Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fayoum Desert Trip - Part 1

Reducing the tires pressure, to conquer the soft sand
I went to the desert a few weeks ago on a one day do-it-all trip with some of my old friends, and a lot of new friends that I met for the first time. We went to Al Fayoum, and started our trip from there, it's a known and famous place for tourists, but being Egyptians we don't usually regard our country with a tourist's eye, so this time we decided to go and see what was all the fuss about. Full details after the break.
This will be part one of a three parts series, I won't do a lot of talking and will let the pictures (and captions) tell the story, I divided the post to three parts because of the enormous amount of pictures that I want to share.
Before we get to the pictures, here's a quick run down of the trip's program:
  • We were 16 men sans the drivers.
  • Gathering at Al Fayoum @ 7 am (we arrived ~ 9 am, lots of people = logistics hassle and delay).
  • Riding the 4x4 vehicles waiting for us and moving to our first destination, Wadi Al-Rayan waterfalls.
  • Moving to one of the lakes for breakfast and a little relaxing.
  • Of course during moving from one point to another, the drivers went through the dunes (soft sand), steep inclines and declines, they showed us real off-roading and the full capabilities of the cars, there were lots of heart-in-the-throat and heart-in-the-stomach moments.
  • Climbing uphill to see the whole lake from above and take pictures.
  • Going to the "Whales Valley" to see fossils of whales and coral reefs that was once their during the olden times, Al Fayoum desert was once totally covered in water.
  • Having a light lunch at the "Whales Valley" and resting until the mid-day sun becomes less brutal.
  • Moving to the dunes to try out sand boarding (yeah, sand boarding).
  • Finally, moving to a safe camp close to the exit point for barbeque, and our final meal, this started around sunset and we stayed there for almost 3 hours, cooking, eating and having fun.
  • Then a quick sprint to the exit point in complete darkness, using only moon light, and GPS like drivers.

When I first learned of the program, I didn't think it would fit in one day, but it did, and it was a very fullfilling day, so let's start with our gathering point, we gathered at a place that belonged to a friend of our guide (and one of the drivers as well), we waited there and had some drinks until the 4x4 cars gathered and were ready.
The gathering place, see that place on the far right? Check the picture below
A bedouin style seating area, we had our drinks there

One more 200mm headshot, this my other photographer friend, you can see the Canon strap beneath the scarf
I just noticed I hadn't told you about the equipment I had with me, for such trips, the most essential lens to carry is the 24-105 (or the 15-85 during my crop sensor days), this is my workhorse lens, it covers a wide 24mm viewing angle for landscapes and scenery, and long enough for portraits or somewhat far away subjects. I took the 5D Mark II, the 24-105 f/4, the 200mm f/2.8 (only for a few portraits, just love the look) and the 50mm f/1.4 for night shooting, it's three stops faster than the 24-105.
I also packed one 580EX II speedlite, my favorite Slik Mini Pro table tripod and of course the circular polarizer, all of these items fit inside my newly acquired and brilliant Vanguard Heralder 28 bag (review coming soon).
Moataz, my photographer friend, sporting a Canon 550D
Meet Moataz, the guy who gathered all 16 of us to this spectacular trip, he's a Canon shooter and he's the lucky person who bought my much appreciated Canon 60mm f/2.8 Macro, he didn't use any other lenses all day, I will share some of his pictures in this post, any pictures where you can see me, he's the guy who took it, he was shooting JPEGs only with a slightly warm white balance, and gave me a hard time processing the files.
Warning sign, DON'T JUMP in the waterfalls
Wadi Al-Rayan waterfalls was our first destination, I didn't have high hopes for the waterfalls because I knew they were rather short and that the water in these falls was agricultural water, anyway, once we arrived I saw this huge sign, it says "Jumping from the top of the falls is strictly forbidden, there are rocks at the bottom of the water", my thoughts at the moment were "who in their right mind would jump from such a short waterfall", and then I saw this:
Locals competing apparently to see who has bigger balls
To my astonishment, I found these locals jumping from the the top of the falls, with such a crowd and in order not to be a chicken in front of their pals, people were gathering all nerves to do the jump, you can clearly see how hesitant this gut with the pink top. In order to give you a sense of the gravity of the situation, it is said there are 5 people who die every year because of the rocks at the bottom, check out these pictures:
But with balls of steel
Jumping straight, notice the next picture
Damn, do you see how shallow the water is? These people land on their feet, directly on the rocks
I tried to capture the whole waterfalls, but it was incredibly crowded, and I didn't have my ND filter to get a long shutter speed, so I had to do with a handheld picture at the lowest ISO and the smallest aperture, not a good picture, but a reminder of the location.
People were only jumping from the top most part of the falls, the lower it gets, the more dangerous it is
Before we left we took a couple of environmental portraits, and I have to say something here, after we finished the trip, one of my friends was cross that I didn't take enough pictures of him, in his opinion, the whole idea of taking a camera on a trip is to take photos of yourself in every place you go showing the background as a proof you went there, sorry, but that's not my idea of photography, what is the point of having tens of pictures of the same person standing at the side of the picture smiling while there is a different background each time? Facebook? Screw facebook, I take pictures that I like, pictures that tell a story, not just a proof I went somewhere, oh yes, and he hated pictures that blurred the background! -rant over-.
This lake was on the other side of the falls
I like spontaneous photos
Our next destination was at the side of a huge lake where we had our breakfast.
Remember this photo because I will refer to it in my next post
Cars parked, notice the tent in the middle
With the cars parked, our bedouin drivers stretched a piece of cloth between two cars as a sort of tent to protect us from the sun while we had breakfast, people spread everywhere and started taking photos of each other until the breakfast was ready.
Putting the 60 Macro to good use, an amazing portrait lens
That guy on the right turned out to be very funny, have a look at some of the faces he made
This picture and the one below were taken with the 550D and the 60 macro
Evil laughter
Sands of time
Yours truly, I feel very happy when I find out that someone took pictures of me, so I am posting it celebrate this rare situation
Everyone hiding from the harsh sun
After breakfast, our drivers told us that the water was nice for a dip, but unfortunately we didn't have swim suits, but this didn't prevent some of us from getting in anyway.
The drivers using our breakfast table as a sea recliner
Table fun, taken with the 550D
Wow, I wish I went into the water
And I finish this part with this serene picture, I hope you enjoyed this post, in the next part we will see some more action.
Fayoum Desert Trip - Part 2
Fayoum Desert Trip - Part 3


  1. Brilliant, informative and well-written. I would love to do it insha'Allah.

    1. Thank you, there's a lot to be seen yet, parts 2 and 3 will be posted soon.

  2. nice pictures, thanks for sharing!


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