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.
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.
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.