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Siwa Oasis in Egypt: Alone in the Sahara

In these times of turmoil, Egypt is perceived as an unsafe country to travel to. It seems as if the masses of tourists that were overflowing his most famous attractions, had fled in disarray. In the Egyptian Museum, before the revolution tourists had to queue to enter Tutankhamun's room. Nowadays, you will share a close view of the glittery mask of the Pharaoh, only with a few bunch of people. In this state of things, if you get yourself to a remote oasis, it's almost guaranteed that you'll have it all for you.

Siwa oasis is half a day's journey by bus from Cairo, and it takes nearly eight hours from Alexandria. This didn't stop backpackers and tourist in general from filling up cheap hostels and air conditioned villas. But the area is only at 50 kilometers from the border with Libya, and when I went there, the last news from the neighboring country were quite gloomy.

But we are looking at the bright side of this situation. Now we can enjoy a country that has so much to offer to the visitor, without the excess of visitors. So let's see what awaits us after passing like six or seven military checkpoints on the way to Siwa:

Siwa Oasis
We start with the obvious: palm trees, lakes and a sea of sand.
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Siwa Oasis Egypt
You just have to go out to enjoy the show and find a small paradise where you can relax, like Fatnas Spring.

Oracle Siwa
In history, this place is well known as the location of the legendary Oracle of Siwa. The most illustrious visitor was Alexander the Great, who crossed the desert in a risky expedition with very few men. This was just after founding Alexandria, more than 23 centuries ago.

Temple Oracle Siwa
However, there is not much left of the shrine of the legendary Oracle, but the views form the top worth the trip.

Siwa Oasis Photos
There are many natural springs and pools to have a splash, like the one known as Cleopatra's Bath.

Cleopatra's bath
Here I could witness a not very glamorous phenomenon: The bottom of the pool was pooping algae, emerging to the surface from time to time like bubbling turds.

Temple of Amun Siwa
Still, this is a nice place to stop and have a tea in your way to the last standing wall of an Egyptian temple. The sanctuary was demolished more than a hundred years ago.

Egyptian Temple Siwa
The temple survived until 1896. In this unfortunate year, an Ottoman governor short of building materials for the new mosque, decided to blow it up. Bye bye legacy.

Siwa oasis sniper elite 3
But if you'd like to see ancient Egyptian stuff (in this case, so far from the Nile), head to the Mountain of the Dead. You can enter in some tombs with decorated walls. Some of them were discovered during the Second World War, when the inhabitants took refuge here in the crossfire between the Afrika Korps and the British Desert Rats.

Backpacking Siwa Oasis
By the way, wondering what is this? Pigeon houses. Here pigeons are not a pest, but a delicacy in Egypt's cuisine. Their droppings are also a valuable source of fertilizer.

Sugar cane juice
Egyptian food is absolutely delicious. I really miss the ultra-cheap pints of freshly squeezed juice, that you can find in every corner. Don't miss the juice of sugar cane mixed with orange.

Shali Siwa
I almost forgot to talk about the ancient fortress of Shali, in the middle of the town. It was like a cluster of mud brick houses, built one next to the other. Today it's a labyrinthine ruin of abandoned crumbling walls and very narrow alleys.

Siwa Oasis Hotel
I stayed in a dirty-cheap hostel not far from there. So dirty that my en-suite room included a dune from the Sahara, inside the room.

Siwa Oasis homosexuality
Today it's better not to bring it up, but in Siwa male homosexuality was historically accepted. Very quickly explained: It started with the tradition of forcing young boys to live together out of the city walls before they got married, without access to woman.

Oasis Sahara
To read more about this and the other interesting stories about Siwa, you can find many sources, like Wikipedia.

Siwa Oasis Sahara
I left the best part of the oasis for the end: Get out of it! Walk and find your way to the Sahara. Only three or four miles to the southwest starts the Great Sand of Sea. Have fun rolling down a dune, screaming out loud or just enjoy the silence.

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The new UNESCO World Heritage sites 2014. Yep, last year we failed to publish this post on time, but all good things are worth waiting for. Also the qualities of these new 26 inscriptions (plus 4 extensions) are -supposedly- timeless.

You know that no one makes UNESCO lists look as good as we do. You can also review the places that achieved the recognition in 2011, 2012 and 2013 following these links.

Including these new properties, the list has already more than a thousand sites, 1,007 in total:

Grand Canal China

White Pocket, Arizona (psychedelic) dream

The geography of the USA is presenting yet another unique and twisted landscape to discover. White Pocket is located in a remote area of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Due to the difficult access to the area, it doesn't receive many visitors yet. Also it has been a bit overshadowed by other famous neighboring attractions, like The Wave in Coyote Buttes.

