Friday, January 06, 2006

Bawiti and the Camel Market

We spent New Year in the desert. About five hours drive from Cairo is the oasis of Bahariya, with two towns, and the larger is Bawiti. I have written about the White Desert before. While this doesn't mean that I will not succumb to the temptation to throw more photographs at you, it does mean that I am skirting the actual camping in the desert bit for another post.

I am even going to resist telling you that this was camping with a difference - the sort where you slide sideways in four wheel drive through sand and over humps as the sun throws long shadows from pure white formations like a huge yard of Rodin's cast-offs.I will not go into the fact that, unlike most camps where you have to haul everything out of vastly overloaded cars and start to pitch tents, this time it was set up. A whole line of small neat tents awaited us, with married couples sharing and singles on their own, and there was even a big elaborate and decorative tent for eating and drinking and general lounging - complete with marvelous tentmaker fabrics and mattresses, and a campfire sending plumes of fragrant smoke curling into the desert icy air. The smoke was fragrant because the cook, who had arrived earlier that morning to set up, was already grilling the chicken for dinner.

On second thoughts, I will relent and throw in a few images to whet your imagination. Don't forget that you can click on one image to open a set in Flickr.

Next day we spent most of the day exploring the White Desert and Crystal Mountain, but that you are definitely waiting for.

When we returned to Bahariya and the International Hot Springs Hotel the sensible people went to their rooms for a much needed shower and nap. The rest of us went off on a door search. I had seen one particular door - and could not for the life of me find it. Rumor says that it has since been repainted. However, we found lots of others and I took a huge number of photos while Bob did his best with a low slung white Mercedes on rough village roads.

I have always loved photographing children and old men, and managed to find both.

We spent the evening in the hot pool, and drinking beer and wine until it was 9.00pm and time to go to dinner. New Year's Eve was marvelous - good food, and local band with its peculiar combination of handclapping, toe tapping rhythm, and the overlaying drone of pipes and a strange string instrument that looked like a chair back with a strings. I have talked before about the camel dancer - and I stick with my original description of two wombats in a bag.

New Year was counted in with every guest in a manic conga line (no hands touching each other as we needed both for the Arab style dancing) which switched to a lyrical Viennese Blue Danube waltz when people stopped kissing. It was a great combination of local and expatriate celebrations.

Today we went to the camel market which is now miles out of Cairo. So far out in fact that I have no idea where we were - except that you drive to the pyramids and turn West. I found my hopes of what it would be like sinking with the Mercedes into bump after bump as we saw less and less people and not a hint of a camel.

Then suddenly there were camels. We swung through a gate, and Ashraf, our driver (Sudanese-Italian, elegant, with a cousin in the camel business)drove through swarms of camels for what felt like ten minutes, until he pulled up in front of a small concrete building. We had tea and set off to explore.

The camels are strangely hobbled. I guess you need to keep thousands of camels under some sort of control, but it looked cruel at first, Each one had the front right leg tied tightly up, with a hobble keeping the joint fully folded. It made them look like tripods, and strangely surreal, like triffids. I half expected to see molten watches drooping over ledges, Dali-like. Instead there were absurdly picturesque men, in loose galabyiehs and kaffiehs wrapped into turbans, romantic, Orientalist, and very much exuding a 'let me toss you over my camel and take you to my tent' air.

Camels are big. They loom over you, and dribble occasional lumps of greenish cud. They are surprisingly unsmelly - compared to the liquid that would have flowed out of cows in a simialar situation they really didn't urinate much, and the ground beneath our feet was dry and dusty. I would not want to know what the dust was made of, but it was not too bad. We all fell in love with a beautful brunette, with eyelashes the length of my whole hand and dark glossy curly hair. She was gentle and affectionate and all the market seemed to like her.

I am weary. It was an early start, and my bed is calling. It is now after midnight, and while there is more to tell I am going to let the photographs do the talking.

I suggest you click on the link to the side of the blog on Sam's Grand Tour and read his description. I know it will be better than mine.


Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,

I don't wonder that you were tired, I was tired just reading yours and Sam's blogs. The images,as usual, are fantastic especially those beautiful desert skies.

Cheers Helen

10:05 am  
Blogger dijanne cevaal said...

Wow! Jenny your new years eve description reminded me of a new years eve celebration in Luxor many moons ago. I am so looking forward to seeing Cairo again in a fortnight or so!

6:31 pm  

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