17/10/91

THURSDAY – CAIRO TO FARAFRA  We were up and packed ready to leave at 6:45 and after checking out of the hotel, ignoring the waiter’s demand for bakshish, we walked up to the bus station near Midan Ataba, about half a mile away. The bus left on the dot of 8 but then for some inexplicable reason spent the next hour and a half driving in a circle around Cairo and back past the bus station several times. Eventually though, we left the city which immediately gave way to flat featureless desert. The road snaked ahead of us in a black ribbon on the off-white sand and inside the bus everyone lit up a cigarette and began coughing and spitting.

After 5 hours we stopped at a dusty little town called Bawiti for lunch, then carried on across the unchanging desert. We passed a steel mill not long out of Bawiti: it’s position marked by a grubby brown area of polluted sand and wrecked trucks. Out on the flat landscape, pinnacles of iron ore began to rise until soon we were travelling through terrain resembling Monument Valley in in Arizona. The day drew to a close as we watched a raucous and badly acted Indian video while outside the sky changed from pink to an eerie orange. When the sun disappeared, the sky and land were bathed in an otherworldly orange glow and it was hard to believe that we hadn’t passed through some invisible barrier and into another world or out onto the surface of an alien planet.

The colour soon faded, however, and was replaced by the smooth, blue black of the Egyptian night. The movie reached it’s tacky conclusion about 20 minutes before we arrived in Qasr al Farafra, the main town of Farafra Oasis.

There were three white folks sitting watching the arrival of the bus so I asked them where we could stay. They  pointed us to the rest house next door where we paid two Egyptian pounds each for the night. There were four restaurants in town and we chose to eat at Saad’s Restaurant up the hill near the centre of town. A meal of beans and courgettes, washed down with Coca-Cola, cost us a mere E£3-75.

The Western Desert

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