Sometimes it only takes a fresh perspective to remind ourselves of what a dynamic part of the world we actually live in. Cairo is a true blend of pop culture and ancient history, but it’s still easy to take for granted.
We all know the Pyramids are looming somewhere in the haze nearby, but the routine of everyday life can still get us down. As it turns out, an escape from the traffic and daily grind of Cairo can be found closer to home, and it may only take up one day of your precious time.
Fayoum Oasis is located around 100 kilometers away from Cairo. Like much of Egypt, it has its historical significance: The oasis claims to be the discovery place of remarkable manuscripts and one of the earliest known agricultural communities.
Several tour companies offer all-inclusive forays into the desert around the Fayoum Oasis, and most offer competitive group rates: groups of 15 to 20 people can land you a price as low as LE 150 per person.
Getting there: First, be prepared for an early start and avoid the pitfalls of pre-desert partying if you want to enjoy the scenery on the drive out. Second, the more the merrier: Gather a large group of friends and take Fayoum by storm. This will also allow you to split up and enjoy different activities throughout the day.
Travel companies usually provide drivers and 4x4s for the journey, so you have to schedule a meeting point for the pickup. Once you’ve loaded in, you’re well on your way to your very own adventure along the bumpy road. As a side note, be prepared for a day spent without a bathroom. Packing a tent ensures that you’ll have a little shelter from the elements, as the sand and wind can get overwhelming. And be prepared for sand to get in all your clothes and shoes.
Once you’re there, tawny desert dunes surround the cars from every angle. Just when the ups and downs of the off-road terrain get a bit much (pray that you’re not prone to motion sickness), there are the dunes. It may be as early as 10:30 am if you got a good start, and you have already traveled to what feels like another world entirely.
What to do: If you use a team of well-versed desert travelers, you are in for an in-depth lesson in the art of sand boarding. Unless you have some serious skills, this sport is harder than it looks: don’t be fooled by the guide as he glides gracefully down the sandy slope; we have experienced some serious wipeouts on several occasions.
Fears aside, the trip down is a thrill. Less thrilling of course is the climb back up to the peak, which can be helped by a length of rope secured to a stake at the top of the sand dunes, used to hoist you back up to the top. Trekking up the steep dunes is harder than it looks; so pace yourself.
If you need a change of activity, explore the desert; opt for a roller-coaster ride around the dunes in one of the sand-ready jeeps — enjoy the ride as you careen down the slopes, and you may quite possibly find the vehicle stuck in the sand.
A perfect way to end the day of adventures is to gather around a bonfire and gaze up at the stars before piling back into the jeep to return to the city. Beware that the trip back along the dark highway can feel more perilous than off-roading through the dessert, so do encourage the driver to proceed with caution (use headlights at all times).
Useful tips: A trip to Fayoum is not advisable in the heavy summer heat, but if you’re traveling in spring or winter, do bring warm clothes. Desert wind can be brutal during the day, even in the glaring sun, but temperatures plummet once the sun goes down, so be sure to bring plenty of layers.
For further information, contact Viator.com, Holiday Tours and Weekend Trips. Off-road equipment shop Traxx offers tours for groups of six or more; call 012 211 5241 or 012 215 5042 for more information.
This article was contributed to Daily News Egypt by Cairo360 www.cairo360.com.