Saturday, May 29, 2010

Jingle Bells

“Jingle bells, Jingle bells, jingle all the way…” There is nothing that makes the time go by faster in the desert than singing Christmas carols. We were divided up into a convoy of Land Rovers after a 5 hour drive to an oasis in the western desert. Then we drove another few hours stopping along the way to see the Black Desert, the Crystal Desert and eventually stopping in the White Desert to watch the sunset and build camp. Sunsets in the desert are always gorgeous and I strongly believe they are like first kisses: magical, memorable, and over far too quickly.
On our way to our destination we had to pass through a few checkpoints. I wonder who on earth a soldier has to piss off to get stationed in such a remote area to check tourist buses heading into the absolute middle of nowhere.
The sunsets are always amazing here. (Interruption-we are now sailing on the Nile underway on a 146 person cruise boat, of which I am part of the team of 20 of the 30 passengers who are sailing-it’s off season.) There is a scene in the original Star Wars movie when Luke is looking out over the double sunset of his native desert planet. This was much akin to that. The sunset would turn the desert sand a crimson red and give much reflection to the white mounds of rock in which the area derives it’s namesake.
Much of the area we were in appeared to be virgin desert. Wandering off a few hundred yards from camp I felt the true vast expanse and raw power of this place. Other than my team there was nothing and no one out here. I shot for a fair amount of the night, but under a very bright sun, and white reflective rocks it made for nothing spectacular in terms of beauty above the horizon. My real quest was my ever elusive star photography. This is a hobby I have taken a great interest in with the technical skill required, the luck needed, the inspiration and joy I and others get from seeing it, as well as the bonding it has allowed me to do with my father and friends.
I took a short nap as the moon started to set, only to be woken up around 4am covered in a blanket of stars. I couldn’t decide which there was more of: sand in the desert that was now my bed, or stars in the sky. My old friend the milky way also hung in sheer brilliance seductively straight-legged across the sky. I grabbed my camera and tripod and raced out a few hundred yards (perhaps a hundred too many) to a location I had scouted earlier, pausing for a moment to realize just how much these formations all look the same. I tested my shots and finally dialed my settings in for a perfect kill. I hit the shutter remote and stepped back. Realizing just how dumb I was racing out here without water, a light, my pack, or my sleeping mat I slowly followed my footprints back to camp to retrieve my belongs and settle in for a wonderful hour till the sun once again pulled away my starry blanket.
Walking back to camp, one of the brightest shooting stars etched the night sky with the brilliance and shine of Pharaoh’s jewelry. I gathered my belongings and put in my Ipod to my star playlist. Hiking back across the desert to my camera was akin to searching for a lighthouse on the coast. My camera had one small red light on the backside to show it was busy. This was my beacon, guiding me through the night. (don’t worry Dad, I had a pretty good idea where I was going.) Upon laying down next to my set-up as my camera went into dark frame I got to take in what this trip meant. This is the third time in my life I am back in this region, one that has always been a mystery to most Americans. Kids, and now at this point, young adults from Wisconsin do not go here, much less three times in 4 years. It was a real treat to get out of Cairo and be up amongst the vastness of the heavens. As my shot finished “Here comes the sun” came on. A rather fitting end.

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