Visions in the Desert

Have you walked in utter, dreaming silence before?

On a romantic whim, I threw myself into a one week solo backpacking trip to Egypt whilst on exchange in Holland in May 2015. Egypt is an amazing place, but you must be ready for the hordes of touts and “tour-guides” which will descend upon you like a biblical plague if you aren’t prepared. I was scammed and/or plied with pleas for “baksheesh” far too many times – but also understandably so too. The industry there is being crippled by worldwide terrorist fears.

Aswan, a small city in the southern tip of the country, both shocked and surprised me in its modern squalor and ancient majesty. Cross the river for about 30 cents, and then hike up to the Dome of the Wind for a stunning panorama of the Nile and the city below you.
And then, if u want to plunge into adventure, undertake the hike from this little hill to the St Simeon monastery (which you can see in the far-off distance here). It was on this short (but extremely scary) solitary trek that I began to understand the immense, serene spirituality of the desert. The desert is at once silent – and roaring with an unimaginably continental peace.

I began to understand why the prophets had been gifted their visions in the desert; why the God of Abraham, Moses, and Mohammed spoke to them from the depths of such places. Not because these were crazy, raving madmen. But perhaps because the desert is so incredibly stark – in its colours, its moods, its tempers. And it is in that vast, barren stillness that you are confronted with the smallness of your arrogant humanity. 

I walked the desert for no more than two hours – unprepared, unacclimatized, it was the most I could take, before beating a hasty retreat back to civilisation. But it’s an unparalleled experience at once as familiar and as alien as floating in the vast ocean, or staring into the grand firmament of the night.

In the soft baking sands one can perhaps glimpse the divine – in the grand echoing silence, in the vast vaulting blue sky; in the stunning arid heat of Egypt.

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