Waha Siwa!October 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Siwa is very beautiful, and kind of boring. It’s located just a few k from Libya (oooo, hardcore!) in the Western Desert of Egypt, and had something like the world’s oldest recorded human footprint, sayeth Lonely Planet.
We left the girls’ dorm in Alex at 6pm (after class) and got into the hotel at 3am on Thursday the 22nd. Woke up on Friday for our tour of Siwa. We went to some ruins, some other ruins, don’t remember anything at all except Alexander the Great sneezed there or something. No, I think he spent a good amount of time in this fort, but again, I wasn’t really paying attention and the tour was of course in Arabic. I found when I did pay attention I got 80% of what he was saying (thank you Fosha) but Arabic is still alien enough to my ears that I zone out easily. Also because I just zone out easily in general…
The afternoon began, continued, and ended all at Cleopatra Spring where she may or may not have swum, again wasn’t paying attention. We jumped into crystal clear water, which was warmer than I’d've liked but adunia kida (c’est la vie). It was good enough to cool off! Afterwards I chatted with the bartender, Walid, at the little restaurant shack set up aside the bath, and got some “Mango-ade” which is fresh mango and lemon juice blenderized into magnificence. Fresh fruit juice is one of my favorite parts of Egypt – it’s like nothing in the US ever. I also felt cool chatting in Arabic with the guy because there were some European tourists at the bar who didn’t know what to think – they asked me if I was Arab. Score.
Went home, changed into my sexy evening clothes and went to a really bad dinner of spaghetti and sauce (soggy…) that arrived only after a 2 hour wait. That’s because 3/4 of the program ate together, and as I may have *hinted* in my previous post I am so fed up with huge malignant groups of people. So I was quite cranky after that. Headed to a cafe with a chunk of people, drank some 3sir guwafa (guava juice – peculiar smell, but fantastic taste) and smoked some cantaloupe shisha. Now, I’d heard from someone at some point that occasionally touristy shisha joints have a chemical in their stuff that is more giggly than real, sh3bi shishi (which is what I usually drink), so I became, as we say at Midd, shit-faced. It of course wasn’t shit-faced but I’d only ever felt slightly lightheaded after shisha, and this one had me stumbling back to my room. It was not a great feeling, but may have been if I had a buddy equally screwed up. Oh well.
I slept off the unexpected high and woke up to a “free day.” Had a nice breakfast with some friends, ate “bankaik almurabba” (jam crepe) and drank “shai karkadee” (habiscus tea) and it was 3ziim (great)! Then hit the “souq” and bought myself a nice authentic kufiyyah, after noticing many of these fabrics have labels on them reading “Made in China.” Come on, Siwa…
We checked out of the hotel and loaded up into beastly jeeps and began our safari. We stopped at an “3in saakhin” (hot spring) which was nice but weird because we’re in the middle of a hot desert and the last thing I want is to dip in hot water… Then we went to a cold spring which was also nice but I was either bored or sleepy or still high so I was feeling like a debby downer. Ben, Wes and I clambered up a nice tall sand / stone mountain overlooking the scene and felt very primeval on all fours, took some great panoramas, and bellowed to the desert.
The jeeps took us over a roller coaster of sand. At the beginning, there was a hill so steep the jeeps began acceleration about a half-mile away, and even then several had to slide down the sand diagonally for a second, third, and forth attempt. Excitement ensued every time! I discovered that sand is really more like liquid than solid when it’s that smooth, and enjoyed making avalanches and rivers and piles and sand-angels. Lots of BEAUTIFUL images of sand fun in the Siwa photo album. The rides continued, sliding through sand, powering up hills and having to slam on the brakes at the top because there was no top, just a ridge followed by a VERTICAL descent which we didn’t drive down, we slid down, and repeated minutes later.
Eventually we ended up at the camp. Sat, relaxed, ate the best meal I’ve had as part of the program (chicken, rice, vegetables, same as usual, but the chicken was cooked beneath the sand! Maybe that’s why it tasted good, who knows, it just did. Nice and juicy…) Eventually a group of us split off and headed off into the desert with Sabry’s guitar and had an American jam session, far enough away from the Siwan jam session that we could only hear it if we listened. We played random parts of just about every song we could think of, and counted the shooting stars as plenty as streams in Vermont. Long ones, bold and with fading tails like a Disney movie. It was a magical evening, and I’ve never before seen stars like that. A bunch of us slept out in the sand, where it grew quite cold (as I’d heard it would from the Magic School Bus, circa 1995, thank you Ms. Frizzle) but I’d come prepared with my Duke sweatshirt and some long-johns. And considering that 11 months ago I was camping in a blizzard in the Adirondacks, I was quite comfortable. That is, temperature-wise. Sand can be tricky to get a good position in.
Today we arose to the sunrise. We watched the sun set the evening before, and I’d never seen the two adjacent. It was very cool, seeing hard evidence of the earth’s rotation. I watched Orion ascend, the moon descend, etc… When the sky is as big as that, things just seem more obvious. We headed back to the oasis and climbed onto buses and returned to Alexandria. I’m uploading photos right now, but it’s very slow and given that I’d like to sleep around midnight they might not all finish today.
The verdict on Siwa: Dahab’s better! It is a beautiful place, and there were seriously fewer tourists than in Dahab, but it’s SMALL. It’s a town center and a few roads, and then acres of ashgaar al bela7 (Date Palms), which seemed like the main industry, after tourism maybe. And springs are only so exciting. Given that it takes a day to get there and a day to get back (to civilization), I wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone without a lot of time for their vacationing. When we return in the spring I’ll be purchasing some zeit alzeitun (olive oil) which is reputedly the best in the world, and bringing it back to Westborough. Also, I didn’t get a chance to sandboard, so I’m looking forward to that in the spring. NOT doing everything in the fall is a part of my new frugal financial policy.
Speaking of not-frugal financial policies, I purchased a ticket to Beirut on Wednesday before we left! On Thursday, November 26th I’ll be climbing onto a plane in Cairo with Chris headed to Beirut, and returning (inshallah) on Monday the 30th. There may be more people going, but Chris and I are way into the idea of the “highly mobile unit” strategy, and I’m glad there won’t be a huge cumbersome group traveling with us. I’m very excited for this trip – over the last month I’ve felt this inexplicable pull towards Beirut, as if my entire area of study revolved around this city. The “Paris of the Middle East.” Sexy shik night clubs next to bullet-holed bombed-out buildings. I’m going with the expectation that I will be harassed at the border, but not detained or prevented from entry. I’ll have to talk with Jahd more about some itinerary, and ways to not get kidnapped, so that’ll all be interesting. He’s mentioned that airport security is Hezbollah. Cool. In some twisted way I’m glad I have to Lebanon before Israel, because it’s forcing me to do it NOW, because I want to get to Israel asap.
The latest tentative plan for my winter break is as follows: Israel, meeting Cam at Tel Aviv, entering Egypt overland at Taba, doing the Dahab thing with him, Cairo, and Alex for at least a week. After he leaves, hanging out in Alex until spring orientation begins. There’s the possibility of hosting Lannie in Alex right after my classes end at the beginning of the break, or alternatively meeting in Greece! before going to Israel. Israel, of course, is the haven of all that is familiar and Jewish. Old friends, and hopefully Ariela from Italy, and hopefully minimal expenses. And beer and chicks.
That’s enough for tonight. The next bullet is Luxor / Aswan 10-day program trip, mid-November. I’m sure I’ll have more to say before then.
Egypt IV – Siwa: