Egypt almost didn’t happen for us. We decided we’d go early on, thinking hey, we’re in the region and will have friends there, of course we’ll visit. Surely things will be calm by then. We weren’t counting on Morsi’s power grab or divisive constitution; we weren’t accounting for the fact that visiting Egypt from Morocco is about as convenient as going to the Grand Canyon while living in New York, with all the efficiency of North Africa.
Then they cancelled our flight the week before. “Maybe this is a sign?” I ventured. “From whom?” Colin countered.
Having not taken much time to plan the trip, we opted to do something I don’t think we’ve ever done before: we signed up for a packaged tour. Not just one, but two.
Our friend Amy recommended the White Desert as her favorite touristy thing in Egypt, so that’s where we started. Seven hours via bus from Cairo, we met our guide and driver, Khaled, and our cook, Ghoma, who had more enthusiasm but less English than Khaled.
We lunched on fried fish and rice before leaving Khaled’s home in the oasis. To get to the White Desert, we drove first through the Black Desert, and then through a galaxy of planet rocks. We were off-roading by this point, and Khaled was getting a kick out of easing the truck down steep sand dunes to get a rise out of me.
We got to the sand dunes by “Golden Hour,” sunset. The dunes were incredible, easily the most awesome terrain of the trip, in my opinion. There was no trace of any other humans, or really of any other life, every footstep having been blown away by the winds.
We were graced with clear skies and a full moon, rendering flashlights unnecessary and stargazing futile.
Though Colin and I rose with the sun, we didn’t get back in the car until mid-morning, headed finally for the White Desert. We could see evidence of the snow-white chalk formations already, as well as evidence of the sea that used to cover the region, and we stopped for a picture at the Window to the Desert.
Around lunch we spotted the oasis. The Magic Spring Oasis was ours for the afternoon. We cleaned up a little in the stone pools while Khaled and Ghoma prepared lunch under a shade made from palm fronds.
Saying that we found a quiet corner of the oasis is kind of silly, because there wasn’t anything around to make any noise besides the babble of the spring, but nevertheless, after a delicious lunch of salad and baba ganoush and warm bread, Colin led me back to a quiet corner of the oasis, got down on one knee, held up his grandmother’s diamond engagement ring, and nervously asked me to marry him. Of course I cried.
How to follow that, eh? We still hadn’t made it to the White Desert and I already had some amazing sand dune pictures and an engagement ring. Totally unaware of the monumental change that had just happened to us, our guides drove us on to their “secret” fossil spot, where we did in fact find some fossils of some sort—whale, maybe, perhaps some sea plants—and then some petrified wood. Khaled seems to be quite the rock hound, because he has a whole collection of neat stones from all over Egypt that he has neatly piled up on the sand, which he took us to see.
With the sun low in the sky, we arrived at the edge of a windswept sea, frozen in sharp white waves of chalk. Thirty-foot-high towers stood resolutely against the beatings of the sand in the wind, shaped into mushrooms and giraffes and spiraling thrones. We climbed to the back of a triceratops at dusk and had to pick our way down very gingerly in the dark. I was suddenly much more concerned for the well-being of my fiancé.
There were a few more campers in the White Desert, and apparently the food that gets left behind has trained the silver foxes in the area to be unafraid of humans. They allegedly steal shoes and are particularly fond of raw eggs. When the first one appeared, about the size of a cat, Ghoma fetched an egg and Khaled taunted it for awhile. Two foxes came when we had finished dinner (lentil soup, vegetable ratatouille, rice pilaf, and barbecued chicken) to fight over the leftovers.
Our last half day was mostly spent driving back to the bus stop. We were in sore need of a shower, but wouldn’t be getting one until nearly midnight that night, after meeting up with old friends and new and driving to the Red Sea for our New Year’s Eve celebrations.