From Lybia to Egypt - In trail of the English Patient: László Almásy



Attila Lóránt, founder of Disappearing Cultures Foundation, followed the route of the renowned Hungarian desert explorer László Almásy to experience the legendary places and discoveries related to Almásy and to compare their present conditions with his original descriptions. The destination was the Lybian desert; the spots that were desired to achieve were: El Vadi Kufrah "the promised land", where Almásy was honoured with the title Abu Ramla - the Father of Sand; then the Uveinat Mountains, where he discovered rock paintings in the caves; Zarzura, that lays in the Gilf Kebir mountains and harbors the Cave of Swimmers; and on the way to these destinations the Abu Ballas - the Father of Jugs, where legends come to life.




In trail of the Desert Lover, Attila Lóránt and his company started off into the Sahara three times. On their first expedition they set off from the Kadhafi-ruled Lybia and kept heading east along the extension of the Mediterranean Sea. Almásy served as a German reserve officer in this region between 1941 and 1944. Following his route Attila's team travelled from Tripoli to Tobruk trough Ajdabiyah. Their journey was frequently distracted by military controls.
Despite all the technological and historical developments, during their travelling they had to face the same obstacles as Almásy did almost one century ago. The price of freeing the wheels was a bitter fight every time they got stuck in the sand, and while waiting for the boiled cooling water to cool down they had to fear all the unfamiliar cars approaching in the distance - they could never know whether they carried friends or enemies )bandits, soldiers or rebels) inside. However they had pleasant experiences as well: Attila's tuareg mates told a plenty of folk legends around the camp fire and once they were hosted by a nomadic herder family in their tent.
In El Vadi Kufrah, a city famous for its camel fairs, they sadly experienced that now the once green oazis had lost its old shine. Supplemented by military escort they continued their way to the Uveinat mountains, now on deserted areas without built roads. Their first expedition came to a forced end, because the army temporarily closed the area referring to bandit attacks.

The second trip

Attila Lóránt started again on the same route with the same company. This time they arrived successfully to the Uveinat mountains and reached the rock paintings that were glimpsed by Almásy in 1933. The

The walls richly covered with paintings of giraffes, antilopes, cow herds and wild sheeps proove the one-time abundance of the place. The local people always knew about these drawings, they believed they were created by ancestral ghosts and jins before their settlement. In this place the team had to experience the threat of desert bandits again, so they were glad to leave and continue their journey to an other famous discovery of Almásy, the legendary Zarzura. However, at the Sudanese-Egyptian border they had to face a new obtacle: the border was closed for the tuareg members of the group who had Lyberian passport.

The third trip

This time they started off from Egypt. Firstly they visited Zamalek in Kairo where Almásy lived and then they explored the old town where the English Patient spent a lot of time during his stays in the city. They departed from Baharya oazis to their first destination the Mountain of Jugs, where after some time of digging in the hot sand they found intact jugs. Their journey was full of discoveries: they found a vehicle used in the World War II, then a gasoline can presumably left behind by Almásy himself as a signal object on the road to the Gilf Kebrir mountains. Before reaching their final destination Zarzura, they visited the Cave of Swimmers in the Valley of Pictures.
We were guided by the notes of Almásy, and he was guided by two swallows to the secret oazis, which today has no sign of its old beauty.

All in all our expedition was successful: we have learned that the desert lives its own life. There come some years with better weather and the valley turns green, then everything burns out again.Those who stay alive break away and start to tell new legends. From now on not only these stories keep the misterious world of the desert, but László Almásy's unforgetable writings too - and maybe a little bit Attila Lóránt's photos as well.

- You can find more details and photos about these expeditions in the National Geographic Hungary's 27 pages long article (December 2009) -