Once you leave Cairo and head into the desert it becomes a barren wasteland, nothing to see but the parched earth covered in sand ranging in colour from a golden beige to a dark brown and black with no vegetation visible as far as the eye can see.
First stop is Mandeesha and English Mountain nicknamed for the British soldiers that were stationed there in the 17th century. We climbed the rocks and I was awestruck by the view of the oasis and the nearby mountains, including Pyramid Mountain shaped like… a pyramid.
The next day, every kilometer we drove through the hot, dusty and barren desert I kept wondering, ‘is this the white desert? Is this what everyone talks about (I don’t see the uniqueness)?’ But as we suddenly came over a ridge, there before me was the most spectacular natural beauty I have ever laid my eyes on.
Huge mountains of rock carved away by years of sandstone blasting them into various abstract shapes, with huge patches of what looked like snow across the landscape. It reminded me of my Canadian winters in the Rocky Mountains, huge drifts of snow blown up the slides and down the slopes of the mountains, only this wasn’t snow! If you had told me before I saw it, I wouldn’t have believed it.
The landscape is dotted with thousands of white outcroppings in the sand looking alien and at the same time like they had been sculpted by an artist into masterpieces. My mind was spinning as I tried to figure out what each one looked like, some already named like the Mushroom and the Hen. My favourite is a mushroom shaped rock that resembled an alien spaceship ready to blast off. The pure white patches are not made up of soft sand but solid limestone rocks created by a prehistoric sea that covered the desert leaving behind these massive rocks and caves.
We stopped to check out Crystal Mountain and if you picture a clear glass mountain like you’d see in a Disney animated movie you will be disappointed. At first glance it appears to be just another beige coloured rock but as you get up close you see the rock is actually made up of quartz crystal, catching the reflection of the sun overhead.
The Black desert is the opposite of the White Desert, created from the mountains of black basalt from the ancient volcanoes worn away by millennia of erosion and the remnants scattered across the sand, leaving everything a dark great colour. I’m sure the pharaohs must have seen this part of the desert and used it as a template for their pyramids. Huge lava cones are everywhere and if you didn’t know better you would swear they were actual pyramids.
Almost immediately a desert fox came around, moving in closer when he realized we wouldn’t be a threat. He was still nervous but became more brave as we sat around the campfire, eating a mound of leftovers we had set out for him.
Another fox came closer and that’s when the fight was one. But instead of the usual territorial battles in the animal world this was more like… an argument. The pair laid next to each other on a large flat rock and proceeded to spar verbally, screeching out their arguments in a language only another fox would understand.
Before leaving, I woke up early to climb on the big rocks where I sat gazing at the landscape while contemplating the meaning of life (one of the women I dined with was doing the same thing… on a different rock).