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1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Great Travel Experiences: Under the stars in the White Desert

Sleeping out under the stars in the White Desert, Egypt

An extract from my diary for 16th/17th May, 2001.

An accurate, though minimalist, summary of the day would be - long drive, camped in the white desert.
Accurate it might be but it wouldn't begin to describe it adequately. The desert is so bleak and barren for such long stretches that it becomes hypnotic. The highway and a parallel railway line run arrow straight across it trisecting it like scalpel cuts. We lunched at an inexplicable concrete shelter which was as far as we could determine a bus stop. Exactly why there was a bus stop in such a palpably empty place where there could be no conceivable reason for anyone to be waiting any more than for anyone to be getting off, was a mystery destined to remain unsolved.
We were still in the desert when we pulled off the road and drove behind one of the very few rocky outcroppings to park and camp.
The White Desert is of course a desert. And it's white. It's also randomly scattered with thousands, probably millions, of the oddest pieces of rock I have ever seen. They almost all have a shiny black surface and an interior that looks like it is machined coaxial cable. Some look like two inch lengths of metal rod, others form branching geometric shapes, yet others lie in perfectly formed spirals. I have no idea what bizarre geological processes have resulted in these rocks but they are all different and endlessly fascinating in their diversity.
After dinner I climbed to the top of the outcrop and sat watching the sky again until it became so dark that I feared that if I remained longer descending might become lethally dangerous. 
When I slept it was not in a tent but half a mile from the camp out in the desert on just my sleep mat where I lay even longer watching the stars. The flaming white spark of a shooting star crossed the sky and I made a wish and went to sleep.

I dreamed of the dead rising up from the desert and silently standing in their thousands in perfect rows and ranks, a shadow army who filled the world from horizon to horizon. Slowly they turned and walked away. I rose and followed them but they were marching to a drum I could not hear and as they receded from me they faded into mist.
I woke and looked at the desert, ghostly in the moonlight, a distant faint glow of cities somewhere beyond the horizon.
I slept again and dreamed of aliens descending from the sky and offering me a franchise to sell toys in their likenesses around the world.

I woke again and the sun was rising, painting the white desert in golden shades. I watched as it climbed from the horizon, spreading like a syrup stain along the rim of the world until it unglued itself and sailed into the sky.
I sat watching in quiet fascination, unaware of anything other than this gorgeous stark sunrise, unaware of the others from the group who had, as I had done, instinctively spread themselves far and wide through the desert, to feel alone in this emptiness.

As the sun rose I wrote this poem.

In The White Desert

Awake on the bone ground
In shattered geometries of stone
Alone, surrendered to the night,
In the White Desert
Starfish stranded, darkness bound
The centre of the silent dome
Of scattered, ancient frozen lights
In the White Desert

A falling star, a spark
Ignites the breaking fire
Pours flame over the circling heights
Into the White Desert
Drives wedges through the dark
Until it's clutching hand expires
And reveals again the sight
Of the White Desert.

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