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:
We start with the obvious: palm trees, lakes and a sea of sand.
All the images by Atlas of Wonders
You just have to go out to enjoy the show and find a small paradise where you can relax, like Fatnas Spring.
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.
However, there is not much left of the shrine of the legendary Oracle, but the views form the top worth the trip.
There are many natural springs and pools to have a splash, like the one known as 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today it's better not to bring this subject 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.
To read more about this and the other interesting stories about Siwa, you can find many sources, like Wikipedia.
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.