Part I - Dakhla Oasis to Karkur Talh -
Egypt and Sudan, 2002
A desert expedition to the remotest
part of the Libyan desert set out from Cairo in November 2002
to research archaeological sites in the Gilf Kebir and Uweinat
Our leader was András Zboray and the team included 2
Hungarian, 2 German and 3 English, drawn together by a common
love of desert travel.
The group comprised:
András Zboray, Hungarian, who has earned himself a well-deserved
reputation for his knowledge of the Western Sahara, his navigational,
administrative and archaeological skills.
Magdi Zboray, András's wife, mother of two, consultant
in Budapest, where she is specialises
in Financial and Pharmaceutical audits.
Bernhard Loersh, a dentist from Munich, much travelled,
desert wise, photographer, with many challenging trips to his
Andreas Kuehnl, a dentist too, friend of Bernhard, strong
hiker, skilled climber, reliable and attentive co-traveller.
Hannah McKeand, PR Director for a UK Theatre, talented
and potent climber. Singer without equal, well developed desert
skills and an invaluable member of our team.
Raymond Bird, a retired engineering consultant with unstoppable
energy, worldwide travel experience and a great researcher and
Myself, photographer, traveller, writer, ex-Saudi expatriate,
married to sculptor Lyn Constable Maxwell, two grown sons, with
many solo desert trips experience.
Khalid, our Egyptian interpreter, Salama and Saďd,
our Bedouin drivers, and Col Asraf, our military observer
who authorised our trip to (and across) the border territory.
Sunday 20th October
We left Cairo at dawn and drove all day. We were packed into
two Toyotas; all rations, water and stores were packed into
one car, and the 8 passengers shared limited leg-space in the
other. Both roof racks were piled high with extra water, fuel,
food boxes, firewood and we were heavily laden for our 3-week
14 hours later we pulled up at Dakhla, a small
date-growing oasis where we spent the night. Hannah, Raymond
and I filled 50 extra jerry cans of fuel, 200 gallons, which
we loaded onto the racks. András supervised an oil-change for
each car, Magdi bought oranges and curly cucumbers, Khalid bought
water, Salama gathered firewood, uncut branches which were lashed
onto the top, and the rest busied themselves about the many
tasks that engage travellers setting off for 3 unsupported weeks
in the one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the
We were travelling into uncharted territory in
Egypt's Western Desert. This is border country and we were obliged
to take a military officer with us. Our party numbered seven; all of
us had desert experience, but most of us had not met each other
before the trip. We also had Khalid, our Egyptian interpreter,
and two Bedouin drivers, Salama and Saďd, and Col Ashraf, our
Monday 21st October
We left Dakhla at dawn and arrived for a late lunch at the White
Desert, Farafra, a large area of weirdly eroded rocks with a
grand natural arch, curves, cliffs, overhangs, rock islands
all dotted around the undulating sand dunes. I took several
photographs and soon Magdi appeared in them too... It was very
hot and we reminded ourselves to carry our water bottle with
us every time we left the car from now onwards.
Magdi and sculptural rocks in the
White Desert, Farafra
We continued driving many miles, interspersed
by several military check points, before arriving at a predetermined
GPS fix where András announced we would leave the road. We reduced
tyre pressures and headed off across the sand, led by no landmark,
no goal and no target, save for our GPS fix, pointing generally
The sandy landscape unrolled before us and soon
all trace of civilisation was gone - and would remain absent
for the next 3 weeks. At dusk we stopped in the sand sea, surrounded
by many sweeping dunes. We sprang out of the car, free at last
from those cramped confines and climbed the dunes. Andy set
out for a distant dune and returned an hour later with a rare
migrating duck, long dead, which he presented to me for my dinner.
Raymond set about his desert pitch and soon had his tented world
organised. Bernie strode off across the dunes and wasn't to
be seen for hours, and Hannah mounted the first dune crest and
burst into song with sheer delight.
