Surrey Off-Road Specialists Limited

Our three trips in the 1998/99 winter "Desert Season' were more interesting than ever. Having done more research on the many things we had seen earlier in the year, we had greater understanding and were thus able to appreciate their significance better. As before, our base was the Oasis Hotel, Pyramids,

On 8th November we went with Samir and Wally Lama's party in the three cars, twelve souls in all, down the main road through Kharga to Dakhla. From there it was seriously "off-road", through the rough stuff to, "Eight Bells" and up to "Rupert's Cave" in the southern Gilf Kebir plateau. Then round and north helm its western cliffs to Wadi Sura (Valley of Pictures) to revisit the giraffe pictures my father discovered there in 1930 to get good photos of them in their little rock shelter some distance way from the now famous "Cave of Swimmers" We returned south to get onto the Gilf Kebir up to the Aqaba pass, We then went north and east to Qarat el Hanash (Snake Hill) on the southern edge of the Great Sand Sea - could it be volcanic? We had to go due west from here to cross difficult dune lines to be able to turn north into the "streets" of the silica glass area. I lifted a large chunk of it to present to Ali Barakat at the Geological Museum - he said it was bigger than the specimens that my father had brought in after he had ** (re)discovered it in 1932. We rose early to watch the meteorite shower in the crystal clear sky well before dawn on the morning of 17th, it was fantastic - the sky lit up like a fireworks display. In the middle of the Great Sand Sea the other Land Rover broke a rear half-shaft reducing it to front-wheel drive. We therefore took the easy(!) route for the next two days over the whale-back dunes, We had to dig it out and tow it and use our four sand channels to get it through north of the Quss Abu Said onto the made-up road through the White Desert and back to our base at the Oasis Hotel. Whilst arranging our next trip we went to the Geological Museum, discovered my pre-War home in Maadi - still standing, and visited the archives of the Survey of Egypt to find records of my father's work. A day trip to Wadi Riyan was slipped in too, plus shopping in the Khan Khalili.

In December, in company with different companions with their Toyota Landcruiser, we headed for the Eastern Desert, a new area for us. The four of us visited the Monasteries of St Anthony and St Paul (the Simple) in the South QaIala hills and went down the Red Sea coast road with our "permission" to tour the Gebal Elba "National Park" near the Sudan frontier. John Ball's 1921 description of the area holds good "Clouds on the mountain tops for days on end but no rain". The terrain is mountainous and rocky with trees in the wadis but to the north of the main feature there are wicked barriers of small multiple-dune chains of soft sand lying in wait. An interesting area - thickly covered in camel and goat dung (dry) in all the possible camping places, even up in hidden wadis. The nomadic Bishareen tribesmen near the wells whom we met were pleasant but very poor not having had rain for three years despite the high humidity at night. The "Security" would not let us return to the Nile valley through the hills direct to Aswan so we went back north to Marsa Alam and west to Idfu and Luxor (Sheraton and a good bath). We had to by-pass the "Security" on the Nile bridge at Luxor to get onto the road going west to Kharga. We visited the Roman Forts at Umm Dabadib etc. Our aim was to head north along the 250 km long Abu Muharraq Dune to the Baharia to Cairo main road. Weclimbed the scarp by the "easy camel descent" on the Darb el Tawil in five and a half hours. To the west of Abu Muharraq it is rocky limestone - slow going, or fast - skirting the dune fringes until led into traps with multiple-dunes to cross to get out. It took us three days and one blow-out (on the other car) to reach the road home to the Oasis Hotel. We had now seen some of the Eastern Desert and the Abu Huharraq. Pam's birthday was celebrated in some style at the Mena House Hotel with a few friends.

On our Christmas trip, again with Samir and Wally Lama, we took Kurt Mayer and his film equipment to follow the "Almasy story" in the Western Desert. We saw the Kemal el Din Memorial, Wadi Sura, "Drei Boden" and Chianti Camp. We looked for but did not find the truck Almasy left there in 1942. We ascended the Aqaba, found the site of his 1937 water-dump and returned through the Great Sand Sea. The filming was based on Almasy's diary. This was a fast trip but stopping to film whenever asked, even on the brink of steep dunes. We celebrated both Christmas and the New Year with candles and champagne in cold winds! The nights were very cold. After our return to the Oasis Hotel we had a few days as tourists - "Son et Lumiere" at the Pyramids and a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the Tutankhamun treasures and the pectoral with the scarab jewel now confirmed as being of Libyan Desert Silica Glass **.

We shipped as "1 used car and 2x pax" from Alexandria to Genoa expecting to take five days but discovered that we were headed via Port Said, Tartous, Ismir, Naples, Marseilles, Livorno to Genoa - we jumped ship at Marseilles on 23/1/99. The food was good and the sea calm for our Eastern Mediterranean cruise, we were the only passengers. We got back to Cargreen on 26th January 1999.

Words and Pictures: Copyright, Peter H Clayton 1998.