Friday, December 28, 2007

Day 8, Wadi Farag again and Fugini Cave

We left early on Day 8 to drive back to Gilf Kebir - the last few days we have been in Jebel Uweinat. Today was to be a fast run to Wadi Sura and the Fugini Cave. We have been very very close to Sudan and had to be careful on our return not to edge into Libya. We stopped for a photo at the border sign - and it does say Sudan.


We found a small collection of Sudanese shoes - they are scattered around the Wadi Farag area as people-smugglers pack cars tightly with people to drive them illegally into Egypt. We passed one as we drove - and there were so many people inside it was just a solid mass of nervous smiles and lighter eyes. Sometimes extras can buy a place standing on the back - and if they fall off they are not always missed or picked up. Our guide told us he had buried three or four bodies over the years (twenty) that he has been visiting the Gilf. First he would see a small bag of possessions discarded by an exhausted walker, then one shoe, then another, then further on he would find the body.

The shoes were sad and endearing. They are all leather, and hand stitched and quite beautiful objects, curled and warped by sand and sun. They are small too - far too small for me even if they had not turned into convoluted sculptures and I could, like Cinderella, have tried them on.

I had started to pick them up but Hani was obviously not happy about possibly dead Sudanese shoes in the car so I put them back - and just took one - quietly.

The collection



We passed a couple of old vehicles left to the wind and sand - a truck and a car.


Alberto was stuck only once today and chose a place that was beautiful - with firm sand covered with pebbles sand-blasted to a jeweled brilliance, clear and sparking and translucent. They were irresistible and we picked up a pocketful each.

We again crossed Wadi Farag - further towards Libya this time. It was clear and bright and all the colours washed to the palest of water colours. Yes, I know I have sand on my sensor - it is also refusing to move like the tree in my last posting.


This time we approached Gilf Kebir on its other side - the western edge. I was almost photo-weary - and a back seat is not conducive to a lot of spectacular shots through the windows. I have taken a few that I think of as 'windscreen' shots and will show them occasionally - but the attempt to compromise between the dark of the interior of the car, and the excessive lightness outside the car is not kind to either. There were long lines of hills and ridges and occasionally a pure white edge of cliff or hill.



We set up camp as the sun was dropping, gilding the tops of the hills around us. We were at Fugini Cave high on the West of Gilf Kebir and could see that there was a small group of people up at the cave so we wanted to wait till they had gone, but had our fingers crossed that there would still be light enough to see the paintings on the walls.


The Cave is high on a slope of sand - but with enough rocks at the side to help do the climb. Dear kind Mahmoud said he would help me get up without slipping and led the way, insisting I put my hands on his shoulders to balance in the very steep bits. I felt as if I just might drive him into the ground - he is a small man and I am not small at all. In fact, it was reminiscent of the spike and the mallet in my tree posting.

One of the things that has been a disappointment - darn Hollywood - has been my mental image of the Cave of the Swimmers, thanks to the movie The English Patient. In that the cave was deep and full of clefts, and both the Bedouin who found it and the hero and heroine slid through gaps looking in awe at the paintings. I had expected the Fugini Cave to be like this as it is in the same stretch of hills of Gilf Kebir. In truth, it is a curve of shallow rock shelter with images covering the walls and ceiling. You can see it at the top of the photograph - and the sand fills it to the level you can see. My immediate assumption - since the sand seems to cut off some images - is that the images go down much much further and have been covered. However - they don't. The sand still sits pretty much where it did when the paintings were made.



Our resident geologist pointed out that the flat area at the base of the hill was probably a lake, and the cave would be an ideal place to watch for game.

Mahmoud in Fugini Cave

Unknown French tourist in typical cave photography pose! I like the fact that you can see the start of the curve of the cave roof.

The imagery in this cave was really different from Jebel Uweinat. There were almost no images of cows, or anything that implied husbandry. There were family images, and some animals, but mostly it was people. Even the animals seemed odd and different - the large image in the centre of this seems to be like a lion, but it could be headless. There were many images like this, some with a head, some clearly headless, and some that seemed to be eating a man - in one only his legs are left.

