Western Oases - Minibus to Dhakla
Leaving, Kharga, we had some interesting times on the straight
desert road trying to keep our driver awake. Guy and I took
turns to ask him complicated questions that made him think. As soon
as we stopped, he would start nodding off again. Obviously, he had
been driving all night. Check out the photo on the right ... this
guy is driving the car!
After two hours,
we arrived in Dhakla which, whilst smaller than Kharga,
is still a town - still nothing "oasis" about it that
we could see.
The minibus driver took us straight to the Anwar Paradise Hotel.
This pleased us at first because it had been recommended by the
Lonely Planet (more on this later).
The reception was manned by a surly young man with appalling manners.
He told us they only had one "suite" available - a curious
combination of one double bedroom and one single bedroom with a
bathroom and a small sitting room. This cost EP60 between
3 of us - EP40 for the double and EP20 for the single
room for Jay.
He got an "underling" to take us up to see the rooms.
They seemed OK, if dirty, so we decided to stay for one night. I
then went downstairs to ask the surly young man to replace the sheets,
which were filthy and to supply towels. There were no light bulbs
either. He was very bad mannered about the whole thing and I was
surprised to find out he was the younger son of the owner. The Lonely
Planet had said the owners were "friendly"
but this certainly didn't seem to be the case. But they had also
said it was "spotlessly clean" - better tell them
standards have slipped!
BY THE ANWARS
At this point
we decided we would go out "into town" to have some lunch
and it was then we discovered we had been "kidnapped"
by the Anwars. There seemed to be nothing in sight in the way
of shops so I asked SYM (surly young man) where the town centre
"Our restaurant is the only one in town" he told
us "You will have to eat here."
Not wanting to cause too much trouble, we decided to do just that
and sat down to a standard Egyptian meal of chicken, rice and a
salad of tomatoes and cucumber. This came to the astounding amount
of EP50 (A$11.10). No way were we going to pay that so it
was back to SYM to complain again. He claimed costs were high in
the desert (probably true) but we still felt we were being exploited
and eventually managed to get a reduction in the cost.
He was very anxious to organise tours for us. Apparently his older
brother did tours of the White Desert and was actually on
a tour at the moment but would be back later.
the meantime, he offered to arrange a tour to the local hot springs
for us. I had read in my faithful LP about the Government
run hot springs which were just out of town and free. It
sounded like all we needed was to catch a taxi but again, he would
not let us do "our own thing". We had no idea where
the bus or taxi station was, as we had been dropped off at the hotel,
and so he insisted he arrange for a taxi to come to the hotel and
pick us up - at a cost of EP5 each. The next thing we knew
he was harrassing us to hurry up because "the car was waiting".
Feeling very cranky, we hurried downstairs, looking forward to our
trip to a genuine hot spring. Dare we expect a couple of date palms
this taxi (driven by a friend of SYM) took us to a fancy hotel out
of town which had a swimming pool filled with hot spring water. This
cost us another EP5 (A$1.10) each but the warm ferrous orange
water did calm us down. It looked pretty gross but it was delightful.
Feeling more relaxed, we returned to the Anwars and met the
owner - SYM's father - who was much more gracious. The other son also
turned up and he too was pleasant. He told us that he arranges desert
safaris from here at a cost of EP200 (A$44.30) per person per
night. We said we would think about it.
we were still kidnapped!
In the evening, we decided there had to be more to Dhakla than
one hotel - we hadn't even seen a shop apart from a small fruit stall
and a Coke stand across the road. So we asked Mr Anwar Snr
for directions into town.
"Straight down the road to your left ... only 150 metres"
was the reply.
Well we went there and found the Old Town. Dhakla has been
permanently settled since prehistoric times. Old mud brick houses
piled on top of each other in crumbling ruins, some inhabited, some
abandoned. Picturesque, with some delightful occupants, but still
no shops and nothing for us to eat.
"If you need
a taxi, we will arrange it." SYM said "But you will
not need one, for you can go on a tour to the White Desert with my
After exploring a little further and taking some photographs,
we returned to the Anwar Hotel and asked for directions
down the road to your left ..." came the reply.
"But that's the old town" we replied "We
want to go out to eat."
"We are the only restaurant in town" was the
response. "There is nothing else. What would you like
So we asked where the bus station was and they wouldn't
tell us that either.
We were getting more than somewhat annoyed by now. We refused
his offer of a meal in the restaurant and had coffee and played dominoes
at the chai house which was next door to the Hotel and filled with
local men watching TV and smoking sheesha pipes. Jay eventually
got enough information out of one of them to suggest we walk down
the road directly opposite the hotel to find the bus station. Even
here, the locals seemed worried about the Anwars finding out
who had told us and asked that we say nothing.
set off down the road, all three of us, and walked about a kilometre
until we found a friendly shopkeeper who pointed us further down a
side street. Here we came across a collection of minivans and Peugeots
clustered around another Chai shop. We had found the bus station at
last. The large bus to Cairo was there, filling up with passengers.
A lively discussion ensued between us and two of the minibus drivers,
Nasser and Hussein. Hussein seemed to be the
"ticket master". They claimed EP20 (A$4.40) was the
price for the trip - not EP10 (A$2.20) as the LP said
and although we bargained hard for over an hour, we were left with
little option. It was either their price or stay with the Anwars
All these drivers knew about the Anwars. It appeared that it
was an "arrangement" that any minibus bringing customers
to the Anwars would receive a substantial tip for his trouble.
They also knew that the Anwars "kidnapped" their
visitors and thought it hilarious that we had escaped the spiders'
lair. They were all very open about it but obviously it was part of
their livelihood and they were not about to upset the Anwars
by changing this routine.
It was arranged that Nasser would fill his Peugeot car (less
our three reserved spots) the following morning and then drive to
the hotel to collect us. When they added that (unlike the Cairo bus)
this price included all our luggage, Guy joked that he had
six suitcases, which brought a laugh. This turned to roars of amusement
when I quietly added "And a donkey." Egyptians have
a great sense of humour and seem to enjoy it as part of their "business
Thus winning their friendship, we were invited to stay for tea. We
sat and discussed where we were from and our work before Nasser
took us for a "free" drive around Dhakla, which was
much larger than the Anwars had suggested. It's a strange town
- little centres with a shop or two and then nothing but blocks of
flats for several streets, then another Midan with a couple of tiny
shops. In the middle of one block of flats, a huge market was in progress.
Nasser offered to take us there but we declined in favour of a meal
- felafel at a roadside stall.
Back at the hotel, we discovered that the toilet cistern had broken
and Guy had to turn plumber before we clambered into our sleeping
bags for the night.
NOTE: A lovely
German lady named Amei whom we met later in Farafra
told us that she stayed at the Bedouin Camp out of town and
that she too had been badly treated by the Anwars.
Again, in Alexandria, I met a young English guy who had also been
"kidnapped" by the Anwars but had escaped and stayed at
the Bedouin Camp for several days.
The address of this camp, which was recommended highly by both is:
Ph: 092 821577