01.04.2008 - 06.04.2008
Siwa - an amazing oasis verging on the great sand sea in Egypt's western desert and close to the Libyan border. It took nine hours by bus from Alexandria to get here (which actually wasn't as bad as it sounds and was substantially better than later bus trips - more to come on that later) but was definitely worth the effort!!!
We stayed the first night at the Shali Lodge, a beautiful mud-brick hotel, before transferring to the incredible Adrere Amellal. Adrere Amellal is an eco-lodge sitting on the edge of one of Siwa's salt lakes about 20 minutes out of Siwa town. It's absolutely amazing, built out of mud and salt brick using traditional Berber techniques. There is no electricity and in the evening the staff light up the buildings using lamps and candles. Each afternoon guests are taken by 4x4 into the desert south of Siwa to marvel at the huge sand dunes and watch the sun set. Everything about Adrere Amellal is fantastic: the location, the buildings, the staff, the food, the excursions. We stayed two nights (I wish we could have stayed longer but it is very expensive!!) and then returned to the Shali Lodge for another two nights.
Siwa town itself is very small and pretty, and Siwans are incredibly friendly. There are several springs around town where you can swim and some other ancient sites. We spent a great afternoon with a young man in his carpet shop drinking Hibiscus tea and talking about our respective lives. There are also some beautiful handicrafts - Berber rugs and Siwan marriage shawls - and the shawls in particular are unique to Siwa.
Because Siwa is somewhat difficult to get to most tourists to Egypt don't go there (or to the other oases for that matter) so it is very quiet and relaxed. Rather than go back to Alexandria by bus we decided to pay a driver to take us through the desert to the next oasis Bahariyya. There is a road but it's in very poor condition (and disappears into the sand at several points) so you can only travel by 4x4. Our driver found it easier to leave the road and drive through the dunes for some parts of the trip. We were lucky to share the drive with a British woman updating a travel guide for Egypt (not Lonely Planet is all I will say), which not only made the 8-hour trip a bit cheaper but meant we also had great company and met some other wonderful people through her. The drive did get just a little bit scary at one point when sand being blown around by the strong wind (visibility wasn't very good) got into the engine and the car conked out a couple of times. Although we might have been a bit anxious about this (and about losing sight of the road) our driver wasn't the slightest bit concerned and we did make it to Bahariyya in one piece.
Tales from the other oases to follow. Will also post photos once we've worked out how to get them off the camera