This is a typical section of wall - see the lion image at the bottom.

And a detail of the same image - note the fine yellow grid.


Etiolated shapes of people, and an over-painted strong white image with a long neck - but not a giraffe.

Yvonne thought this image showed the lake below the cave, animals and a family - maybe even with a pregnant wife.


I thought this was a good example of the fact that imagery was added at different times. The stunted figures at the bottom are clearly a different batch of paint, and I love the way they are almost mirrored below the crack.

I am curious about what seems to be tassels or a swinging skirt in the upside down figures in the bottom right. I would welcome comments, as there are few images that suggest any sort of clothing here or in Jebel Uweinat.


Headless animals and swimmers?


Deep cut images at the left side wall of the cave.

The cave was strange and mystical in comparison to those in Jebel Uweinat - and I am itching to talk them over with someone who really knows what the images are likely to be.


I was coughing again - after being fine all day - when I climbed into my bed tonight and in desperation I dragged my bedding outside the tent. Since whatever was causing the cough was probably also right through my sleeping bag and mattress it was a bit of a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted! Mahmoud now brings me a hot lemon at night and I love it - both the lemon and the cosseting. I lay there for a while but coughed and felt I was not sleeping, so went to the car and climbed in without my sleeping bag, hoping to leave whatever allergen was getting me behind with the bedding. Ten minutes and I was frozen. I went back to the bag and shook and shook it - and while the cough got worse at first it seemed to ease a little.

However I watched one falling star after another until I had the light of the rising sun in my eyes - and I had obviously slept reasonably well.

Firewood at Karkur Tall

I had promised to talk about the tree, so this is an 'aside'.

All over Karkur Tall are fallen acacia trees. They have died and dropped - and are great as firewood. I had noticed that our firewood supplies were almost gone but the guides seemed unworried. Now I realised why. On the day I was on my own and walking my 'gazelle' wadi, I was collected by Hani. On our way back he stopped by a fallen tree, got out of the car, and looped a nylon rope around it. It was not just big - It was HUGE! Easily twice as long as the car it lay there and refused to move while he carefully and gently tried to pull it from its position.

The situation was made more complicated by the fact that all the sand is this area was deep and soft and too much resistance from the tree - or too much pulling from the car - would mean that we would simply dig ourselves deeply into the sand. This tree proved recalcitrant (and I just had a moment of doubt about that word and looked it up in the Miriam-Webster online dictionary and it means 'stubbornly disobedient!) so we gave up and moved to another.

The next was a bit smaller and a long slim twisted trunk with several branches. The branches were broken off and tossed on the roof, and we tried again. It slid more easily and we were slowly and carefully underway - the trunk kept rotating as we pulled it and every so often the broken off branch would be on the bottom and dig in hard like an anchor. At this point the car stopped with a judder and the back wheels dug deeply into the sand. I learnt several words in Arabic that I suspect cannot be used in private company. Hani gave up again after digging the car out twice.

The third tree came easily.

Back at the camp Hani and Mohamed started to cut it up. The bark and all small branches were stripped off and burned - as they were covered in long sharp spines and Hani explained - with entertaining sign language - that we did not want spikes where people are barefooted. The tree seemed much bigger at camp and I was surprised to see that they did not have an axe - just a long wedge and a mallet. The wedge was propped into place and belted with the mallet and the tree obligingly split. This was repeated several times until they had several large but not impossible pieces of wood. The main trunk was left mostly in one piece, and that night the fire was lit and the tree pulled in place over it so that it was the centre that was burned through - and this was allowed to burn in a carefully dug pit through the night. This left us with a lot of charcoal which was carefully bagged, two large pieces of remaining trunk and a pile of split-off smaller wood.

It was interesting to watch the process from the beginning.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Day 7 Karkur Tal and the Caves

We woke this morning to the delicious smell of freshly cooked bread. Last night Mahmoud mixed dough with his hands in a large plastic bowl and left it covered on top of the car overnight (because foxes like bread and we had lots of little white fennecs).

