of stars: each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,
knowing somehow we had survived their fall.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
There was the time we sat on a train for 23 hours, eerily stationed in the Nile Valley behind a train that hit a cow just a few train stops ahead of us on the same track. Or the time we got kicked off a bus at the Mt. Sinai checkpoint and had to hitchhike back to Cairo from the middle of the desert. And there is, of course, the time I got bullied by a 10-year-old child screaming “King! Kong! King! Kong!” at a major international border. My roommate Geraldine aptly remarked that our expedition into the Western Sahara desert this past weekend was the first uneventful venture away from Cairo in a while. It also constituted perhaps the most beautiful natural landscape I have witnessed in my life.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the (Desert) Galaxy
1. Get three hours of sleep prior to embarking on the desert trip because you are busy jumping up and down in a 5th floor apartment to the sound of Bohemian Rhapsody – and can still hear your friends screaming their lungs out when you are attempting to hail a taxi at Midan Tahrir without the taxi driver mistaking you for a prostitute at that hour.
2. Sleep in the clothes you will be wearing for another 48 hours because every second of extra sleep counts. Relatedly, associate the sound of your alarm clock with a blind walk to the kitchen to inject Nescafe into your eyeballs.
3. “Converse” with a very chatty van driver at 7 AM, only for him to realize that your Arabic and his English confine your exchanges to:
He: “Sleep? Sleep!”
You: “Yes. Sleep. Sleep!”
You: “Schwaya schwaya” (which means slowly/bit by bit/patiently and is a blatant misrepresentation of your [in]ability to speak the language)
He: *pinches your cheek*
You: *glare/smile/look the other way to see–surprise–more sand hills*
4. Eat a lunch that consists entirely of cheese only to proceed to burp it throughout a bumpy ride in a 4×4 during which your head decides it looks best against a car ceiling as opposed to firmly on your own shoulders.
5. Slide down sand dunes in your white pants as a nod to your inner four-year-old. Proceed to also run and roll in them, in case sand had not crept into your every crevice. Become worried that you will be bitten by a scorpion or snake as a nod to your inner paranoid woman.
6. Attempt to photograph the volcanic stone, chalk rock and salt crystals from inside said bumpy 4×4 only to later discover all your photos are slightly lopsided and cause motion sickness upon viewing.
7. Cut your toe on a chalk rock in the White Desert because you were too busy looking at the sunset coloring the rock formations pink and purple. Realize that the dreamboat you have become deserves to literally fall on her face.
8. Spot your first desert fox – and discover it inside your bag, gnawing at the wrapper of the stale strawberry wafers you bought at a reststop. Recall your rabies training at camp ages ago and promptly persuade yourself that rabies does not exist in Egypt (much like, say, traffic rules).
9. Feel said desert fox jump over all 17 layers of sleeping you. Thank the conferences you ran for their complimentary sweatshirts, IKEA for making your college blanket last so long and whatever sleeping bag genius came up with the ‘mummy bags’ that engulf your whole self. When you are done being grateful, realize the fox is still snuggling up next to you. Ignore it and continue looking for shooting stars.
10. Wake up ten hours later to realize you are amidst salt crystals, chalk rocks, perfect sand formations and fox paw prints. Oh and the fox ate your eggs, but really, who cares about that when you wake up in the white desert?
11. Watch your group of friends transform into Dora the Explorer. One will climb salt/chalk statuesque structures in the desert while the other will dig up amorphous pieces of hair and ask if they belonged to a camel in another life. Yet another will taste the salt water in the salt water lake (taste test: it was very salty), while another will wash his whole face in the sulphury water of the hot spring. All will live to tell the story.
12. Arrive home 40 hours after your initial departure to find that you can still taste sand in your mouth and that your kitchen floor will be crunchy for a week courtesy of the sand flowing from your hair. Become instantly sad when you realize that you cannot see the Milky Way on the Cairo sky.