Thursday, November 08, 2007

Robert Twigger on travel to the Gilf Kebir

Times Online

Robert Twigger is the author of a book about his experiences in Egypt and the desert (Lost Oasis). I confess that I didn't get to the end of the second chapter (too much Twigger, not enough Egypt) but this is an engaging look at the experience of traveling in a very special part of the planet.

In the desert, very early in the morning, Samir, the Bedouin guide, told me to watch for the green flash. Not an ancient piece of Dunlop footwear, rather the curious atmospheric effect caused by the sun’s rays refracting through ultra-clean air the moment before sunrise. Try communicating that in broken English and pidgin Arabic. I stuck my head out of the tent door. The dunes were sharp-edged with shadow. The only smell was the deep, cool inhalation of dawn. The only sound, after Samir had turned off the stove, was a kind of reverse of sound, a super-silence that seemed to empty the soul of all inner noise. I could see the sun glowing below the distant horizon. Then, for what seemed like at least a second, the green flash flooded the desert like an alien heliograph. A moment later, the skyline erupted with the instant magnificence of the sun, its sudden warmth.

I was in the Sahara, in the Egyptian Great Sand Sea, 200 miles from running water, grocery shops, flushing toilets or e-mail. The 120-mile-long dunes on either side were truly massive, three or four hundred yards high, like endless lines of great white hills.

I climbed one, and spent half an hour going ever onwards and upwards over false summit after false summit. The sand underfoot was surprisingly firm, clean and crunchy, like a pristine beach. The view was extraordinary, row after row of dunes stretching away to the east and the west. In every direction lay sand — white, grey, pink, light orange, dark orange, even purple and shades of blue. Down below, I could see the camp and five tiny black figures. In our two-week trip, we did not meet, or even see, a single other traveller.

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