Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 September 2009
Issue No. 963
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


DESOLATE, barren and uninhabitable are the most common words describing the desert. But if you take a closer look, you will be surprised at the amount of life it sustains. Mohamed El-Hebeishy treads the unbeaten trails of the Eastern Desert.

One of the Eastern Desert's most prominent features is the mountainous chain dubbed the Red Sea Mountains, formations which distinguish it from the neighbouring Western Desert. But the difference is not only the topography, with the Eastern Desert enjoying a more undulating shape, but where the rain falls; and where there is water, there is life.

Water-filled clouds break at mountain peaks and cause seasonal rain, which at time turn into flash floods. In the Eastern Desert, the further south you travel, the greener it becomes -- especially in the winter.

Wadi Al-Gemal (Camel Valley) is the third largest Eastern Desert valley which drains into the Red Sea. Enjoying a diverse and environmentally-rich ecology, it was declared a national park in 2003. Trekking through the region is best done on camel, in tradition with the main method of transportation for centuries. Taking a four-wheel vehicle is not recommended since the racket will frighten away much of the wildlife, and you will leave with a false sterile picture of the desert.

Treading the desert trails on camelback also allows the eyes to adapt to the surroundings -- the photographed Lanza's Spiny Agama could have been missed altogether. But the Eastern Desert wildlife is not only colourful lizards since some bigger animals can also be spotted.

Hare is the wild cousin of the rabbit, larger in size, with longer ears and often a black stripe marking its fur. Another Wadi Al-Gemal dweller is Rèppell's sand fox, one of four fox species in Egypt, which is characterised by a white-tipped tail. If you are a true wildlife aficionado and have the stamina and persistence, you could be rewarded by finding a Dorca gazelle or the even rarer Nubian ibex.

photo: Mohamed El-Hebeishy

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