Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bahariya Oasis--Western Desert, Egypt

Map of the Western Desert and the Four Oases we are visiting: Bahariya, Farafra, Dahala, and Kharga (spelled Harga on this map but I belive the proper spelling is with the K)

International Hot Springs Hotel, €70 including breakfast and dinner

January 31-February 1
25° - 7% humidity
By Claire
Our driver, Samir, a nice young Bedouin man, picked us up at 8:30 this morning for the 4 hour drive through the Western Desert to our first oasis, Bahariya. Once we were out of the noise and congestion of Cairo we felt as if we had entered another world.

We were horrified by this--these guys where just lying there while the truck raced along the highway!

The desert was all around us and I realized how vulnerable we could be if we had a flat tire or a break down. After about 2 hours, we stopped at a rest stop, very reminiscent of the movie Baghdad Café. Windswept and completely without charm, the bathroom was frightful. Back in the car, I noticed Samir checking his look in the mirror and adjusting his shades before we took off.

Women cell phones

But… we pulled in to the oasis we just looked at each other with complete joy. THIS is what we were looking for in Egypt. International Hot Springs Hotel is wonderful. We were greeted with a cool glass of hibiscus juice and then our host, Peter Wirth stepped up. I have been emailing with Peter for quite some time planning our 6 day desert adventure to 4 oases. He was nothing like I expected. Out he swept in a gaballiya and a high pitched German accent. I knew that he has lived in the desert for many years and has a Japanese wife, whom we met. He was younger than I expected and very gracious, explaining how everything works, pointing out the hot springs, the massage area and asking if we had had lunch. We hadn’t, of course, so he immediately told the man behind the counter to add two for lunch. He went over our schedule for tomorrow and told us we would meet in the morning to discuss our camping trip into the desert and all the details. Then, we were escorted to our wonderful room. We love this place!

After we were settled, oohing and awing over the great bathroom, we headed to the restaurant for lunch.


We were greeted and welcomed and shown to our table and soon the appetizer plate arrived.

Next came our main course. The vegetables tasted so good after mostly avoiding them in Cairo – we feared them as much the water. The meat tasted like pot roast. Chuck loved it and I thought it tasted pretty good too. I’m getting my meat allowance for life here in Egypt.

We decided to make appointments for massages (LE 100, €13) then headed out to take a hike around Black Mountain, reached by some rough stairs behind the hotel. I missed you Connie! Looking back, we could see our hotel.

This place is like being in a dream. There are thousands of Date Palm trees and lots of green areas around. We were surprised at how far it stretches, about 94 km. Poor Chuck, his idea of an oasis was a little pond and a small gaggle of palm trees and some animals drinking. He had no idea how wonderful this place would be. What a nice surprise. The Bahariya Oasis is the northernmost oasis in Egypt and was the hub of the great caravan tracks between the Nile Valley and Libya. It is about 370 km from Cairo. In 1914-15, the German paleontologist, Ernst Stromer von Reichenback, made a sensational discovery: eighty million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, Bahariya was inhabited by a rather large population of dinosaurs, some of which were gigantic. Unfortunately, all the many finds that Stromer sent to Germany were destroyed by bombs during WWII. In 2001 a group of American paleontologists went to Bahariya and rediscovered the site. During their research they also made the outstanding discovery of a giant dinosaur related to the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Englishman’s House: Built by a retired English officer after WW2. He picked one of the highest and most scenic hills in Bahariya to build his house. He has a clear view of almost the entire oasis. Talk about Location, Location, Location.

It was a great hike, very warm but with a nice breeze. At one point, in the silence of the desert, we could hear the call to prayer in the distance and nothing else. We are so lucky!

I went for my massage first and met Ahmed. I hadn’t expected a man but, oh well. He told me to take off my shirt—I was a little uncomfortable doing this with an Egyptian man but, whatever. Then I had to unbutton and unzip my pants, get up onto the table and put my face through the face hole. What a nice surprise to view a beautiful bowl filled with sand and pebbles and a hibiscus flower. Ahmed then removed my bra. Well okay then. I was glad I was wearing a sports bra even if it did mean that he had to struggle to get it over my head, wrestling it through my arms. He gave me a wonderful, sometimes painful, massage. At one point he jumped up onto the table and perched over my head pounding and pressing on my back. That was different. Good thing I didn’t lift my head. He jumped back down and I heard him open a container then rub his hands together very fast. He then laid his VERY warm hands on my back—aaaaaaaahhhhhhh bliss. Afterwards, I managed to get the damn bra back on while I was lying there, face down—quite a feat. I put on my t-shirt, the one with the high heel inside a red circle with a line through it (no high-heels). He said “You don’t wear the high shoes?”

Over the next six days we will be visiting four oases located in the Western Desert, camping out in the White desert on one of the nights and ending at Luxor where we will pick up a Nile Cruise. Yeah, life is tough. We chose February for our trip to avoid the Khamsin, a hot dry wind, often blowing 150 km/hr and the sky becomes dark orange and choked with dust. This wind commonly hits in March and April.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. ~ Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz


Diane said...

What a wonderful experience at the Oasis! But I wonder what that "pot roast" type meat really was--camel perhaps? :-)

Chuck and Claire said...

Great. Just what I wanted to hear!