Look at this morning's stunning sky.
I also made a couple of small paintings.
Driving in flat sandy desert is like driving on the edge of a pale plate into a pale sky. The whole world seems without features, pale cool beige with long honeyed dunes on the horizon and two thirds sky above. The driving is stunning and fast, but it becomes hard to focus on the sand, and our driver has a couple of cucumbers rolling around the dash board to refresh his eyes from time to time. Yesterday we only averaged 17k an hour. Today has to be better as we are already a day behind time and have barely started.
We come to a cairn on a hill. It is more elaborate and much bigger than most Bedouin built cairns and is from the fourth Pharaonic Dynasty - Um El Alam (which to my mind means mother of the ridge, or mother of the flag and neither makes much sense). There is another name which is simply landmark in Arabic, and this is what the cairn was built to be - a marker for a journey.
Apparently our lovely captain was so afraid of the desert last night - djinns and wind and things that went bump - that he woke Mahmoud five times to talk to him. At one stage Mahmoud realised that the Captain sat and talked with his eyes tightly shut. "Why are you talking to me with your eyes closed?" asked Mahmoud.
"So I cannot see the dark," said the captain. Mahmoud announced that his name was no longer Mahmoud and the captain was to forget that name and rolled over to sleep.
From here we keep traveling almost south to Sugar Loaf. It is beautiful. It was warm but not hot, and the wind lifted the sand and sighed softly through the crevices in the rock. It is an outcrop of softly coloured and contoured, wind-sculptured rocks in the desert. With such fantastic shelter it seems odd that there is no flint or tools - but I found nothing, not even a flake.
Let's just do this bit a string of photographs, and try to add the sound of music sighing through the caves.
We had lunch at Sugarloaf and drove almost directly west towards Gilf Kebir. I was starting to get a feeling for the immensity of the distance. We have been sitting on 120k most of the day and had barely crawled across the map.
First signs of Gilf Kebir
Next came the Red Lion Yardangs. apparently the name comes from Chinese as the first documented forms are in China. These are the vestiges of the floor of a large lake, mud that has packed down, then the water dried up, and the mud is wind-formed into lion-like shapes. All face the same way, on guard and couchant. Fine sand trails behind each lion, rippling like a golden wake. I miss my chow suddenly and intensely.
Their 'faces' vary, but all are simple. the light is now perfect with long interesting shadows from one angle at least, and we all bolt in different directions to try to find patches of rippled sand and yardangs without footprints. Sometimes it is a bit hard to be in the third car - especially when the fourth car is the Kitchen car, and the only passenger is the Captain.
As we belt further south, trying to make use of the last half hour of light the sun sinks below the mackerel sky. We set up camp near a smaller yardang field, fighting a desperate wind which wants to take our tents and hurl them across the Gilf. The nice young captain, and we are friends now, helps with my tent carefully asking me about the snakes and scorpions and I realise that the men have been teasing him. I assure him that I have never seen any in this area. I did not manage to mention that I have never been in this area, and profoundly hope that we see no snakes or scorpions in the next few days. I try to paint and fail utterly as the sky colours change faster than I can keep up with - and I end up with something far too brightly coloured. It is a good day, but we are all weary and glad to sleep early.