for expedition participants
Updated with information on security following the 2008 incidents
|Country Specific Information for: Egypt, Libya & Sudan|
Personal Gear & Equipment
At the outset of the trip, the vehicles will be loaded close to their maximum practical limit, and volume will also be a problem. This requires personal gear to be kept to the necessary minimum. The folowing is a list of necessities. Aside the tent, sleeping bag and foam matress, all others should fit into a bag not exceeding airline carry on size limits. It is possible to leave unneeded items in Cairo ("civilised" clothing, etc.):
Food & Drinks
The food carried is for compactness, durability and ease of preparation. This does impose some limitation on the possible variety. For breakfast & lunch we will have a selection of jam, pates & cheese or tuna, with packaged rye bread and swedish 'knackebrot', a flat crisp bread that lasts forever. (In Libya this will be supplemented with fresh local bread as we pass through oases).
Hot meals will be in the evening, and include all possible combinations that can be made from rice, sphagetti, mashed potato (powder), canned vegetables and canned meat. A possible four day menu rotation could be: Mexican Chilli Beans, Rice Curry, Sphagetti Bolognese, Rice & Sweet-n-sour turkey. Meat will be canned turkey ham (the drivers are moslem, so no pork products), beans come tinned, rice & sphagetti only need cooking, flavoring will be with Knorr ready made mixes that only need hot water. This enables a full hot meal for a dozen people be prepared with minimum cooking in 15 minutes. We will have a PB gas cylinder and two cookers, plus a variety of pots.
Drinks will mainly come in the form of bottled water (in 1.5 litre plastic bottles), plus cooking water in 20 l jerrycans. For evening variety, we will have several flavors of canned soft drinks and beer (only Egypt!). Note: in Egypt there will be a very strict rationing of water, as there are no sources along the whole two week trip. In Lybia water allowance is more liberal, as we can refill every 3-4 days.
For an evening cocktail at sunset (Egypt only!), each participant is expected to bring a one litre bottle of their favorite fire water.
Helalth & Dangers
While the deep desert is one of the healthiest places on earth, due to the almost sterile air and surroundings, there are a few risks & dangers. The biggest risk arises from isolation. At the farthest reaches of some trips we will be more than 700 km from the closest inhabited places. Should there be an accident or medical emergency, it's a minimum 2 day trip to reach the closest meagre medical facilities. It's a further 1-2 day trip to any proper hospital. While we will have a well stocked emergency medical kit with us, and the satelite phone enables remote medical assistance, there can be cases where lack of immediate help can lead to serious consequences. To reduce the risk, all participants are requested to have a checkup before the trip.
Other than accidents, which can happen anywhere, the only dangers lurking in the desert are snakes (especially the horned viper), and scorpions. The former are deadly, but are rare and easily avoidable. They leave distinct tracks in the sand, do not actively seek humans, and typically stay dormant in the cooler autumn to spring months. Though both my and other's experience is that usually only tracks are seen, live vipers very rarely (I have seen only two in ten years, both on the same day), we will have antivenom with us, just in case.
Scorpions are more common, but less deadly. Though they tend to shy humans, occasionally they crawl under tents or into one's shoes outside, so it's wise to shake one's shoes in the morning before putting them on. Otherwise it's just a matter of avoiding to put one's hand into hollows and crevasses in rocks (why people still do it beats me ?!).
One annoyance, restricted to Jebel Uweinat, is the sheep nasal bot fly (Oestrus ovis). This parasitic species relies on the barbary sheep for it's life cycle, laying it's larvae in the nasal passages, where they grow until the pupal stage. However when there are no sheep around, they will go for any substitute, including humans. They can spray a tiny ball of their larvae in mid-flight, aiming for one's eyes or mouth. It is a rather unpleasant experience to have to remove one or two dozen tiny maggots from one's eyes, as I have experienced on several counts. Usually once removed with a tissue they leave no harmful lasting effect, though once both me & Magdi contracted a pretty bad eye inflammation lasting two days. It is even more unpleasant if they succeed in laying the larvae in one's mouth, as the larvae immediately migrate to the back of the throat, producing a strong and unstoppable coughing fit that lasts for days, preventing practically all activity including sleep. Once there, they are apparently undislodgable (tried everything, including 80% Stroh Rum, to no effect), but disappear in 2-3 days, they cannot survive in humans for long. Fortunately there is one protection, a mosquito net covering the head, that is advisable if any longer stay is planned at Uweinat. The bot flies can be recognised by their lighter brown (not black) colour, and their ability to hover in one spot. They aim at any reflective surface, several times I found the little ball of larvae on the face of my watch or on my glasses (which also offer some degree of protection).
Not exactly life threatening, but the akacia thorns at the valleys of Uweinat and the Gilf can be the cause of nasty and painful surprises. They can lie hidden in sand, and the inch-long needle sharp thorns can even strike through softer rubber soles of slippers and sandals, not to mention one's skin. It's definitely unwise to walk barefoot in the otherwise inviting sand around the camp at Karkur Talh !
Security & Safety
For a long time there were absolutely no security concerns regarding travel to the Gilf / Uweinat area, whether from Egypt or Libya. However all good things come to an end, during 2008 there were three separate incidents of banditry in the Egyptian part of the Libyan Desert. These incidents seem to be related to the ongoing Darfur crisis, with either the rebels directly responsible, or other criminal groups simply taking advantage of the situation. In early 2008 there were two cases of ambushes where some vehicles were taken (a practice all too common in other areas of the Sahara), one near Eight Bells, the other in Karkur Talh (follow the links for a detailed discussion of the events, including my own comments, on the HUBB Sahara Furum). In September 2008 a mixed group of German & Italian tourists were kidnapped near Jebel Uweinat and held for ransom either in western Sudan or northern Chad. While fortunately nobody got harmed in these incidents, it has certainly shaken the travel community organising expeditions to the area. The Egyptian army launched regular patrols into the region, and set up a permanent post near the entrance of Karkur Talh, and from what I have heared the Libyans have also increased their patrols along the borders. However unfortunately due to the vastness of the area, it is beyond the effective control of any government, we can only hope that the Darfur situation will be solved, and conditions will be back to normal. Until then, we will take some special security measures, and obviously keep a much more open eye to other human presence than we used to. Things have now been quiet for almost a year, and my assessment of the overall risk is low, but any potential participants need to be aware that nobody is in a position to give any guarantees about security, and make their own informed personal choice.
On all trips we will have an Inmarsat Mini-M (NEC Planet-1) satelite phone with us. The phone cannot receive except when switched on and logged on to a satelite (which we cannot do at predictable times), so it is not possible to contact any participant while on the trip. As I will make a position report call every 2-3 days, messages may be left at our relay contact. Participants are free to use the phone if they wish at cost (currently $3.25 a minute).
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