Midnight At The Oasis.

With all that Egypt is best known for, the Great Pyramids, King Tut, the Valley of The Kings and the longest river in the world, it’s easy to look over the fact that it borders on some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet — the Sahara Desert. Technically the Sahara stretches through Egypt to the red sea with the Sudan and the Mediterranean as its southern and northern borders. But my plan was to avoid the madness of the Nile River route and its mandated police convoys as well as the hectic Red Sea route which boasts some of Egypt’s newest and most glamorous beachside resort towns in favor of the inhospitably arid, sandy and much longer desert route.

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Paying my ferry passage from east to west bank of Luxor the last night before living the Necropolis of Thebes.

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Farewell to Ahmed (L) and one of the staff at Amon Hotel in the West Bank (El Gezira) bid me farewell with good information on the Oases of the desert.

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A bit of a cane problem I see before the police checkpoint and getting on the road to the desert.

That’s it. From Luxor a traveler has three choices for overland travel to Cairo. The western desert spans nearly 3 million square kilometers to the border of Libya. While the landscape is stark, often peculiar and certainly barren, that’s where its beauty lies. But all is not dried up and sand. The western desert of Egypt is dotted by a number of oases where underground hot and cold springs give birth to fertile ground and seemingly teeming with boundless life. And this I needed to see.

Tourist traffic in and out of Luxor is controlled by the traffic police. While not the only reason I chose to head into the desert, but it certainly meant getting away from the tour busses, the blatant commercialism and the control. It would take three to four days traveling through the desert with enough time to experience several of the oases.

My ambitious goal was to make the 600km run to Dakhla Oasis in the first day. But my early 6am start turned into another Egyptian waiting game. Wishing my friends well at the lovely Amon Hotel on the West Bank of Luxor, I filled up on what is likely the cheapest fuel I’ve purchased in all of Africa (10.6 liters for 14 Egyptian Pounds which means I paid about 25 cents per liter or about 94 cents per gallon) but just a mile past the fuel station before the cut off to the desert road I was stopped at a police check point. While the officer was reviewing my documents while another officer in the police building was screaming and in a very angry tone chastising another officer — at decibels that would make a Harley-Davidson jealous. I was uneasy and eager to get my documents back and move on. Soon the officer who was screaming, a detective, came out to review my docs. Tall, handsome and confident Ahmed spoke good English and was curious about my motorcycle and trip. He also said I must wait for an escort. He explained the escort would follow me for my safety until I was well on my way into the desert.

So I had to wait. The officers had me pull the bike aside and offered me tea and much conversation. They taught me more Arabic and wrote in my journal nice notes:

Hi Alan,

I wish you finish your adventure in Egypt and all africa with happy and safe and when you go to your city email me in xxxx@hotmail.com

Ahmed
Police Officer

Ahmed wrote the above note in both English and in Arabic.

I waited. And waited. One hour passed. And another forty-five minutes until a blue police truck pulled up. Two men introduced themselves and we chatted further and then the said I could go. “What?” the curiosity was ever so evident in the inflection of my voice, “You don’t want to follow me?” I asked a bit puzzled and certainly the heat of the sun, although barely 8am already had me sweating in my riding gear.

“No. You can go now.” And with all that waiting these guys just shove me off. So much for the safety they promised and were so concerned.

I headed into the vast Sahara heading west from Luxor. Once I passed a major truck stop at the turn off for the northern desert road to Cairo, I was ultimately alone. My first stop would be Bagdad, the first and a very small oasis I’d reach after leaving Luxor. The landscape changed as I traveled west. First from rocky plains to colorful buttes reminiscent of the eastern Arizona or western New Mexico, to vast dunes of sand. It amazed me to find in this harsh environment far from any of the oases a farm. I took me a while to figure out what could be growing here until much later — dates.

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Stopping at the turn-off to the north desert road to Cairo. I head to the Oases of the Great Sahara in Egypt.

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Path to police check point shelter where they offered me tea and rest.

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Above and below: Desert road to Al-Kharga

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A Chinese-made bike and its owner eager to add more decorations to his colorful steed.

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The first police checkpoint was quick and eventless except that I turned down an offer to sit and have tea, something that would become a ritual here in the desert. So by the time I’d passed Bagdad and rolled into the second police check point I scanned the desolate environment. Here was a weather beaten shack in the middle of nowhere. There was no town for 100 miles, there were no fuel stations and there were no people. I hadn’t seen a car since passing that little settlement of Bagdad more than an hour earlier. But here at he checkpoint a uniformed policeman comes running out of the building with his hand desperately clutching the cap on his head and sand swirling in a mini-tornado as the wind blew anything not heavy enough to hold its own to the east. He jotted down my vehicle tag id number, date, and time in a book and then asked if I’d like “chai”, the arabic word for tea. I turned down the last lonely cop, so thinking this guy needed company, I followed him inside. A few rotted metal chairs, a rusted out gas stove and inside a vintage 50’s refrigerator was only three tall glasses of water and a plastic bag. I turned down the cold water but watched him boil some for the tea. There was no English spoken here and because I was a celebrity he woke up his partner who’d been on his sleeping break. Rubbing his eyes and barely squinting to see me, we shook hands and all had a glass of tea before I motored back into the desert.

At Al-Kharga I refueled Doc and pounded down about a liter of water. It was hot when I stopped. Real hot. At my fuel stop I met Mohamed — everyone is named Mohamed or Ahmed or a few others — who had followed me there on his Chinese-built small displacement cruiser. He was elated when I gave him one of my WorldRider stickers with my website address that he insisted I take his picture while adhering it to the gas tank. Before leaving Al-Kharga I came to another police check point. I couldn’t escape this one. After two cups of tea, a cigarette (and I don’t smoke) and a few photographs the cops handed me a bag of sesame bread sticks and I rolled on. Absolutely the most friendly police I’d met on my trip are here in Egypt.

My first night I spent in Dakla, one of the larger oases that actually encompasses two small towns. The owner of Amon in Luxor referred me to a hotel I couldn’t find, but I’d seen signs for another that looked interesting. It took time to find this, too. Sitting atop a hill in the Al-Qasr part of the Dakla oases the Desert Lodge is a very well designed and high-end eco-lodge. I rode past an historic Muslim village to a top of a small hill overlooking the infinite sands of the desert. The adobe colored building seemed to blend into the mountain. There wasn’t a car in the driveway. I thought it must be closed. Or even abandoned. But I walked into the lobby and a few minutes later was greeted and offered a room at an outrageous price. I glanced out the parking lot, pointed to the rooms and asked if he’d rather the place be empty tonight or with a motorcyclists as a guest. We went back and forth and agreed on a price about a quarter of where he started. He said last week and for the month before the lodge was fully booked — at that rate. I don’t doubt it.

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Desert Lodge in Dakla Oasis. I was the only guest here that night.

It was eerily quiet in the Dakla Oasis. Under the moonlight I bathed in the naturally heated waters piped into a natural pool on the edge of cliff. The stars were so densely dotted in a deep dark bluish black sky. It was hard to find constellations I recognized. The cool wind blowing gave me goosebumps as I delicately traipsed naked save a small towel back to my room. Kinda nice being the only guest here. Below my room the dim lights of the Muslim village offered a unique contrast to the light show in the sky above. The rich and dense palm trees of the oasis and a definitive hard line of lights made seeing the outline of the oasis at night as dramatic as the day was beyond was only a sea of black.

A perfect night — at the Oasis.

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