Was going to skip the morning routine writeup but as we were waiting for breakfast they let the horses out of the nearby stables to run around their paddock. Brown and white Arabian horses galloped and frisked in front of us as we ruefully remembered our pathetic attempts at (well I did – perhaps the others were making more favourable comparisons with their inner stallions).
After this uplifting moment it was time to see what Mohammed was going to stuff us with. Today’s surprise was Cheerios – doughnut sized Os of happiness, deep fried and coated with sugar. For good measure he also cooked up the centres for additional lower case Os of mild enjoyment. More popular with the non-sweet toothed were the poppy seed scones.
Patterns training this morning followed by serious packing up ready for the desert. Now the real trip begins – this is what I have been waiting for, not the soft lounging around on sofas by candlelight, but sitting under the stars on sand warmed by the day’s scorching sun, feeling lightly toasted.
Before we hit the real sand, though, there is one more soft-centred treat for us. It takes several hours to get the full set of permissions and escort needed to head into the Great Sand Sea.
Although we will remain within the Egyptian borders we are only 30km from the border with Libya. With the current levels of political change in the Arab nations where you are going and what you are doing becomes of interest.
Once you take a four-wheel drive into the desert you could, in theory, be going anywhere in the Saharan nations.
Anyway whilst waiting for the authorities to be assured that we are just going for a look, to run up and down sand dunes, and to do some Kung fu, we head off to the world-famous Cleopatra Spring.
Now don’t let the naysayers put you off this experience – by all means wear a modest swimsuit so you don’t startle the donkey taxis (no joking), but do get in the water. It is blissful. The water is at body-temperature, and you can see right to the bottom of it turquoise depths.
Bubbles of gas rise gently to the surface as you float around with the mineral rich water softening your skin. The doubters say “there is no historical evidence” that Cleopatra ever came here, but we know that Alexander the Great did and he had lovely skin (I’ve seen the film).
After swimming I introduced the gang to my new superfood – peanut butter filled pretzels. These went down a storm. They contain all the major food groups, protein, carbs, fat, and taste. Shame we didn’t have any cold beers (marriage made in heaven) but lemon and mint drinks from the cafe worked pretty well.
Finally, after a sandwich lunch (chip sandwiches – how unexpected) we are finally heading off to the real desert. We drive south from Siwa into a landscape of dunes, rocky escarpments and flat plains.
Fluffy clouds provide some shade, but I checked the weather forecast beforehand: 1% chance of 0.5mm rain for the whole of April. After 100km we have left behind all mobile phone signal (you have to have a satellite phone), Internet, everything.
After more hours of driving we are in the dunes, finding a camping space. Local experts make their choice and we do as we are told to make camp. The cooks who have come with us set up their kitchen tent and dining pavilion.
We take off on foot to explore and put our footprints over as wide an area as possible whilst observing Desert Rule Number 1 – always make sure you can see the cars.
Now my misanthropic spirit is receiving succour – isolation with a like-minded band of souls. Just sand and wind, no other elements. As the sun goes down and the moon brightens, the dunes look like fog banks, ephemeral and insubstantial.
Climbing them at night feels like rising towards the sky. The half-moon is so bright that the sky remains grey and the stars are not so numerous.
I wait for bed, for the time when everyone has settled down and the world goes still – then I am happy.