Thu, 03 Jul 2008 13:18:59 +0000
Alexandria Day 2 Index Siwa
It's worth explaining why I decided to go to Siwa. Originally, I was going to cross the border into Libya, only as far as Tobruk. But the visa process takes a long time, and it's another of the ones where you can't apply more than three months in advance. In the end I had to give up the idea, even when I had two passports. Syria was hard enough. But Siwa, which is a small oasis town out in the desert, sounded like such a cool place to be out in the middle of nowhere, so I kept it in the itinerary. There's nothing particularly to do, and in the middle of summer it's just going to be hot and uncomfortable. But I thought this would be something interesting to experience.
So off I went early in the morning to catch a bus. The tourist office had told me that there were buses at 8:30, 11:00, and a couple more in the afternoon, so I resolved to try and catch the 8:30. I got a taxi to the "new bus station". I'm glad I'd asked the guy in the tourist office to write it down in Arabic: the taxi driver didn't seem to know where it was, and had to ask several people in the street where to go. He didn't speak a word of English either, we had to haggle the price entirely with hand gestures. But he got me to the right spot, for 10 EGP.
I was prepared to shop around, but it seems "West Delta" has a monopoly on this route. One guy in a West Delta office told me that the bus actually left at 10:30, which was disappointing, but the ticket I bought was in fact for 8:30. So it wasn't a long wait. A helpful fellow traveller let me know which bus was the right one to get on.
The bus was, technically, air-conditioned, but only a tiny amount of air got through, not enough to offset the ferocious heat outside. It was a very uncomfortable journey. I fell asleep for maybe ten minutes, but since there wasn't enough room to recline the seats, my neck was pretty sore. Buses in the middle east aren't a patch on those in south America. At least I have my music now.
The route took us along the coast to Marsa Matruh, at which point sensible people got off for a break whereas I stuck grimly to the bus (not everyone goes all the way to Siwa, and I didn't want to get lost). Then from Marsa Matruh we turned inland to Siwa. As you'd expect, this is real Sahara desert stuff. I got a chance to enjoy the desolate landscape when we stopped at a roadside cafe, really in the middle of nowhere. A fantastically wild spot. I also enjoyed the chance to get off the bus: the hot dry wind blew away the sweat in an instant. I'm glad I brought plenty of water with me, otherwise I'd dehydrate in a few minutes.
Finally, a bit before 6:00 in the afternoon, we got into Siwa. It really does feel like a backwards rural town, even though there are quite a lot of tourist-oriented shops and hotels in the centre. Instead of taxis they have donkey carts, and I commandeered one of these to take me to my hotel. They're tiny and bumpy, even worse than tuk-tuks. And western eyes don't enjoy seeing animals beaten like that to make them go. I guess it's a carbon-neutral form of transport though. The hotel was well within walking distance, but I didn't know precisely where, so my EGP 2 was paying for navigation more than anything else.
The hotel is remarkably nice for 35 EGP. At least, it's clean and airy. I get the impression that if you leave a place open to the elements here, it's not going to suffer anything worse than accumulating a thin layer of dust. Due to a misunderstanding, I was first shown the deluxe suite, which costs 135 EGP and has air-conditioning. It really was very nice. I only wanted a single room with a fan though, for 35 EGP - even when he offered to reduce the price to 100 EGP. I don't think the hotel has a single other customer at the moment. I got my single room, although the first one turned out to have a broken fan, so I moved to a different one. I don't think I could survive without a fan.
For dinner I found a random restaurant and ordered some chicken and couscus. It came in a clay pot and was great, with just the right amount of spices and beautifully tender chicken. The guy actually apologised at how long it took, even though it only took 15 minutes. This ain't Alexandria!
As I read my news feeds I was kept company by a couple of skinny but healthy-looking kittens. There seem to be quite a lot of cats in Siwa.
But not as many cats as donkeys. Their bellows constantly echo around here. Since they sound like the sand people from Star Wars, it just reinforces the impression that I've landed on Tatooine. But it is fairly lush here: thousands of palm trees stretching off into the distance. I really like it here, even though I could never stand more than a few days of this heat.
Alexandria Day 2 Index Siwa