Saturday, April 10, 2010

Travel: Breaking down in the White Desert

Seattle PI (Rob Hodges)

You know you're in trouble when you're forced to flag down a camel caravan for help.

That's the situation my wife, Kate, and I were in the last morning of a three-day/two-night jeep trek in a fairly remote part of Egypt's White Desert. Our Land Cruiser would not start -- leaving us stuck several miles west of the only road between the Bahariya and Farafra oases.

We have both had to jump-start cars at one time or another but never a loaded-down Land Cruiser -- and never through thick desert sand. Even with the addition of two helpful guys from the camel crew, our group of six pushed to no avail.

The camel caravan was a tourist procession, which departed in the direction of the road with the promise to signal for help. That was cold comfort since it might have been hours or days before a four-wheel-drive vehicle capable of reaching us and pulling the Land Cruiser out of the sand happened along. It could have taken just as long for word to reach one of the oases via a random passer-by.

Fortunately, our situation was more hitch than hazard. Our driver and guide had satellite phones that could receive a signal from the top of nearby peaks (though the guys seemed reluctant to use them, perhaps out of pride). We could call the tour operator for help, and we had enough food and water in case it took all day to arrive.

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