The setting sun cast a golden light on the sand,
and sharp dune crests wove their languid path across the lunar
landscape. We gazed in awe at the pure natural beauty of the
wind sculpted mounds, formed grain by grain over the centuries.
We breathed the clean still air, felt the warm welcoming sand
under our bare feet and strove to capture the magic of it all
on our cameras...
We camped in the encradling arms of a great curving
dune, pitched our tents and assembled around the camp fire for
our evening meal. We sat cross legged in the warm sand. Salama
lit a fire and Saďd brewed the tea, and all around the silence
The night was cold, and in the morning the warm
rays of the sun spread out around the dunes. The ever changing
light engaged the senses and set us further and further away
from the material world we had just left behind.
Tuesday 22nd October
We drove off through the dunes and into softening sand, and
then into varied rocky terrain. By 11.00 we hit the Selima Sand
Sheet, a huge tract of flat, featureless desert stretching from
horizon to horizon - we drove for hours, craving something to
look at, something to mark our progress, but nothing appeared.
We drove on, obeying our navigation instruments and plotting
progress on our maps.
Late in the afternoon we came to our first landmark,
the feature known as 'Eight Bells'. These conical mountains
mark the southern end of the Gilf Kebir and was a welcome sight
after our 1400km drive - soon we would arrive at our days' destination.
A short while later we arrived at the Mt Uweinat
massif. We reached the splendid entrance to Karkur Tahl, a great
sweeping valley meandering off into the distance, waterless
but supporting a sprinkling of Acacia trees. The valley is bound
on each side by low cliffs, rocks and crevasses and fed at intervals
by side wadis and canyons.
Blown sand blocks the entrance to the valley and
comprises a formidable obstacle to vehicles. We lowered the
tyres pressures again and scrambled across, the heavy vehicles
expertly driven by Salama and Said, until we reached the firmer
ground of the main valley. Coming back up wasn't to be so easy,
but we comforted ourselves we would be carrying less weight
We drove off down the valley and came to an old
marker post in the sand - Sudan! Our military commander was
invited to look the other way, and we carried on, ignoring such
trivialities as international borders in this wild and desolate
place. We passed tracks of gazelle and fox, and trails of snakes
and scorpions. The intermittent Acacia trees spread their branches
in welcome shade. We are now some miles inside Sudan and we
come to a charming wadi some 100 metres wide and 400 metres
long. The valley was bound by steep sides which would give shade
during the day and wind protection at night. This we chose as
our base camp for the next few days, pulled up and unloaded
the two cars.
Rock art site in Karkur Talh valley
We all searched around for friendly camping space
among the sand and boulders. András and Magdi chose a soft sandy
base below the cliff, Hannah chose a small ledge, Raymond chose
a rocky shelf, I selected a sandy site shaded by a boulder.
We pitch our little tents and soon we are all unpacked.
Now it is time for the evening 'Sundowner' cocktail.
We assemble in the sand, pass around the bottle and then András
cooks us a splendid meal. We dined by moonlight around the fire,
swapping happy travellers tales.
Wednesday 23rd October
The next day, our first day without travelling, we set off on
foot down the wadi to search for new sites - and I found one!
This is better than fishing, I thought… András found another,
and by mid morning we had all found at least one, most never
recorded before. No water has flowed here since the last ice
age; we were exploring territory unquantified by nomads, untenanted
by camels, unseen by humans for 5,000 years.
We walked up a long way up a side wadi and examined
every cave, rock and overhang searching for rock-art and new
photographic vistas to capture the magic of this lost land.
András has X-ray eyes and could find sites hidden to the rest
On a typical mountain walk, Hannah would scamper
lightly up one side of the canyon, while Andy would power his
way up the other. At the top they would meet Bernhard, who had
the skill of getting everywhere first, and András who would
be just leaving when they arrived!
