After crossing the 23 mile stretch of desert, we arrived at the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wadi El-Hitan. The name means Valley of the Whales and the site features a unique display of whale fossils.
The visitor center and other buildings are designed to fit unobtrusively into the golden sand of the Sahara.
We were accompanied by three Egyptians. Our driver, Ahmed, had navigated the route in the Land Cruiser. Roshdy, our friend and professional tour guide (on the right) introduced us to the valley in previous trips and is frequently our go-to guy for outings in Egypt. Roshdy partners with desert guide and cook, Taha, for many trips and Taha made the arrangements with the drivers.
There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot on this day and they were preparing to leave. With the exception of a policeman on duty and one building attendant who lives on site, we had the entire world heritage site to ourselves for the afternoon.
Naturally, the visitor center serves tea, and we celebrated our arrival with a small cup.
The attraction of the Valley of the Whales is the combination of a well-preserved collection of fossils and unique stone formations in the desert. The trails are well marked, there is good signage and it is exceptionally well maintained.
A trail through the sand meanders for about a mile over hill and dale with 13 marked stops for fossils, interpretive explanations and scenery. After we finished tea, Linda, Roshdy and I headed out to see the sights.
The fossil stops are interesting.
But, unless you are a paleontology student, you are likely to be most impressed just by the views from the hilltops.
Linda and Roshdy dropped out before the final hill-climb so I found myself walking totally alone through the desert in silence for about a half-hour. It was quite a contrast to the chaotic hubbub of Cairo.
When we arrived back at the visitor center, Taha had used the kitchen and grill to prepare his usual desert feast of roast chicken, rice, tomato-potatoes and salad. We wound up our visit a bit before 5 p.m.
On the way back, our driver took a shortcut across the desert to cut off the jog in the path that the road follows. I don't think it saved us any distance and certainly no time. But we made it back to the paved highway just as the sun was setting so didn't have to spend the night in the desert.
After switching back into the van, our driver asked if we would like to have tea at his house in Fayoum. Of course, we would not be so rude as to say, "No, thank you." We drove through the dark alleys of Fayoum and walked into the home of our driver. We had tea and fruit in a reception room bathed in the pink glow of a single warm-fluorescent curlicue bulb. Fayoum, by the way, is an interesting city. We have visited it several times before (put Fayoum in the search box at the very top left of this page, then click on the magnifying glass) Its politics set it apart from much of the area that we usually visit.
To see more pictures of the Wadi El-Hitan area, just click on any of the photos above and you will be whisked off into the Flickr album for this trip where there are more fossils and desert formations to be seen.