Apr 19th 2014  

 Travel diaries

Sand and Sky

A magic wind was blowing all night, turning us slowly into sand beings. Got up in the middle of the night to check those sleeping outside, but couldn’t tell who was who – they all had their heads inside their sleeping bags. Some crawled into tents.

Up early nonetheless for the meditation known as “Sitting Still on a Sand Dune whilst listening to Habanera on iPhone”. Send up silent thanks for Steve Jobs. Salute to the Sun, and then it’s time for the highly specialised moving meditation known as “Running up the Flat Side of a Sand Dune and back down, repeat, repeat”.

How high is this?

How high is this?

Ice cream dunes

Ice cream dunes

Dunes

Dunes

Tricky descent

Tricky descent

Take your time

Take your time

Stuck

Stuck

Stuck with people watching

Stuck with people watching

Great Sand Sea

Great Sand Sea

Caravan

Caravan

Caravan

Caravan

I know it sounds lovely, and it is barefoot, but the gradient! And the sand softens as you get to the top. Extreme interval sprints, and the harder you try to push up the more you sink into the sand making the effort self-defeating. Then back to grappling, defences, what ifs….then this…or this…or this.

Dennis as master of taking a principle and bending what happens around him. Self-defence is a question of what do you want to happen next? Then make it happen. After enough pain it was time for more general discussion and consideration for even more scenarios.

The question, ‘What if they have a knife?’ resulted in a version of the game, “Would you rather…?”. It’s played by posing a dilemma and forcing a decision between two possibilities. Usually it’s something innocuous like, “would you rather eat burgers for the rest of your life or flip burgers for the rest of your life?”.

So back to our training session, “what if they have a knife?”. Well then you ask them, “Would you rather be hurt by your own weapon, or would you rather run for your life now? – Come back here, you still have so much to learn!”.

Over breakfast talk turns to Chinese culture and the principles of White Crane. Then break camp, and final day in the dunes – going to be interesting.

The drivers for Team A and Team Z are both experienced desert rally drivers so we are in for a treat. The other three drivers are all experienced desert drivers. As Team A’s car arrives at the top of the first big dune, all we hear is laughter over the walkie-talkie – is that good or bad?

We all make it over, but the dune was very soft – difficult to power up to the top and difficult to control the descent. Later, the Steel Camel bearing the kitchen on its roof rack had to be dug out at the top of a small, soft dune.

If you get the stopping point just wrong at the top then the car doesn’t pivot on the apex ready to go down but squashes the soft peak and sits there. You then have to dig out the front and rebalance the car or have someone else pull you backwards to try the ascent again.

Strenuous enough, so glad of lunch break. We drive up onto a raised shelf overlooking a planetary landscape of cliffs, rocks and sand. The ground is littered with millions of white “dollars” – fossils from when the Sahara was underwater. Once again the dining pavilion is erected and today’s special for luncheon is fried goats’ liver sandwiches.

I then bring out my final superfood (after toasted marshmallows with digestive biscuits, and peanut butter stuffed pretzels) – the piece de resistance……..Astronaut Ice Cream, ta dah! I am met with the muted reception of the sated gourmet….well, it’s ok but I wouldn’t get out of bed for it…..not really to my taste……it’s supposed to be ice-cream is it? …well if I was an astronaut I wouldn’t bother with it, I’d be too fascinated with being in space blah blah blah.

Who are these people? Who did I come here with? Here we are on what looks like the surface of an undiscovered temperate planet and they are complaining about the ice cream? I thought they would be carried away by the idea of eating ice cream in the Sahara, but no, their over-mediocre palate is not capable of perceiving an anomaly when it strikes them in their taste buds.

My life’s work is displayed to me as the pursuit of vain sensationalism within the sphere of normality. How will I ever look myself in the mirror again? Go for a toilet break to save face and have a private tantrum – find an enormous oyster shell amongst the mediocre dollars littering the sand – salvation.

Still in combative spirit I return to the luncheon pavilion to start an argument about what was the highest dune we came down. Leader of Team Z is stuck into remains of astronaut ice cream (go team Z!) so put forward Team F’s view that it was 50 metres. Team A begs to differ (but then they dissed the ice cream so sceptic rules apply). Replay video from camera – Team A clearly overestimates the length of their car. Agree to disagree at 7 car lengths @ 5m blah blah blah…..felt like more than 35 metres. Comes down to where you draw the line as being the bottom of the dune. Bang bang!

Oh well. Head back to the road and drive to Bahareya Oasis. This is the home of the Hotel where we stayed the last two years. Comfortable etc but nothing new to report. Buffet dinner shared with resident yoga bunnies. Startlingly romantic announcement by Robin Hood & Maid Marion, followed by emptying remains of Johnny Walker and Royal Salute, then firelight and early night.

What happened to magic?

Great Sand Sea

Great Sand Sea

Great Sand Sea

Great Sand Sea

Sand and Sky

Sand and Sky

Rocky outcrop

Rocky outcrop

Geology study

Geology study

Feel the heat

Feel the heat

Leaving the sea behind

Leaving the sea behind

Great Sand Sea

Great Sand Sea