver confirmed with the Safari camp that we had a reservation, he agreed to sell us a ticket to the Oasis for 150 Egyptian pounds ($12). As per usual, Egyptian mini buses leave when they are full and our rickety little van was no different. Two hours later it reached its 14 person capacity and we were off.

Each of the five hours that passed took us deeper into nothing but the endless rolling sand of the western tip of the Sahara. It was dark when we reached Mohamed’s safari camp and the end of the line for public transport. From there we joined an existing safari in an off road Land Rover and began a two day desert odyssey into a unique landscape of sculpted beauty.

The long road leading into the white and black deserts.
Black basalt and volcanic ash gives an otherworldly look to the black desert.
We climbed a hill called crystal mountain which was made entirely of quartz crystal. A cool feeling to be standing on thousands of pounds of crystal! Talk about realigning your cosmic energy!
The hill was much steeper and longer than it appears and I was sand-boarding down as fast as a greased toboggan on a snow hill. I almost made it to the bottom before wiping out. Climbing back up through the deep sand was crazy tough!!! Long time since I’ve been that winded!
Sunset on route to the white desert
We drove into the white desert at dusk and slept under the stars and a full moon. The speck of orange in the far left of the picture is our campfire.
Our sleeping quarters
Our driver having his evening tea. When he was flying across the sand dunes at breakneck speed I thought he was just having fun but it may have been so he didn’t get stuck in the soft sand. He didn’t speak a word of English so I still don’t know which it was.
The white desert was made from chalk formations. Many millennia of being battered by the wind created the extraordinary landscape

We have finished our time in the desert. I love deserts but being with a group also reconfirmed to me how much I am not a ‘tour group’ person. But it was the only way to feasibly see what we saw and I’m glad and grateful we had the opportunity.

Backpedaling a little bit – the day we left Aswan (before heading to the black and white deserts) we woke up super early and took the bus to the next town with a few young travellers we met to see the camel market.

We had previously been told the price of a good camel was the same as a pick up truck. At the market we were told it was about $6000. I guess it depend on the truck…and the camel.
Buying tea in one of the tea tents

There was a festive air in the market with lots of money and livestock changing hands but no central auction. It was full of men, old and young, but not one woman. Except myself, and a couple of the Europeans that we were with. One was a young German girl with blond hair and yoga pants and I think many camels would have been traded for her. She attracted so much attention it became overwhelming and we had to leave. We said goodbye to our young friends and headed back to Aswan to chill before the night train back to Cairo.

Drinking hibiscus tea, Turkish coffee and eating cookies in what, ten minutes earlier, was a crowded, bustling, street market in Aswan. Word spread that the inspector was coming and before our very eyes the entire market rolled up their goods and disappeared into crevices and crannies. It was astounding to see!

4 responses »

  1. I had not heard of the black and white deserts but my goodness it’s beautiful. I’ve done sand surfing in northern New Zealand and I agree with you going back up is the hardest part. Seeing the culture through your eyes is amazing

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