We were invited on a trip into the desert to visit a site known for its whale skeletons coming through the sand and rock in the site of an Eocene Sea.
It was led by Roger (pronounced Roget and perhaps even spelt that way) who runs these trips regularly for anyone interested. He has a large group of followers, and I think I wish to be one of his very best friends. He has an extraordinary knowledge and love of the desert.
He also cooked a superb lunch - whole marinated barbecue filets of beef, tender and succulent and done on small round portable pans.
Breakfast, where we met the travellers for the day, was on an outcrop just before we dropped down into the desert. Croissants, pastries, strawberries, coffee and orange juice were all laid out on the bonnet of a car while we stood and chatted and ate.
I have to do this in reverse - as the first email (this one) has to be sent last and the last one first so they line up in the blog as I want them to. It is a little complicated, so forgive any discrepancies. I have a blog fairy - my wonderful webmaster, Kate Andrews, who will
flitter in and make it all look like one email instead of lots, so it doesn't push everything else off the front page. (Done now! - Kt)
The view, in the direction we had to go.
We had to cross large areas covered in stones, and a crust on the underlyng sand and gravel like creme brulee, firm enough to look at, but likely to break through to the softer sand below.
Here every track ever made by a vehicle remains like a ghost. Tyres push the gibbers aside, and the white sand is left gleaming through.
Desert outcrops on the way
Desert as far as the eye can see, sand and gravel, and occasional areas of gibbers - strange stones that look as if they have each been melted and spun into weird smooth shapes. These areas looked firm, but the gibbers float on softer sand under the surface crust, and it is easy to bog even here.
We followed the tracks of our leaders. Though they scar the desert now, a few good winds will remove them, and you would not find this place without compasses and a global positioning system.
The glitter you see to the sides of the small escarpment is all shells, from a long ago ocean floor. Oyster shells were bigger than two of my hands, mussles, bivalves I didn't recognise, great sheets of shining fossilised mother of pearl and smallet turret shells. All in amazingly perfect condition, and spilling in profusion down every hillock of sand.
The trip was astonishingly, breathtakingly beautiful.
No roads, and no tracks, and just the desert spread out before us. We drove down steep inclines to get down from the plateau, some of it hair-raising, and had to roar up sand dunes to get over them before we ran out of speed.
I thought it very appropriate that the area that was an Eocene Ocean should have great rearing waves, with beautiful water patterns on their sides.
Spectacular outcrops along the way
Fossilised mangrove roots at the whalebone site.
The laid out backbone, and the most solid fence.
I was fascinated by long lines of whale bones, left in the sand for people to look at. The bones are from an Eocene whale who swam in this ocean forty million years ago,but was able to come up to land as well. They are not a precursor of our modern whales.
I couldn't believe that the bones were just left for people to look at in the absolute understanding that they would not be stolen - how long would they last in Australia before they were souvenired? This area is a long way from towns, but is visited regularly, and the sites of skeletons are surrounded by a 'fence' of small sticks in the ground - about a metre apart.
I should have given you a scale - the big bones here are about eighteen inches long (for patchworkers who work imperial).
I thought this was a funny sign - motor boats was the last thing on our minds!
The drive home took us by a different route. We ran up sand dunes - fast, as even slowing down would have bogged us - we followed a long flat wadi to Fayoum, then after about an hour of desert driving hooked around on a very busy highway to Cairo. We passed this lake on the way - and it felt almost surreal lying there quietly in the desert. It is artificial, fed by the Nile via canal (like most of Egypt) and already had very large fish.