You can find all the practical stuff about how to go to White Pocket and a map, in the link included at the end of this post. Now we just sit back and enjoy these selected photographs:

White Pocket
It's time to say thanks and hello to Marijana Bulatovic, who discovered me this awesome place.
Image by John Fowler

White Pocket Arizona
Marijana also gave me some advice: Try to be there for the sunset. If you go at noon, that's no good for photography.
Image by Dave Soldano

How to go visit White Pocket
But the best it's to have both sunset and dawn: stay for the night!
Image by John Fowler

White Pocket Tour
The Sphinx of White Pocket.
Image by John Fowler

White Pocket permit
To go to White Pocket you don't require an advance permit, as you do to visit the famous The Wave.
Image by John Fowler

South Coyote Buttes
So you better go before the park management limit access, at some point soon. This image belogs to the nearby South Coyote Buttes. Image by John Fowler

White Pocket Landscape
The variety and shapes of the sandstone formations are out of this world.
Image by Jason Corneveaux and John Fowler

White Pocket Vermilion Cliffs
We are in Arizona, but the base camp to visit White Pocket is the town of Kanab, already in Utah.
Image by Marijana Bulatovic.

White Pocket Wave
When it rains, it has to be quite dangerous here...
Image by Mikka Pineda

How to go to White Pocket
For directions to the White Pocket and practical information, you can check this page.
Image by John Fowler

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Hormoz, the island of colours in Iran

The small ferry from the regional capital landed in an instant. Passengers rush to go back to the shade. Once the stampede of mopeds has delivered everybody home, it's only me and a scorching sun of 40 degrees. It's summer, it's midday, and there's no turning back: Today I left my shelter in Bandar Abbas, to explore an extremely arid island in the south of Iran. There's not much info about how to do it, and at this hour I can only ask for directions to some goats sitting in the shadow.

The only visitable monument highlighted in the guides, is an old colonial Portuguese fort in serious decay. There's no sign of life around the crumbling walls, and I'd say that the entrance door has been closed for business since the Persians took over. It doesn't matter. I'm looking for the geological features that make this island a unique place in the world. They are somewhere into the 16 sq miles of Hormuz.

Very soon a taxi driver, blessed with an excessive tanning and a modern air-conditioned van, locates my position. He will drive me through the unpaved road that encircles Hormuz. Negotiations to agree the price start soon. First we are visiting a young lady that has been appointed as translator. Her English is as good as my Farsi, but I get a more than fair quote. Vehicle and driver will be at my exclusive service for a couple of hours.

Hormuz Island carpet

The biggest monument in Europe: Völkerschlachtdenkmal

Leipzig October 1813. More than 600.000 soldiers from almost all the corners of Europe are about to clash in one of the bloodiest battles in history. 100,000 killed and a century later after the massacre, a massive landmark was erected on the battle field, not far from the place where Napoleon once issued his orders. The famous French Emperor suffered here a severe defeat that had to change the fate of the continent, forcing him to abandon his control over Germany.

The colossal structure of concrete and granite is 300 feet high (91 meters). In German it received the long and intimidating name of Völkerschlachtdenkmal, but it's also known as the Monument to the Battle of the Nations. At first it was designed as a memorial to commemorate the end of the battle, viewed also as a victory of Germanic people. This was part of the process that had to help creating the spirit of the country, to establish the future state of Germany.

But the winds of the times were blowing in a slightly different direction. The temptation was too obvious, and when they emerged, the Nazis put their hands on the pantheon. The monument soon became the meeting point for Hitler's rallies in Saxony:

Monument to the Battle of the Nations

Where was The Avengers: Age of Ultron filmed?

The second part of the Hollywood blockbuster The Avengers, is the most international Marvel movie yet. The filming took place basically in five countries: Italy, South Africa, South Korea, United Kingdom and Bangladesh.

The movie shows an impressive cast of stars, including Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark or Iron Man) (Robert Downey Jr.), Samuel L Jackson (Nick Fury or the S.H.I.E.L.D. boss), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers or Captain America), and Chris Hemsworth (Thor). No contains spoilers!

The Avengers filming locations in Italy

The Avengers castle

Kuril Islands: 101 Fabulous volcanoes in Russia's Easternmost territory

There’s almost no tourism here. The brutal beauty of many of these frontier islands is reserved to sporadic military patrols, local fisherman and to the fearless wildlife. This is the extreme east, we're right on the edge of the rim of the Eurasian plate. On the line where this plate is slowly engulfing the Pacific one. A small lost world, where the most remote islands are almost left at the mercy of the elements.

Kuril Islands are about 100 volcanoes (40 still smoking) on 56 islands, which only 7 are inhabited with no more than 20,000 souls. They belong to Russia and you need a special permission to enter each island. Independent travel to some of the beautiful deserted islands is almost impossible, unless you've got a boat or an helicopter (and a large budget).

As many of this incredible landscapes are out of reach for most of us, we took the opportunity to show some images courtesy of Eugene Kaspersky, who organized a private expedition, touring the islands on a boat. You can find more information, photos and entertaining stories here, on his personal blog.

Kuril Volcanoes

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