This morning he set up a system of an upturned plastic bowl on the sand, a folded plastic table cloth over the upturned bowl, flour in a thickish dredge, then a ball of dough. He used the inner cardboard roll from a finished roll of Glad Wrap as a rolling pin and carefully rolled out each piece of bread. The tree we collected yesterday was burning - hey I forgot that - that is story on its own! - and they put rocks to hold up a flat iron cooking plate over the fire. The plate was wiped several times with a wet cloth, then floured lightly in a sweep before the bread was dropped on. It is unleavened bread as they did not have yeast, but was still delicious. The mix was flour, water, salt and cardamom and the cardamom gave a delicate scent while it cooked.


Irene photographing the bread making with our tents in the background. I just looked at the photo trying to work out who was in the brown tent in the front left, and realised it was a rock!

I was interested to see that they rarely let the bread sit on what was an incredibly hot plate. They kept hold of one side and lifted and rolled it around so it would not scorch.

Have a look at a typical breakfast - there is sliced sweet orange, omelette with fresh green herbs, jams, sliced breakfast cake, two sorts of cream cheese, halva, Tang and cold Kakedeh, hot tea or coffee - a feast. There was something different offered every morning.

We were going today to the Belgian Wadi. That was Heide's name for it, and Mahmoud knew the place, but not that name. It is an easy walk but rough underfoot and I have, for the first time, dug out heavy shoes from under the seat of the car. I even have socks. I have hardly been anything but barefoot since we left.

Looking down the Belgian wadi - shoes definitely necessary!

And across a bit further down.

And the first piece of rock art as we got out of the car.

This tall rock with its platform in front looked like something special - and it was.

You can see the images above the platform here and I wonder if it could in some way have been a ceremonial place. The images were really beautiful and much larger than this sort of petroglyph usually is.

The following carvings were all on it and each animal is really big - possibly 50 to 80 cm high.




This looked to me as if it was marked out by a butcher into cuts of meat. I know that is silly - but it is so like a meat chart!

We walked on and I photographed a pretty flowering bush - all silvery with long white plumes of flowers. It is hard to believe that anything can grow here with no rainfall, and no recent water - not a drop of rain in this region in five years. However I believe the acacia can use dew and perhaps these plants can too.

This was the most spectacular rock shelter of the day. It was about twice as long as this - the photo is taken from a mid point looking in one direction, and you can see Heide with her flashes of pink well down. Most of the best work was on the ceiling, and this meant you had to crouch and look up. I am just going to roll out a string of images. Believe me - I have hundreds and am editing tightly.


I loved the crouching archer

I was fascinated in looking at this one on the computer to see how overlaid the images are. The white cattle look like earlier paintings and the red images just ignore them. Women are shown with large thighs and I find that very reassuring. The woman in the top seems to be carrying a calf. To me all these images looked like a group who husband their cattle - not like hunters, despite the bow and arrow images. If anyone has more knowledge please comment!




Not upside down - just looking across at the sky from under the roof of the shelter.

There were a lot of strange looking cows or animals with very shaggy fur around the rear like the one at the very top of this picture - I have no idea what they are?


This series looked interesting as it seemed to tell a story - mating of cattle (or perhaps a badly lost kangaroo?) and in the mating image there seems to be a with a cow with a very swollen udder (pregnant perhaps) below, perhaps some sort of assistance with the birth(?) then a cow that looks to me as if it has given birth and is cleaning its young.





Alberto was on his back in the dust taking photos. There was dust everywhere by then. I started to cough. And cough and cough. It was a very odd cough - breathless, and every few seconds and I realised it was an allergy to something. It felt like a band around my chest, tight and annoying, though not painful. I moved quickly out of the shelter area and into the middle of the wadi but continued to cough - absolutely non stop. I vomited. I struggled for air and realised that I was a very long way from any sort of assistance. In a distant sort of a way I noticed my nails were blue and realised that I was on my own and had to control the coughing somehow. I doubled over, kept very still and pushed away the need to cough as hard as I could while breathing as deeply as I could, and slowly I recovered. The attack had lasted about half an hour and was really frightening. I had not had anything like it for twenty years and no longer carry a puffer! I still do not know if it was something in the shelter or the pretty bush I had stopped to photograph.

