Monday, April 30, 2007

Siwa

We've had a bit of a wild time since leaving Dahab but I won't even be able to catch up in this blog. We took an overnight bus to Alexandria and immediately caught another for 9 more hours to get to Siwa Oasis in the far west of the country. It is the most popular and famous oasis and seems pretty out of place in the middle of an empty, sandy desert. It is slightly below sea level and exists because of a number of springs (hot and cold) in the area, which have ended up creating lakes of both fresh and salt water nearby. Agriculture and a little desert safari tourism are the only things out there so the village is small and really quiet. Lots of date palms and donkey carts.
The Siwans are very conservative (you only see the women completely covered and being driven around on the back of said donkey carts) and consider themselves to be different from the Egyptians. They speak a language (siwan) related to the Berber tongue spoken in western Africa and distantly related to Arabic I think. Don't quote me on that though. Personally I found the Siwans to be very laid back and generally indifferent to us few foreigners there right now. In all these conservative middle eastern countries homosexuality is quite common, though very, very wrong (they have some truly ridiculous and mind-blowing social rules here concerning what you can do without being considered gay) and in the past Siwa had developed quite a reputation as a hotbed of activity. I wouldn't really bring that sort of thing up except that we now know which of the 3 men in the group is the most attractive. The hotel receptionist (guy) was totally hitting on Grady! But really any guy travelling in the middle east for an extended period of time and interacting with the locals will get hit on sometime (including me in Oman). I've heard so many stories.
Siwa is a really old place too. It was visited by Alexander the Great (~330BC) as he came through Egypt so he could consult the oracle in town. Of course it is a temple to the sun God, Amun Ra. I've also seen it spelt Amon, Amoon, and Ammon. Needless to say, I've had a number of Egyptians do double takes when first hearing my name. It's cool. In the rest of the middle east, people just thought it was Ahmed, Amin or Hamid and wouldn't be persuaded otherwise. For our family field trips we rented bicycles (first time I've been on one since China) and rode out to the ruined temples, swam in a spring pool and visited the nearby lake. We were there 4 days and opted not to do any overnight safaries because they are only by jeep. We're in the middle of the desert and there are no camels! How is that possible? We also rode out to the edge of the sand dunes with a new found American friend, Rob, to have a roll in the sand. Hard sand unfortunately and we were actually in a sand pit with dump trucks. While most of us are now too old and sensible to get totally covered in sand, Bre was doing flips off sand cliffs and Savannah "sandboarded" Grady down a hill. Too funny. Other than that we also had a walk through the ruins of the old town and were generally lazy. Siwa is so laid back that we have a new "slowest restaurant" record. We waited 3 hours for pancakes and fruit salad breakfasts on one of the days!
From there it was all the way back to Cairo where we are now and will be for a bit. I've had a bit of a sinus infection lately, due in part to the irritation caused by water while diving. Very annoying.
Ammon

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