Egypt Western Desert & The Oases

I packed up early the next morning hoping I could make it to Bahariyya Oasis before night fall and leaving some time where I could wander the infamous white desert — a wacky collection of mushroom shaped formations carved by the wind from naturally occurring blocks of magnesium. The ride was windy and hot. Several times the dunes had obliterated the tarmac and I had to with tepid beats of my heart ride through deep sand — though never more than 100 meters or so. Not so bad.

But the sand dunes were the most spectacular I’d seen since perhaps Namibia. These were even more other worldly. They looked almost fake. And exactly what I’d imagined the Sahara desert to look like. It was another scorching day. But with good speed and a good road through the desert the air flow kept Doc’s single cylinder engine cool. I’ve got a feeling the fan isn’t working and I’ll need to check that in Cairo — among other things. I’m still hoping to pick up that tire that seems to have traveled nearly the whole route of Africa on my tail.

The plan is to hook up with Mohamed, a mechanic referred to me by Gareth and Helen, the couple I’d met in Bahir Dar and then Gondar. There’s this nasty sound that’s still puzzling me. I thought it was a bearing sound or something in the engine, but came up empty. Maybe something’s loose. I don’t know. Nothing is evident, but the sound is a bit scary. So far so good.

The cell phone doesn’t work out here too well. But I’ve got good satellite coverage for both the SAT phone and the GPS. My first stop today was Farfara Oasis. After miles of seemingly endless dunes and my gas reserve light on since about 40 miles outside the Oasis, I was nervous about fuel. I can usually get 40-50 miles additional travel after the light goes on. But I’ve been doing higher speeds and had a good portion of the days ride into the wind. These factors impact my gas mileage dramatically. When I spotted the gas station in this windy and dusty settlement I was happy. The town didn’t have the cool and tropical feel of Dakla Oasis. It seemed to me a bit depressing. I had thought originally of spending the night here, but long ago decided on Bahariyya.

Pulling into the gas station I had a sinking feeling. It was closed. Looked like been that way for years. Pumps antiquated, which is typically the case here, and rusted, also typical. But there wasn’t a soul around. I honked the horn. Banged on the door. Shit. If I didn’t get fuel, I couldn’t move on. There was still another couple hundred miles to the next Oasis. And I had to pass through both the Black and the White deserts.

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Part of the ancient Muslim Village in Dakla, these traditional homes are more than 1,000 years old.

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Sometimes I’d get a bit slowed down due to sand dune drifts that covered the tarmac.

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The dunes emoted what I always dreamed the Sahara Desert to be like. Unaltered this photo looks fake. That’s how it looked.

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A Jawa out in the middle of the desert – two up! And a top case that would make Al Jesse jealous.

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Not everyone travels by motorcycle.

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This was supposed to be where I would get gas. I was running fumes and a bit concerned.

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Lone and straight road.

Didn’t seem like much was going on in this town. Up the road a bit there were a number of lorries on the side of the road. I cruised up and while it looked like it was under construction at one point and at another it didn’t. But the road was divided by a very narrow concrete medium. And the few cars and trucks passing through didn’t seem to care which was going this way or that way. Or they rode in circles like the bike that I’d passed 30 minutes earlier on the wild desolate desert road. Passing this area I came to another gas station, thankfully. Soon I was surrounded by a group of locals and then that bike pulled in. It was a Czech-built two-stroke Jawa motorcycle. I’d seen a couple of these bikes buzz by in Luxor but I never got a close look. When I passed this bike with dark smutty smoke spewing out its exhaust I thought it’d blow up in the desert. But no. It’s a two stroke. As I’ve noticed these guys like stickers, so I set him up with a WorldRider sticker and then as motorcyclists do everywhere worldwide we checked out each others’ rigs, shook hands and wished for good luck.

I ventured toward the White Desert. But once again I was stopped at a police checkpoint. Tea and cigarettes were offered again and two of the guys pulled cell phones out of their pockets. I figured they were going to call in my plate number. But no, they simply wanted to take pictures of me and my bike. With my tea they offered me a dried date and showed me how to easily remove the pit and eat this. Before I left they handed me a bag of dates and I made my way to the white desert.

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Czech-made Jawas are noisy, polluting and old — and they’re everywhere.

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Just on the outskirts o Farfara Oasis I made more friends with the police at the checkpoint. Everyone had a camera phone and took pictures of me. They had to use my camera, too!

It’s a strange depression in the terrain that due to high magnesium content it’s colored a dirty white. Unlike another interesting area where I thought it’d be cool to take a diversion but quickly found myself stuck in loose gunk, barely getting myself out before sinking in, the surface was porous but fairly hard. Some sharp rocks worried me as my rear tire was crying to be changed. But I took the little diversion and wandered the odd shaped protrusions in the earth, rode around large rock mushrooms and formations that looked like wild orbs or oblong spaceships. The sun beat hot and the reflection from the white strained my eyes. I guess that’s why the tours that do make it out here from either Farfara or Bahariyya Oasis come in late afternoon and leave in late morning for a night in the desert.

I got into Bahariyya in the late afternoon and found reasonably priced lodging at International Hot Springs Hotel where a cold beer, excellent meal and hospitality awaited. Interestingly the hotel is owned by Peter Wirth, a German who found himself in this Oasis some years ago, married and converted to Islam. A wealth of knowledge he sports a typical robe and sandals worn by devout Muslims. A motorcycle mechanic he spends a month or so here several times a year has a small workshop set up off the main parking lot. This weekend there was a desert rally and he was set up at a checkpoint a long the route. Earlier in the day I’d spotted several cars with large numbers painted on their hoods and even a motorcyclists. So this confirmed my notions. Future travelers might want to look up this place as it’s about the only place in the desert you might find a spare or a mechanic. The website might not have information regarding the motorcycle mechanic, but contact Peter and tell him WorldRider sent you.


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Approaching the White Desert.

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The White Desert’s formations are made from wind whipping through the magnesium rich soils.

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Police checkpoint before Bahariyya – more tea, dates and photos. Always friendly and never a hassle. Love those guys!

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The Black Mountains are a scenic backdrop to the Bahariyya Oasis about 500km southwest of Cairo.

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Sun sets and reflects on Bahariyya Oasis.

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Trying to keep that chain lubricated. Bad winds and heat means messy work.

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All along the road outside Cairo trash is just dumped on the side of the road — for miles.


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Look carefully. There they are. Those are the pyramids. Almost blocked by billboards!

Another early start the next morning and I rolled into Cairo looking for Mohamed’s , bike mechanic extraordinaire, facility which took some effort. Yet rolling into Cairo confirmed once again what I see as huge problem in Africa, trash. The road leading from the western desert oases takes you through an industrial area littered with plastic — and other — trash. Ugly. Not quite the way I expected to be greeted by one of the Middle East’s most exciting cities.

But as the madness of Cairo traffic and pedestrian toreadors took my attention away from the trash and onto the chaotic rhythm of Egypt’s capital city, I almost missed the pyramids. I couldn’t believe. Those amazing thousands of years old antique structures jutted up around the mayhem standing proud and seemingly unaware of the city that has sprawled around them. Wow. The Pyramids. Right here. I’m in Cairo. This is all very real now. Later I’ll get closer, but for now let’s get Doc some attention.

The pyramids! Another dream fulfilled.

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