I joined the others again and we went further down the wadi. It was so beautiful.

Here we scrambled up a 'mud bank' which is now rock from a long-ago flood to another cave - and a strongly different style of work.


The line of items all connected in the top corner fascinated me. I asked what others thought they were and was interested in Yvonne's theory. She believes these might have been household items pinned or tied to a line - baskets and fishtraps and so on.

I thought the long fine tail was beautifully drawn.

Hunting party with bows.



I was starting to cough again and realised sitting near Alberto (who had been rolling in the dust) was obviously not wise. I took a quick 'marker' photograph of the rock area opposite and then a shot down the wadi as well, intending to get out quickly.


In another area I had wondered if an image with legs spread and a blobbish figure below could be a woman in childbirth. Now I looked up as I scrambled back to the edge to leave and realised there was no doubt about this one - it was only tiny but the umbilical cord is clear. It was somehow very touching to see this recorded and I wonder if it was a specific birth or something optimistic or just a painting.

This shot gives an idea of the space available in this shelter - not a lot - and you can see Yvonne at the edge.

I left the others moving on to the end - not to see more paintings but to look at the view. I was still coughing intermittently and was feeling exhausted from it - most unlike me! I walked slowly back and met Mahmoud at the car with cold drinks, a fresh water spray to put a mist over our faces when we arrived back hot and sweaty, and chocolate hazelnut croissants in long-life packets.

We stopped on the way back to the camp to admire a lovely herd of giraffes.

And a detail.

A beautiful blue-headed lizard who moved like a chameleon.

Mahmoud, talking about another small group of paintings.

We went back for lunch and I sat next to Alberto and Yvonne and started coughing again! I moved to a rock further away and it stopped like magic.

I washed my hair. I had been starting to feel pretty grotty. I have thin oily hair and normally wash it daily. I had been pulling it back into a toweling covered hair tie and was finding that it stayed sticking out in a tight tail even after I took out the tie - it was thick with oil and sand. After lunch Mahmoud announced that there was extra water and we could have a bottle each to wash.

Somehow I managed to wash my hair with a litre of water, a cut off top of a water bottle to use as a scoop (with its lid on) and a small plastic box with I borrowed from Marita. I found the lathering was easy even though I was stingy in damping my hair. I had a box balance on a rock and within seconds of the first attempt to rinse I realised that this was not easy. I HAD to get all soap out of my hair. Most of the water seemed to have run into my t-shirt and not into the box. I carefully combed out the worst of the lather and managed to make the second rinse a bit more effective, then the third. My hair was clean and I used the rest of the water to soak and wash my feet. It looked pretty bad by the time I had finished with it but I felt so much cleaner. My feet changed colour - they had been so stained with red sand that they lightened when washed.

Actually I have been surprised that I have not felt too dirty. Sand is not like dirt - it brushes off cleanly and leaves only a little residue. It has been hot but it is surprising how clean you feel after using a handful of wet ones to 'shower' in a tent. I kept getting whiffs of what I thought was a nearby baby and realising it was me - but no-one was smelly or too distressed by dirt. Jean-Daniel had an impressive grey stubble and all our guides now had good black beards - except Mahmoud who shaved while waiting for us in the wadi this morning. Captain Mohamed shaved every day. Alberto had a beard before we left and it just got a bit longer.

I pulled my shoes into the tent - because of the foxes - before I went to sleep. Iwas fine. then I lay down and started coughing. I coughed all night. About an hour later Mahmoud brought me a hot lemon drink. I was so touched by that - he had said "Jenny? I am Mahmoud. I have lemon for you."

The coughing was not frightening as it had been in the wadi but it was unrelenting - all night. I had hardly any sleep but was too tired to think of moving. I realised later that whatever allergen I had reacted to was on the clothes I had stripped off in the tent (scattering it everywhere) and in the shoes I had carefully brought in. Worse - I was very aware that I was keeping everyone awake and Irene brought me drops with codeine in them that helped her. I was taking anything I could get my hands on.

NOT a good night and I was really exhausted next day - but the coughing stopped almost the moment I stepped out of the tent.
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