The Great Gilf: A Life-Changing Experience


Writing about my trip to the Great Gilf/ Gilf El Kebir was a life-changing event; in fact, the experience was worth each and every second and went beyond the cost of every penny one spent. Storytelling the amazing marvelous experience of 14 nights and 15 days of visiting the western borders of Egypt and seeing places you barely knew left me wondering how lucky I was as most travelers and backpackers were not allowed to reach such venues.

Young Age – Old Road Ahead

I was the youngest member in a convoy made of 13 cars, along with an army and police officers/soldiers. The youngest girl in a moving camp; holding our belongings, food, medicine, water, cigarettes, hopes, dreams, and anything you need to endure a primitive life in the middle of the desert with the weather changing every day. One day you would sleep in the car, another you would sleep inside your sleeping bag, another hour you would have to find a hole in the mountain to do your duty with nature call and sometimes you have to take a shower on a torchlight inside your tent.

A trip of 3,550 km from Cairo and back, 1,450 km off-road, and 2,100 km on road, you start to calculate the trip after reaching El Wadi El Gedid (the New Valley) as a starting line, not calculating the hardship we faced to reach El Wadi el Gedid town. Then, we started the long, yet, fun endurance expedition to El Gelf El Kebir and Mount Uweinat; went 18 km from Libya’s borders, 20 km into Sudan Northern Desert, over El Gelf Plateau with an elevation of 1,005 meters above sea level- seeing the Sun and Moon on one line, one size, one color in the horizon. 

Another view for The Great Gilf
Wadi Sura
Aqaba Pathway

The Sites

After that, we went down the famous Aqaba pathway, into Wadi Sura passing by the Sugar Loaf, visiting Swimmers Cave and penetrating the Foggini-Mistikawi Cave, crossing Sudan’s border into Karkur Talh Valley overlooking the spectacular Mount Uweinat and Meteor Stones, I’ve visited the Eight Bells airfield spot, up to craters site, Abu Ballas and the Mud Pans route.

The Sugar Loaf Hill

Swimmers Cave
Karkur Talh Valley

We all took pictures of the Nissan test drive mark, and we saw the wheel prints of the convoys that have crossed these remarkable journeys before us, hidden from the wheel prints of the Smugglers’ cars which capture goods and people from the Chad borders to Libyan borders crossing our own western desert. Interestingly, I even learned how to differentiate between the different wheel prints on the sand and muddy soil, how to find water in plants’ roots, how to differentiate between the footprint of a wolf and that of a fox or a dog, among several other things you pick on in the wilderness. 

Abu Ballas
Nissan Test Sign

Wrapping it Up With Honor

I still remember when we reached El Wadi El Gedid at the finish line of our unforgettable trip. The governor welcomed us at his house, and we were treated to free hotel accommodation. It was such a treat after coping with very limited resources and supplies throughout our trip; putting into consideration the army and police forces that we had to share everything with. 

I still remember that soldier we passed by on the borders between Sudan and Egypt. At that time we were already out of cigarettes’ stock, so, the first thing we asked him for was cigarettes and he willingly gave us from his own stock, while saying “I thought you will give me supplies not ask me for some…” He was such a delight.

If I could I would narrate the tale of each site we visited. I would narrate the heroism of our guide who took the responsibility of returning thirty-something persons safe and sound to Cairo, but one article won’t do…

The Great Gilf is a never-ending story to tell.

Note: This article was previously published in Discover Egypt Magazine – Issue 19.

Written and Photographed by Lysal Khalifa

Edited for the Digital Version by Noha Kandil

If you liked this piece, then you’ll definitely enjoy reading about El Shakhlouba!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here