The canyon walls were modelled by time, sculpted
by wind, scarred by erosion and animated by the ever changing
light. We climbed them, lived with them, loved them, befriended
them. Every turn was a new experience, every vista a view into
On one long bend in the canyon the walls were
layered by ice-age cascades aeons ago. Hannah climbed up onto
a high ledge, 100 feet above us, and burst unexpectedly into
a faultless rendering of 'O Mia Bambino Caro'.
Far down in the rocky auditorium we stood spellbound
as the melody reverberated off the valley walls. Her singing
spoke volumes for her highly trained voice, her notes resonated
with a rare talent and flowered with a saturating passion.…
and history was made in that wild place.
The sounds lingered on for precious seconds before
stillness reclaimed the silence of eternity. This was a truly
magical moment that will remain with us all. Hannah took her
brief bow as we applauded, and then disappeared over the skyline
to explore new horizons.
I walked up a long picturesque watercourse, dry
for 5,000 years, and took many photographs. The desert has a
way of re-orientating us with eternity, and this experience
came to me now, alone in this unexplored and unvisited place.
On the way I came to a narrowing ravine which eventually proved
impassable; 'Kit's Waterfall' - I backtracked, climbed up the
cliff and came out on top where I wrote a message in the sand
for the others, to tell them where I was heading.
The waterfall was important, not so much for this
event but for our discovery of, we believe, the first and only
'roundhead' painting in the Uweinat area. Roundheads are well
known in the Tassili n' Ajjer, Algeria, some 1800km West from
here, but were believed to be absent from this part. There will
be much discussion in intellectual circles when this news is
published by András.
Thursday 24th October - Karkur Murr
Today we set out at 06.00 for an all-day walk to an adjacent
valley, home to the only water source in Sudanese Uweinat. Well
laden and backpacked with water, dried fruit and cameras, we
walked up and up a wadi strewn with huge boulders. We crossed
some spectacular scenery revealing ever changing views of the
Uweinat peak that we were to climb later. We stopped for breaks,
took a snack and moved on. Several new rock art sites revealed
themselves to our searching eyes; and each would be recorded
with meticulous care by András with camera and GPS fix.
We crossed the watershed at around midday and
started the slow descent into Karkur Murr. The valley open up
before us, steeper than the last but wilder and more picturesque.
We stopped for lunch on a high shady ledge with a commanding
view of the valley floor below.
After a short siesta in the shade we set out to
look for the one tiny crevasse in this great waterless waste,
and came at last to a small palm tree. This was the first living
thing we had seen all day and promised well. A little further
we spied, in the distance a tiny glint of water below a great
boulder - Ain el Brins.
This was an extraordinary find in the driest part
of the desert, where no rain has fallen for 8 years or more.
We splashed about in the naturally hewn trough, drank, and washed.
Andy filled his shirt with water and took a desert shower under
it. Around were several green plants, a small palm tree and
Well pleased with our find we climbed the sheer
wall of the valley and headed off North across the plateau.
I climbed up the cliff with the unstoppable Raymond who had
walked the whole way with us. At 79 he was the star of the day
and one of the most agile too. If the climb was arduous, the
plateau was very uncomfortable, with scattered rocks bruising
the feet even through our thick soles.
It was a long walk, over 12 miles that day, and
we arrived back at Karkur Tahl tired, late but happy.
Back at camp András announced 'bar open' and we enjoyed
a memorable Marguerita cocktail with lime and orangeade. We
sat in the warm sand and discussed the day's events, savoured
our drinks and nurtured our blisters. András cooked a fine turkey
and noodle dinner and we retired to bed under a panoply of stars.
Friday 25th October
Today was leisurely by András's standards. We left camp at 09.00
and drove up Karkur Tahl to a small wadi which we then explored
from bottom to top. We had lunch back at camp, tuna salad with
tinned sweet corn and bottled gherkins, cheese and rye bread.
Then we spent a relaxed afternoon exploring some of the many
rocks, cliffs, caves and overhangs nearby. Tomorrow we climb
©Kit Constable Maxwell