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Published: November 4th 2008
After all the hustle and bustle of Cairo and a serious overdose of culture we needed rest and relaxation (yes again). What better place to go than the desert. Not being Laurence of Arabia and having no inclination of spending the night on sand we opted for the version of the desert with water, palms and donkeys. An oasis like in the fairly tales would be a nice option. The closest to that must be the Siwa Oasis
in the western desert. It is a fairly large oasis with some 23.000 inhabitants (yep I also thought an oasis is small) which still has the advantage that donkey carts outnumber cars and not many tourists come here as 5 star cruise ships do not plough through the desert. The only thing missing here to complete the oasis feeling is camels. They just do not exist here. No idea why but the locals claim that there are just no camels around. Disappointing.
Anyway there are enough Palm trees, springs, man in traditional clothing to enable you to forget civilization for a while. All that doing nothing is just interrupted by climbing up to the mud forest which dominated the town and the surroundings area
Mud + Salt + Water = disaster
for centuries. The fortress must have been quite impressive. Must have as it was built using blocks of salt and mud. A great choice in a desert where it never rains... well almost never. There was a freak rain for three days early last century. Salt, mud and water are not a good combination for a building and lots of it just melted away.
In the Oasis is also the once highly important temple of the oracle of Amon. This oracle was said to be very powerful and even Alexander the great made the trek out to Siwa before becoming the Pharaoh of Egypt (bet you didn't know that 😉. Must have been a long trek back then as it is at least 300km from the Mediterranean coast without anything noteworthy or providing shade and water in between.
It was not only good old Alex which came to Siwa but also the Germans. Rommel's Africa corps took the oasis three times as the whole area was a big battle ground for the tank forces of the German/Italians and the British during the second world war.
Today its all a bit more relaxed and the only Germans here
are tourists which just want to have a tea, lots of dates and a backgammon board (for now 😉. All this can easily provided either in Siwa or close to the natural springs which are strewn around the Oasis. Clever businessmen have setup small cafes close to these most concreted springs and provide refreshments for the tourists and a viewing platform for the Egyptian men which come to view the foreign female tourists. Usually Siwa men wouldn't see a lot of female flesh unless it's of their wife or other very close female relatives. The usual outfit for 95% of all Siwa women over the age of 15 is a full Burqa which often even the eye slits covered by a mesh.
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