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More than just pyramids, a trip to Egypt  also offers desert camping and all-terrain vehicle racing in the Sahara.

Many people imagine the Sahara as an arid, deserted wasteland, but it is quite the opposite. The Sahara turns out to be a diverse landscape with oases, lakes, shade of date palms and hundreds of animal and plant species. Although Sahara means “Great Desert” in Arabic, it was once an ancient sea as fossils of prehistoric creatures were found in its layers of rock and sand.

The Government of Egypt has long viewed the desert as a tourism bonanza. A trans-desert route is open to the public, reenacting how ancient merchants would team up and travel from North Africa to Central Asia through the desert. Desert camping, all-terrain vehicle racing and bathing in freshwater lakes are combined with tours to pyramids and cultural sites of ancient Egypt along the Nile River.

Leaving Cairo, the capital of Egypt, one enters a wilderness where the horizon seems broader, the sky seems higher, and the sand carpet stretches to infinity. There are also weathered soils, scattered date palms, and random camels spotted in the distance. In the book “The Alchemist,” author Paolo Coelho advises: “You must love the desert, but never trust it completely. Because the desert tests all men.” It is now much easier to navigate through the desert, but in the past, ancient merchants relied on their collective experience, listening to the wind and observing the terrain itself to make safe passage.

The destinations on trans-desert journeys are oases such as Siwa and Dakhla, where the once nomadic campsites have been converted into fully serviced houses, hotels, and restaurants. Water is a resource that is treasured and preserved as the lifeblood here. Since the desert was replete with seawater millions of years ago, what remains are open-cast salt mines and turquoise blue lakes, a nice contrast to the surrounding aridity.

But it is not until one sits on a Land Cruiser that the real test of courage starts. Warning passengers to hold tight, local drivers race through the desert, climbing up and diving down sand dunes at breakneck speed as shouts of fear and exhilaration became one with the music blasted at full volume on the vehicle. At the end of the day, when the vehicle stops at the campsite in the middle of the desert, a nomadic meal consisting of naan bread, lamb, and tomatoes mixed with cheese awaits. At these campsites, the most special dish is a whole lamb stuffed with roasted grapes, placed inside a jar buried under the sand and covered in hot charcoal. The heat of charcoal gradually cooks the lamb without burning it. The dish has a unique flavor that goes perfectly with a glass of date wine.

A night out in the desert is an unforgettable experience. The wide-open starry sky, cold breezes and flickering flames make a performance of singing and drumming even more mesmerizing. While tourists at Egypt’s Valley of the Kings may embark on a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise, a new day in the desert starts with a clear sky, smoke emanating from a wood stove and a cup of mill tea among nomads. Worries from back home seem an infinite span of desert away.