21.12.2011 - 22.12.2011 22 °C
Waking up on the Crown Jewel and having our final breakfast feast was a sober affair but the show must go on. We were to be picked up and taken to Aswan airport at midday so we had a few hours to laze around the boat or wander around Aswan. Louisa, Jessica and I thought we would take on the Felucca, carriage, taxi, and store holders for one last time and try to make it to the closest Vodafone shop with our money intact. It was a brave challenge but after being followed by men and horses for over 400m. They finally got the message that if we don't want to buy something, it doesn't matter what price they are offering....but it took a while.
We flew from Aswan to Cairo and jumped back into the Cairo traffic and the crazy driving system. It occurred to me that I have not seen any advertising for car rentals. Then I thought, who in the hell would drive in this chaos, and could a rental company make any money with high number of collisions. It took me a good half hour to find a car with no obvious panel damage.....even the car I did see may well have had damage on the blind side.
I think the system relies on every driver taking the same risks. If a newbie jumped on the road, there would be massive mayhem. Cars joining from a side street do not so much as hesitate to join the main road. They just drive straight at a car knowing a gap will appear....it mostly does.
After driving around Tahir Square, we noticed a lot of water lying around with the drains struggling to cope. Apparently this was still left over from the previous night when the military used hoses to disperse the protesters. When we finally got to our hotel, the outside lights were mainly off, and the ground floor windows were screened. There was around 15 police cars outside our hotel ready and waiting for the nightly carnage to unfold during the night at Tahir Square around the corner. It seems such a waste of good young lives, but the passion for outing the military form their presidential role is almost unanimously shared across the population.
07::00 departure for the 350km driver to Bahariya Oasis. Breakfast was in the usual spot at the hotel but without the magnificent view of the Nile due to the windows being boarded up. Bummer.
When we eventually got out of the Cairo traffic and hit the desert, it was amazing. The camel colored sand went forever and was as flat as a shit carter's hat.... as they say. I reckon if a three year old built a sand castle out here, it would become a major navigational aid. There was one tree on the side of the road but by the time I got the camera out it was too late. The driver said not to worry, there'll be another one in about 200km!
We stopped at a couple of roadside stops to freshen up and they were no McDonalds. It must be pretty intimidating for the girls to be the only ladies amongst 30 - 40 guys sipping coffee and basically ogling. Unfortunately there were no offers of camels, chickens, bananas or oil refineries so we moved on. Noticed though that petrol was 2 EGP/liter (~0.30 AUD). Diesel was ~0.20 AUD!
When we got to Bahariya, it was weird. It was a reasonable size town, with no obvious signs of wealth, in fact the opposite but there were trees and date palms everywhere. Given the desert we had just driven through, this was not to be expected. We checked in at the hotel which was simple but very well presented and in a great setting next to some cliffs and plenty of shady trees.
We then we went to a local house for lunch. Cripes, it took us a while to find it as no streets have signposts and all houses look the same with mud brick and dusty roads. We eventually got there and a local welcomed us into his house. We sat in what appeared to be a lounge room with a long coffee table in the middle. He then brought in various dishes, salads and Arabic bread. We sat on the floor (well I didn't as they didn't have a crane to get me back up) and then ate. The main dish was hot and seemed to be made from egg, tomato and various mashed beans. With the bread it wasn't too bad.
We had three touristy things to do before we could get back to the hotel, but as this was essentially a stop to get to our desert camp, we weren't terribly motivated. Wow, what a surprise. The first stop was a museum that took us ages to locate. We asked around 5 or 6 locals for directions and eventually zoned in on it. This was a classic case of "don't judge a book by it's cover". They are still building the museum and there is crap everywhere outside, but inside there are about 7 or 8 mummies, only found in 1996 locally.
They did not follow the typical Egyptian method of mummification but used linen, wood, and then covered them in gold. We were not allowed to take photos but here, 50 EGP can make a guard look any direction you choose. The museum was quite fascinating and the mummies are considered to be around 2,400 years old.
We then went to two tombs just around the corner that also dated back to around 300BC. They were discovered about 1930 and there is a very steep staircase down to both of these tombs. When you get down there is a very small (well I reckon it is) opening to crawl through and then wammo, there is a great tomb system with original artwork that looks like it was painted yesterday. I was assured that it hadn't been. The stories that the artwork depicted were very interesting and very vivid. No treasure was found in the tombs, as usual, due to tomb robbers. It is interesting now that a lot of ancient tombs are being found by locals just doing their work. In these instances they have a choice of handing it over to local authorities, or seek up to $40M USD on the black market for trinkets. Fair to say, this stuff won't be finding it's way to museums anymore if they are discovered in this manner. The guard here couldn't give a Tutankhamun whether we took photos or not, but did offer our guide 200 camels for Jessica. Things are looking up.
We then saw an ancient chapel that had been buried for thousands of years. An extremely interesting afternoon where we had no expectations.
On to the desert proper tomorrow and camping under the stars.