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Published: September 1st 2009
I have been patiently waiting to find the right time to travel to this remote oasis located in the Western Desert of the Sahara, only 40 km away from Libya. When I found out in May that my friend from high school, Mushi, was planning to visit me in Egypt, I knew right away that we needed to make the journey to Siwa.
After running late and being stuck in horrendous Cairo traffic on the way to the bus station we finally made it onto the overnight public bus. While running through the Turgamon Bus Station to get to our bus gate, I had flashbacks to episodes of The Amazing Race. The bus ride from Cairo to Siwa normally takes 11 hours, however, luck was not on our side and our bus broke down in the middle of the desert at around midnight. After some help from passangers, the bus was fixed, but the air conditioning wasn't working. This wasn't an issue because the night was chilly and we were able to open the windows on the bus. We finally reached Marsa Matrouh, located on the north coast of Egypt, at around 2:00am. I wasn't able to get much sleep
between Cairo and Marsa Matrouh, but I was hoping that I would be able to rest up some more because most of the passengers got off at the Marsa Matrouh stop. Typically, it should only be a three hours ride from Marsa Matrouh to Siwa, but again, the bus broke down. Again, they were able to fix the problem but headed back to the bus stop where we switched buses. We finally reached the oasis around 7:00am in the morning, and were picked up by Ahmed, one of the guys working at our hostel.
That same day we headed out to the Great Sand Dunes located in the Western Desert of the Sahara Desert. It was extremely hot, with the temperature reaching over 110 degrees F (43 degrees C). Our driver Ahmed took us over some huge dunes and sent us flying out of our seats. During the safari, Ahmed also took us to a sulfur spring which had warm water but gave off a rotten-egg smell. After 25 minutes of relaxation we jumped back into the jeep because we were sitting out in the sun for long enough and a group of older Italian tourists, in speedo's, came
along. We ended our jeep safari by watching the sun set and drinking tea, followed by dinner in the desert under the stars. When we got back to the hostel we went straight to bed.
We were able to explore the town and surroundings the following day. With the heat and the long distances between each site, it is recommended to hire a donkey taxi or rent a bike. There are plenty of both located in the center of town. A donkey taxi was out of the question, but we were really excited about the idea of riding bikes - all of us haven't ridden a bike since our adolescent years. They say that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget but, Muriel apparently forgot. There is speculation that she never learned! As a result, we decided to walk. Although the distance between the sites is not too far, the heat and the lack of shade to shield you from the intense rays of the sun, makes the journey by foot difficult. We explored the Mountain of the Dead, the Temple of the Oracle, where Alexandria the Great met the oracle, and finally ended at Cleopatra's
Well around midday. Approaching the Well we could hear shouting and screaming. It seemed like all the local men were bathing and throwing each other into the natural spring. Minutes later there was no one at the well because it was time for the afternoon prayer. Siwans are very religious and traditional (/conservative) - they pray five times a day, all women have their head veiled and face covered. Mushi, Muriel, and I were able to find open lounges at the cafe, next to the Well, to rest up and cool down with a fresh juice. Probably the most amazing juice I have had - and Egypt knows how to make great juice! I had watermelon juice which was followed by (green) melon juice/slush. We spent several more hours at the lounge reading and enjoying the shade. We didn't want to walk all the way bck to town because of the intense heat. Luckily, the owner of the cafe lounge, near the well, was heading back and offered us a ride in his pick-up truck! Hitching a ride back to town is common in Siwa and we ended up picking up several more passengers on the way. The rest of
the day was spent shopping for souvenirs, getting to know locals, trying to get by with my broken Arabic, and packing up for the long journey back to Cairo. I wish we had another day, because the town was so relaxing.
The overnight direct bus to Cairo runs every other day, so we had to catch a bus to Alexandria and then another one from Alexandria to Cairo. We arrived in Alexandria at 5:30am and were able to purchase bus tickets for 6:30am. We were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic once reaching the outskirts of Cairo, completely normal. I am no longer surprised at bumper-to-bumper traffic. I'm surprised at times where there is no traffic.
I would have to say that Siwa is one of the top trips in Egypt and even out of all the trips that I have been on. Completely worth the 12-17 hours one-way bus ride!
While we were at the oasis, Obama was paying a visit to Cairo. On June 4th he delievered his much anticipated speech to the Middle East and Islamic World. Since the word got out that Obama was delivering the speech in Cairo, people were trying to guess the
exact location and obtain tickets to the event. Egyptians were extremely excited for Obama's visit. Unfortunately, I was not invited but it worked out for the best since I was in Siwa. According to friends, Cairo was extremely clean and no one was out in the streets, because many of them were blocked off.
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