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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Return to Fayoum - Part 2

Well, if we had known we were going into the Sahara for the better part of a day, we would have provisioned ourselves differently.  It wasn't hot by desert standards, but all we had along was three small bottles of water and a single cheese sandwich.  Now our driver had made some inquiries and been told that the journey to the Valley of the Whales was best done in a four-wheel drive vehicle (or a "Gyp" as they are called here.)  I might go so far as to suggest two Gyps and a tow strap, a large volume of water and some food.  Sort of like what you might bring along on a trip into a blizzard warning area back home.

Nevertheless, we left the major road along Lake Qarun and headed toward the entrance to the large Egypt Protected Area of Wadi el-Rayan in our low-slung 4-door sedan.  This map should help.

We usually have to slow to a crawl at speed bumps and take them diagonally to avoid scraping the undercarriage of this car, so you can imagine the clearance level.  At around 10:30, I was starting to think about about a tea break as we reached the gate to the Protected Area and paid our admission fees.

The sign  near the entrance states a rate of $3 US for "foreigners."  I suspect that it hasn't been updated in some time.

We paid 40 Egyptian pounds (about $6) for each "foreigner."  The vehicle still got in for 5.

This sign, just beyond the entrance, was the first indication that we still had a long way to go. 

We passed the "Waterfalls" and along the way asked the few drivers that we saw for directions to "Hitan."  Remember, we are in Egypt and no Egyptian carries a map, much less a GPS.  You can always just ask.  (I know that some readers, who have been in Egypt, are chuckling!)  With good directions in hand, we turned off the asphalt at the second radio tower - not a cellphone tower judging from phone signal levels.  We encountered this sign as we moved down the sand road, now barely distinguishable from the surrounding desert.

We drove about half of those kilometers before the road just sort of disappeared.

Our driver asked, "where should we go now?"  I told you that Egyptians always ask for directions!  I suggested, "back where we came from."  Did I mention that the front wheels were now sitting off the road in soft sand?

We retreated from the road to Wadi el-Hitan and headed back to the waterfall at Wadi el-Rayan.  I had briefly envisioned newspaper articles about the Americans who drove into the Sahara and perished from dehydration accompanied by photos of footprints like this.

It's a shame that we weren't able to make it to Wadi el-Hitan since pictures I have seen of the scenery in the valley are quite impressive.  That might be a greater attraction than the fossilized whale bones.  Wikipedia's entry for the valley notes this:
Only about 1,000 visitors a year drive into wadi Al-Hitan by 4WD because the track is unpaved and crosses unmarked desert sands. For the most part, visitors to wadi Al-Hitan are foreigners, who usually camp in the valley on winter weekends.
 You see - the sum total of all human knowledge really is on the Internet - much of it within Wikipedia.  Even a good GPS wouldn't provide you with that kind of useful information.

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