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Apparently, the negative ions in the rock particles have healing properties which soothe the body and restore balance and inner calm.

I lie down on top of the prickly crystals to test this theory and after a two-minute rest I’m left feeling inexplicably revitalised – it is as if a New Age-masseuse has just placed some exotic healing stones on my skin, but multiplied by a thousand.

Our journey continues along a road that takes us lower and lower into the Farfra depression, a landmass which used to sit entirely under the sea.

White milky outcrops and bizarre rock formations flash past the jeep windows like enormous, polished chess pieces, each one more trippy than the last.

It’s like a scene straight from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, only with Nevada swapped for the Western Desert and considerably less paranoia.

But it’s certainly surreal.

Now mid-afternoon, the sun is starting to go down, so our driver hits the pedal hard – we want to reach the site we’re going to camp at before sunset.

Then, 15 minutes later, we turn off the main road and park up beside three guides swathed in traditional galabeya robes waiting to take us to camp, or “the middle of nowhere”, as Nelly calls it.

Her smile suggests this isn’t going to be a straightforward camping trip, so I mask my apprehension by smiling back (silently hoping she’s stashed some anti-venom for the rattlesnakes that I’ve heard come out after sundown around these parts).

There are camels waiting for us, and we mount them with comical difficulty.

They stand up hind legs first, so anyone not hanging on gets thrown forward on to the sand below.  

We all somehow manage to cling on as the camels lurch upward, before starting a slow, rhythmic plod into the White Desert for the approaching sunset.

The heavy silence, gentle rocking from the camel’s steady gait and the overwhelming scenery makes the ride feel tantamount to meditation.

Everywhere I look, natural sculptures buffed and polished by harsh desert winds present themselves; giant ice cream cones or mushrooms, flat-topped inselbergs and even a large bunny rabbit rise out of the sedimentary rock.

It’s like being in some kind of super-sized, psychedelic Alice In Wonderland, made all the weirder by the knowledge this landscape was once at the bottom of the ocean.

The light starts to fade and as if brought to life by the sun’s energy, the rocks begin to shift in hue from purple to lilac to pink to indigo.

The irony is not lost on me that only this morning I regarded the desert as barren nothingness.

Only now, I’m starting to understand that it is in fact a living, breathing environment.

Dismounting from our one-humped vehicles, Nelly and the other hosts immediately set up a simple, yet comfortable camp, ingeniously created by turning the camel saddles upside down as makeshift sofas and unraveling blankets.


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