Egypt Siwa 2001.05.24 - 05.28


The oasis town of Siwa, near the Egyptian border with Libya but hardly near anything else, was recommended by several travelers. In Dahab, we even met an elderly American couple with young daughter who lived in Siwa for the past year. They were a bit odd. We called them "Dharma's parents" in private. To remain in Siwa a whole year, you'd need to be odd. The town consists of a few shops selling wilted vegetables and fruits, 3 restaurants that are mostly vacant, 3 mosques with clergy who can't sing over loudspeakers even if their life depended on it, and some cheap hotels. It didn't help that we were in Siwa during a heat wave and not a single building has air conditioning. The strength of the sun in the early afternoon is merciless. Even the locals close shop and take cover in a dark room between noon and 17:00. We mostly endured the climate in our hotel room with fan spinning at full speed and sweat dripping everywhere. Siwa would be a great weight-loss clinic location. "You don't need to exercise one bit, and you can eat anything as often as you want," the ad could read. You're guaranteed to feel stuffed after drinking a glass of orange juice in this heat. It would work. We're losing weight by the minute.

Siwa has one appealing attribute. A tour to a fresh-water desert oasis for a swim is a unique experience. Driving kilometers upon kilometers through vast sand dunes absent of even the most miniscule bit of vegetation to a lush oasis pond in the middle of nowhere is mind blowing. A half-day E£ 50 tour to Bair Wahid offered by all hotels in Siwa stops at a cold oasis and natural hot spring. Both can be swum in. Although Siwa takes a full day or more to reach from any major city, the oasis experience makes it a worthwhile destination.

The fastest way from Cairo to Siwa is via Marsa Matruh by bus. Travel time is 9 hours plus the transfer in Marsa Matruh. Alternatively, via Alexandria, regular buses take 4 hours from Cairo to Alexandria and four buses per day take 9 hours from Alexandria to Siwa. In our case, we broke the trip into 2 days going and returning with an overnight in Marsa Matruh inbound and in Alexandria on the return.

The simple mud and brick buildings of Siwa are painted colorfully. Until a decade ago, there was no electricity nor paved road to this town.
A cold fresh-water oasis in the middle of an immense barren desert seems an unimaginable possibility.
Wooden chairs face the cold fresh-water oasis of Bair Wahid. We swam here in the afternoon desert heat. The softness and cleanliness of the desert sand around the oasis made it the best "beach" we saw in the Middle East.
Somewhere in the middle of the Bair Wahid desert, Masami and another tourist walk atop fossilized coral and sea shells from millions of years ago.
A 40 minute donkey-cart ride arrives at Fatnas Island where a number of tourists staying in Siwa come for sunset.

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