Breakfast at 8 on the patio of the 6th floor restaurant – with a lovely view of Luxor – from the Avenue of Sphinxes to the far end of the Luxor Temple, right across the Nile to Hatshepsut’s Temple and all the back streets as well. When we came down with our bags, our driver, guide and Land Cruiser were waiting for us. The 3 of us sit in the back which is tight but ok. The camping gear (I can see 5 mattresses and some sort of awning) is on the roof and our bags are in the back. Introductions and then we’re off – down to the bridge south of town to cross the Nile and head-off westwards towards the desert.
Actually, it doesn’t take very long to see “desert” once away from the Nile. Our map calls the road 218 and then 25, but the road signs say M60, south-west from Luxor and then north. The road isn’t bad – 2 lane blacktop, with police checkpoints at frequent intervals (where we stop, chat briefly with the guard who takes down the license plate, tells them that we are Canadian, and off we go). When I comment to our guide that I was expecting to produce passports, he says “No, this is still all Egypt!” I asked him if this kind of checking was usual, and he said before the Revolution you had to pay baksheesh to pass the checkpoints and now all the soldiers are very nice!
Although his English is not as fluent as Ishmael’s, he is very keen to talk and to discuss current affairs. We were talking about not going to the famous oases of Siwa (visited by Alexander the Great) as it is so close to the Libyan border, and I asked him if he knew what was going on in Libya. He said things were bad, but that Gaddafi would be gone in a month, but that he’d kill all Libyans before he goes! Following right along he said Syria and Yemen would also be free in 3 months! He is one of 7 children of farmers; his mother is illiterate and all the kids have advanced degrees: there are pharmacists and physicians and teachers in the family. He’s working on his PhD in hieroglyphics! His siblings live throughout the Middle East and in London (that brother is married to a Christian but their 2 kids are Muslim). His wife is a pharmacist.
So, we drive through limestone mountains, to sandy desert. The north road actually has plenty of underground water, and there are dusty-looking palm trees lining the road. There are also wheat fields. The map shows the Sheik Sayed Canal for part of the way and our guide tells us that there used to be a canal linking to the Nile and we see a Temple of Seti (26th Dynasty) which used to have a barge which put into the canal and sailed down to Luxor. Colin is skeptical due to height differences and he doesn’t think Egyptians had locks…so we’ll have to look that up. That temple, in El Kharga is currently closed for reconstruction. We did walk around the El Bagawat Tombs (Coptic) which date from the 4th Century; some still have colourful frescoes on the mud brick walls. Around 7,000 bodies have been found in the tombs which were in use for 300-400 years. We had lunch inside this complex. We saw the strength of the artisan well as it came to the surface.
After lunch we drove westwards to Dakhla Oasis – a line of small towns strung along buried water. Again, despite the sand, there is plenty of agriculture – and a water bottling plant!
We stop at a charming hotel complex made up of traditional rooms on a hill overlooking the town. We had a quick dip in their swimming pool (in need of cleaning and not very warm!) and just had dinner. The evening is surprisingly cool and tomorrow and the next night when we camp, I might finally be pleased I brought a thin fleecy jacket!
"Island of the Blessed follows the footsteps of a Canadian-led international team of archaeologists as they penetrate the Sahara to unlock the secrets of Egypt’s “everlasting oasis” -- Dakhleh." (Syndetics)