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July 16th, 2004 - The Orientalist

About July 16th, 2004

The Western Desert 02:06 pm
It has been about two weeks since my last update and I have gotten up to much in Egypt. I left tranquility of Dahab for a rather audacious trip across the Western Desert. The area is a golden blanket that begins where the fertile reach of the Nile ends and spreads east all the way to Libya. In the heart of all this sand are four Oasis, that you can reach by bus. The whole trip would take a week, and in the end I would only go to the first three of the oasis. The oasis are not small pool of water, a few palm trees and a camels but large green and fertile valleys, that support many villages and town, but all surrounded by miles of nothing. The first oasis I visited took six hours of driving from Cairo and I arrived in the late afternoon.

When I stepped off the bus onto the dusty main road of Bahariya I was at first approach by a young man with a white turban and a grey grown, he introduced himself to me as my new friend and before I got my bags had already asked that I have a cup of tea with him. His English seemed decent but I would learn his vocabulary extended only to trips to the white desert and his passion for us being friends. As a consequence, as I dropped my backpack into his British mandate era Land Rover, I already had promised that I would present myself for a Bedouin dinner that evening, and breakfast the following morning.

Bahariya, would be amusing with other people, but along it is very queer. It was like drinking from a glass of milk that you where unsure if it had turned or not. With the heat of the afternoon, all the stores were closed, with metal garage doors pulled down in front of them, except for the butcher shop with raw meat floating in a basin on the sidewalk. Donkeys pulled watermelons on carts and Land Cruisers slipped between them. However, as the afternoon wore on and the pavement became as hot as the sun, I had little to do but wander from one side of the town and back again.

At seven I arrived at my Bedouin friend's house. It was built from cement blocks, and was next door to a mosque, made of cement brinks pained yellow. The conversation went back and forth between me not being interested in buying one of his safaris and how much he appreciated having friends from around the world. When he gave up and realized I would not purchase a tour from him, he asked for a pen. He said he kept an agenda of friendship, and for me he would write, 'although Craig did not want to visit the desert with me, we will remain good friends'. Overall a very strange dinner.

I left his home and spent the rest of the nigh in the market. Chickens in cages held together with string. The street was lit by the passing headlights of trucks, stores and cafes would be suddenly lit then fall back into darkness. Men sat on plastic patio chairs and wooden benches on the side walks. The sky was covered with stars and the street was covered with dung, and I was covered in dust. So after some tea I went home and to bed.

I left Bahariya the next afternoon, on a trip that would take me even farther west and deeper into the desert. The next oasis Farafa had only one hotel; partly because the town is very small and secluded and partly on account that a trio of brothers runs the town. One brother is the mayor, another is a hotel owner, and the last was recently elected as the Member of Parliament. Together they have made sure there is only one hotel in town and that the bus stops in front of the one hotel, where tourist are told that this is the special stop for forginers. The town was one main street and the restaurants ran out of food by 6pm. My room was the first one to have TV in it, but there was only two channels, one was soap operas and another dedicated prime time to an international squash tournament. All the buildings in town where one story and so just above them I could see the desert mountains.

I left Farafa the next day for Dhalkla. While outside the sole coffee shop a man with fake black Oakley sunglasses asked me about ridding in a taxi to the next Oasis, with the chance to escape another ride with the upper Egypt bus company I accepted his offer. The taxi was a white station wagon, with a roof rack, three rows of seats and a tiny Qur'ran hanging from the rearview mirror. The trip was 310 kilometers of sand. I sat in the front seat between the driver and a man who knew how to speak Arabic very loudly in my right ear. I looked straight ahead at the road which was a bridge over the sand. Above us was sky and below us was sand, with the taxi being pressed between two endless horizons. I kept looking for my seat belt, and once the driver noticed he asked 'into who, into what are we gong to run into out here.' We drove for 2 hours into nothingness then we drove for a few hours more. You cannot forget the way the desert is filled with nothingness, you think how each square meter has the potential to be a place where a memory is made or a bottle thrown but most of it will never experience a moment but just bear witness to the infinity of its surroundings. Needless to say I arrive in Daklar four hours later and was dropped off at a nice hotel.

Hotels are what I am into now; in fact I have decided to move into one for the next month. I am currently in Cairo and am currently living in a hotel. The hotel is on the roof of an old building, it’s a collection of huts, and lots of travelers. I have been living in the hotel for a week and plan on not leaving till August. Although I do plan on checking out Alexandria. Cairo is the kind of place where you wake up in the morning and say to yourself 'I am in Cairo'; it’s one of those cities that is so big that its daily operation is a great achievement.
Anyways in till later,
Craig
Also I never sent it out but I for those who are interested I wrote about my time lazing on the beach in Newbie and Terreabeen, but only put it up on the blog, to check it out go to livejournal.com/users/theorientalist
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