Siwa Oasis

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wilfred Jennings-Branley wrote that Siwa "cannot be said to have fallen from its high estate, for it is probably much as it was when Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Plutarch and Pliny thought it worthy of mention; only it has stood still while the world went on."
Time has unfortunately rediscovered this magical little oasis in the far west of Egypt, near the Libyan border in the northern marches of the Sahara desert, but as yet, the ravages of modern life and of tourism have not left scars too deep.
Siwa has long been a lodestone for travellers, often as not searching for arcane knowledge or unearthly things. The town was made famous by Alexander the Great, who visited here to consult its legendary Oracle, who it is said then proclaimed him king and Amun-reborn. Latterly, however, two wholly different events, although no less auspicious, have served to bring Siwa to the attention of the world. By sheer chance, my own visit here was sandwiched between Charles & Camilla recent sojourn here (they left 2 days before I arrived), and the very biblical solar eclipse taking place just to the north of here on the 29th (today).

The town has been teeming with eclipse chasers (meteorological trainspotters, really), hanging at Siwa for a few days before decamping to the north, to a bumf*ck town called Saluum that lies flush on the Libyan border. The entire region has gone crazy about this eclipse, with the Egyptian Government getting in on the act, and doing what they do best - making you pay. Get this - the Government have set up a "border" around Saluum, which you are only allowed to cross if you hold a ticket. The price to watch the sun? 20 Euros! It's like charging for oxygen! For that price, you get the privilege of watching the moon transit across the fact of the sun for precisely 3 min 50 sec of totality, as you gaze in awe (apparently) through your geeky solar glasses at the umbra. All very tempting.
However, for free, you could also stand atop the ancient ruined fortress of Shali, in the centre of Siwa and watch the eclipse overhead with 94% totality, looking through old camera film or, oddly, a used x-ray offered to you by the local kids. I chose the latter, and was suitably impressed (as I felt I should be) when "there was darkness across all the lands of Egypt". Or something like that.

Aside from staring at astrological phenomena, I've spent my days strolling through palm groves and fondling mummies - the lurching, bandaged, embalmed kind, not the MILF type. On the edge of Siwa town lies a hill called Gebel al-Mawta, or Mountain of the Dead, an ancient burial site riddled with chambers and tombs (mostly empty now). After a hearty breakfast of coffee and hummus, I clambered up the hill to check out some of the ancient frescoes still visible in the tombs. So it was to my surprise when I shortly found myself cradling in my hands the head of a 200-year-old mummy, so well-preserved that I can actually tell you what colour hair the guy had when he was alive!! There were 3 entire mummies in the chamber, one still wrapped in brittle linens, plus two more heads, each lying in alcoves cut in the stone. The sweet smell of embalming fluid was still rich in the air, and the dessicated bodies shrouded in parchment-like skin that felt oh so real to touch. Unbelievable!
I was just getting over my paroxysms of delight about that, when about 10 minutes later, as I was walking around the other side of the hill, I noticed the end of a thighbone just protruding from the dirt. Within 20 minutes, I found to my amazement that I had discovered (and partially unearthed) a human skeleton lying within previously unknown burial site. Bloody hell! I took a few photos, then went off to find one of the guides. He and I decided then to rebury the guy, both of us loathe to disturb the rest of any of the residents of the Mountain of the Dead for too long.
So, all that before lunch - actually getting to touch a real mummy, then digging up an ancient skeleton to boot. It was damn surreal, I can tell you!

Tomorrow it's off to Cairo, to Pyramids, mosques, bazaars, and 18 million people (most of them alive). Magic.

This is Indiana Jones, signing off. :-)
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zento on

Just have to say I love your travel log. The words flow very lightly and is very easy and smooth to read. Written like a true writer......looking forward for more.

Happy travelling!


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