“Watch out!” she screeched.
Blowing straight towards us was a sand storm in full fury.
We communally held our breath as the driver slowed as quickly and safely as possible. When the onslaught hit we reflexively ducked. The car shuddered, but as a good Mercedes should, kept ploughing efficiently through high-flying and hard-hitting crystals.
This was the White Desert; white sand. If we hadn’t known otherwise we would have thought it was a white-out during a snow storm.
By now we were creeping along, looking for the road mostly hidden under great piles of sand that looked more like dunes that had got up and walked then seated themselves in a new neighbourhood.
The driver was energised as all her skills were needed to negotiate the glory of the untamed desert
The beautiful sunshine we were enjoying before was completely obliterated by the sand raining down on us front on. There was no vegetation to anchor it in place, just the railway line to the left high up on a man-made ridge and where the sand had been sprayed heavily with oil to keep it steadfast. Not that we could see it any more. The road and the railway companionably wander through the desert, getting lower and lower until they are far below sea level.
Where the Black Desert and White Desert join is an amazing sight. The road winds around a little and then you look down on a picture of how artists draw Mars, with its craters and little black hills all with cut-off tops as though someone has been along and beheaded them at exactly the same height.
The road plunges down and wanders amongst this spectacular but eerie valley, then slows its descent as it becomes desert again. Shortly after, the road arrives at Bahariya Oasis and there is a mass of green date palms to greet you, along with the Police checkpoint.
Before that though, we had to get through the storm. There are places where the road goes by a series of oil wells, but today we couldn’t see them – not even their flames which usually are seen for long distances in the clear air.
There are some beautiful rock formations halfway on the journey that we usually stop and picnic beside – the only shade to be found. We tried to stop so the driver could have a rest. The sand storm seemed to be slowing. We jumped out and went for a brisk walk, but within minutes we could see the next wave of sand arriving. We could hardly get the doors to open against the force of the wind as we were scrambling to re-enter the car.
We sat and ate our sandwiches in silence, with the humming of the sand all around, and the semi-darkness that it brought again to us
Before our lungs were filled with the freshness of oxygen, and after breathing city pollution for several months this is what we longed for. Now there was no oxygen. It seemed to have been sucked out by the storm.
Kilometre after kilometre in slow motion we crawled on. The car was sliding a little with the moving sand. Worse were the great trucks coming from the other direction. It usually is a challenge to share the road, even though it has been widened twice. Today it was even a bigger test of the skills of all drivers concerned. Howling wind, flying sand, little road to be found and the danger of a huge truck being blown on top of us.
I thought of Jesus off on his desert appointment with Satan. I wondered if the desert showed a lovely sweet face of the innocence of a huge child’s sandpit waiting for someone to come and build castles. Or was it a rocky, barren, hard place, sculptured by the wind? Did Satan’s arrival kick up a storm – or did the arrival of Jesus, as heaven and hell fought it out for our souls – yours and mine? Was the moment so important that even the desert forgot to breathe, while waiting for the outcome?
Just as the storm had hit us several hours before, it left us with a last whistle as it whizzed by and we were in brilliant sunshine again. We were only a few hours late – which is pretty good in Egypt.
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