Egypt // The Western Desert Oases //

Bathing and fossil-hunting in Farafra Oasis

Although most visitors are content to see the White Desert, those with time to spare might consider visiting other beauty spots in the oasis. Farafra has about a hundred wells and natural springs used for irrigation, some of which are also suitable for bathing. Bir Setta (Well Six), behind the defunct AquaSun hotel 6km northwest of town (£E20–30 by pick-up truck from the petrol station) is a keyhole-shaped tank of sulphurous warm water that stains your clothes brown. Further north, all kinds of birdlife are drawn to the reedy freshwater lake of Abu Nus (£E30–40 by pick-up). To the south are Ain Besai, a cold pool beside the rock tombs and chapels of a settlement abandoned in Christian times, and Ain Sheikh Mazouk, a hot sulphur spring feeding a tank where local men bathe (both are close enough to the highway to be reached by bus, or by pick-up for about £E30).

If you happen to be on a jeep or camel safari to Dakhla Oasis, ask your guide to stop at two sites of geological interest. An area across the highway from Ain Sheikh Mazouk is strewn with hundreds of thousands of iron pyrites shaped like flowers, starbursts, twigs or dog turds (their black colour caused by a chemical change from sulphide to oxide), plus fossils of ancient marine creatures such as Terebratulina and Spirobris. Further south towards Abu Minqar lies the Valley of Shells (Wadi el-Khawaka), strewn with prehistoric sea-shells.

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