Weekend in Siwa (Part 1)

Trip Start Jan 22, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2010

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Before I start, just In case you were wondering some facts about Siwa, here they are; Siwa is an oasis in the Sahara desert and the most distant Egyptian oasis from the Nile valley. It is only 30 miles away from the border of Libya, so the people there are more North African than Egyptian with their own Berber dialect (they speak Siwi!). It has over 300,000 palm and olive trees and 280 water springs. The people are very conservative and are mostly known for their silver and emriodery work.
SO- Thursday morning 8:00am- the very first rainy day in Cairo! We all met at the bus ready to load our stuff and begin the ten hour journey across Egypt to Siwa- an oasis located right smack in the middle of the desert. There were five guys, seven girls, along with Matthew (program director) Tamer (his assistant) Dr. Ronda (Egyptology professor leading the tour and lectures) Yasmina (Arabic teacher) and Karen and Chase who are two other members in the AMIDEAST office. The long journey began around 8:15 and me and Lindley, my seatmate, settled in for the drive. Luckily we stopped only two hours later at one of the 'nicest rest area complexes" we would ever see- thankfully I was able to get a delicious coffee here- unfortunately the bathroom stops were very few and far between from then on. We continued driving and most of us slept, read, listened to music, etc. We had packed lunches on the bus once again and I delighted in my two PB&J sandwiches once again.
About halfway through we stopped in a city called Alamein- this happened to be the location of a decisive battle in WWII in the year 1942 between the Axis and Allied powers. There is a cemetary built with all the soldiers from British, Irish, French, Italian, and German armed forces from this battle are buried here- it is a gorgeous site; looking at the individual headstones fascinated me for a good half hour. Each headstone had a quote from the family for their lost one, including the age of the soldier at his death, which was so very heartbreaking- the very first one I stopped to look at was of a British soldier who was 23 years old. A very fascinating place, and there is a museum which also commemorates the battle, the nations, and some of the weapons. The whole area was very interesting- unfortunately we had to leave and continue the journey. A couple hours later we were driving along and it seemed as though we were lost in a very small town. Our bus driver, Matthew, Tamer, and Dr. Randa were all conversing heatedly in Arabic and we pulled over multiple times to ask for the correct road to Siwa, Finally a policeman gave us the right answer and we began the long six hour drive through straight desert.
We eventually arrived at the "hotel"- Siwa Shali Resort- at 8pm. This was not a hotel- this was a group of mini mudbrick cabanas built together around a winding pool of water. It looked straight out onto the Sahara Desert and its many pools of water were actually hot springs. The resteraunt area was really nice and dinner was buffet style. I shared a room with Lindley and I'm not going to lie- I was really really wary about this room. It's a resort, but it is in the desert and though the water springs were amazing, they smelled like rotten eggs. Everything in our room was wooden- even the windows.
After dinner we went out to a bedouin like tent set up next to the resteraunt where they had a fire pit going and you could sit on pillows in the tent or chairs around the fire, listen to music, and smoke hookah. We sat for a little bit out there but then headed to bed pretty early since we had to be at breakfast at 8am. Showering and brushing my teeth were extremely unpleasant because the water was the spring water so it all smelled like rotten eggs- I didn't really feel clean the whole time I was there. The next morning, Friday, we ate breakfast at the resteraunt at 8am and were in the bus ready to go by 9. First stop was at a structure where all the tribes of Siwa (there are about 11 of them) meet for three days a year in peace and celebrate with food and wine. This structure was solely built for this purpose and is only used these three days every year.
Next, we visited the amazing ancient sites around Shali- the main city in Siwa. This city has been inhabited since 1203 A.D. and consists of houses/ structures all built on a hill made from stone, mudbrick, and palm logs. It had a gorgeous view of the entire town from up above. After wandering through town a bit we ended up at the House of Siwa museum, which was basically a house showing the life culture, and dress of the local Siwans. Next, was my personal favorite of the day- Gabl El Mawta aka Mountain of the Dead, and that's exactly what it was. The whole area is filled with what looks like mini lumps of mud, but turns out to be an entire tomb built in the middle of the mountain- and they are everywhere! We got to go inside some of them, but they actually felt super creepy. While waiting to walk into one of the tombs we spotted two human skulls resting on the ground, an arm bone nearby, and a shoulder blade to top it all off. Can't say I've ever randomly been out and seen human bones lying around- definitely creepy and cool. We climbed to the very top of the mountain and looked out over a gorgeous view of Siwa. Finally it was time for lunch, so we headed into town and ate at a mini resteraunt on the street-it wasn't too too bad. After lunch we stopped at what is supposed to be the number one sight in all of Siwa- The Temple of the Oracle Amon. It was actually fascinating- built around 1385 B.C (i can't even comprehend seeing something that old) Alexander the Great's visit is it's biggest claim to fame- his father was Amon and he visited the Oracle, passing through a city on the coast of the Meditteranean Sea which he commissioned and is now known as....Alexandria! He was given special permission to go inside the oracle alone, which no one else had ever done. He asked if the murderers of his father had been punished, and he asked something else but he died before telling anyone the other question he asked of the Oracle. Basically this place was super cool (I'm kinda a history buff thanks to dad) and we got to stand inside the actual area where the Oracle (a statue) was located and where Alexander visited....woooow!!!
After this exciting stop, we headed to Cleopatra's Bath, a hot spring nearby which is said to have been visited by Cleopatra, and we were going to see if we wanted to swim here. We went back to the hotel to get our bathing suits but since I'm not a fan of the egg smelling water or swimming in water where I can't see the bottom, I opted out. Turns out our hotel had its own hot spring pool, so instead of driving back to Cleopatra's bath we ended up swimming at the hotel spring, which was much more private. I gently put my feet in the water and felt content to watch the others go in- it was verrry relaxing. When we finished swimming we got dressed again and headed back out to a nearby lake where we could watch the sunset. I have never seen a sunset before in my life and this was hard for the others in the group to comprehend. Yes, the sun sets in Cincinnati, no I have never watched it do so, or made a note of it's occurence- it would be light then it would be dark. Therefore, I was excited to see one- the area by the lake was naturally gorgeous and we had the most perfect view. It is so surreal to watch a sunset over a lake in the middle of the desert!!! I got really excited to see that the sun actually moves downward- crazy! Once it went all the way down and began to get rather chilly we headed back to the hotel where dinner was at 8pm (too late for my liking). I ended up talking with Karen at dinner, a friend of Matthew's who works for AMIDEAST, about the Peace Corps, which she did for two years in Morrocco- it sounded amazing.
After dinner we moved on out to the fire and the tent, where i did in fact partake in my first taste of sheesha. Supposedly it's less harmful than ciggarettes, but i needed to try it either way because it is a main part of Egyptian culture and they have them at every restraunt in Cairo. It is in a big contraption called a hookah and I of course entertained everyone with my little knowledge of how to smoke, hence I huffed and puffed in all the wrong places but I finally got it. Don't worry parents, I just tried it- I feel more cultured already. Karen also helped point out some of the star constellations, Venus, and Mars- I've never seen the stars and planets look so clear! All in all- a spectacular first day with many firsts and I'm actually starting to grow a little fond of mother nature. That's enough for one entry, the rest of the trip will be continued soon in another entry- too many crazy things happened- so stay tuned!
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Ashton on

All the pictures and the huge update was much needed! I'm so glad you got to experience a sunset! In the freaking Sahara Desert! That's outrageous! Oh and had coffee! :) Yay!

Dad on

Ann, The pictures are awesome!!

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