Jacinto in Cairo

30 October 2006


'Id al-fitr, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, began last Tuesday. Like so many Egyptians, we travelled. Our itinerary began with a cab ride to the bus station. When we arrived near 7.30am, the plaza was filled with a religious gathering - hundreds of people sitting on canvas tarps thrown across the ground. So, with time running out until our bus's departure, we took off our shoes and made our way through the devotees. Our first stop was Marsa Matruh, a small city on the North Coast all the way west near the Libyan border. The city is known for its delicious seafood and the striking colors of the Mediterranean there, pictured below.

After consuming whole fish and calamari, and watching Zoolander in our mediocre hotel on the Corniche, we set off the next morning for the Siwa Oasis. Siwis are actually Berber, like the inhabitants of Kabylie in Algeria and the Rif Mountains of Morocco. They eat couscous and harissa, speak a Berber language, and often have gorgeous blue or green eyes. Oh, and it's the olive harvest now and we got some delicious freshly pressed olive oil, so fruity and delicious. Also, the first picture in this blog entry is a field of karkadé, or hibiscus, or flor de jamaica, used to make a delicious deep red drink that's really popular here. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

This donkey cart took us from the bus depot to our hotel on the edge of the oasis. It's hard to describe the effects of approaching Siwa after 3 hours of driving through the desert, with nothing around but scrub brush and sandstone formations. Of course, this must be nothing compared to arriving after two weeks caravaning on camels through the Sahara, but still. The oasis is so lush, like the banks of the Nile but somehow even moreso. Underneath Siwa is a freshwater ocean that provides most of Egypt's bottled water, and there are thousands of date palms. It's also date season, and you can just pick fresh dates off the trees. So yummy.

Above you see our hotel, the Desert Rose - lovely and tranquil, with a refreshing non-chlorinated pool fed by an underground source. 5km from town, it was seriously isolated. We waited four hours for a ride into town which never came, then set off on foot, only to be picked up by a farmer bringing fresh hay into town. We ate at the fancy restaurant, and my prix fixe menu of the day included fresh pita, tahina, couscous and vegetables, a huge grilled steak fillet, and a fresh date crepe - all for $8! Then we ambled around, underneath the old fortress/town of Shali, and bought some handmade baskets in the Siwan style.

I was itching to get into the desert, and we met a group of Egyptians also staying at the Desert Rose who were planning an overnight excursion with a local guide some of them had travelled with three years ago. How fortunate for us! Twelve of us piled into two Land Cruisers and drove into the dunes, bathed in a sulfury hot spring, sandboarded, bathed in a cold spring, roasted two whole spiced goats in an underground coal pit, danced around the campfire to the sounds of a Siwi musical troupe, then set up tents to sleep under the impossibly bright stars. Now back in Cairo, how I mish that fresh air!


At 5:18 AM, Blogger Alexandra said...

As always, your adventures sound amazing, the pictures are incredible and both you and both look great. I can't wait to read more.

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Phil said...

J, good to see you guys doing great over there. Loved the Turkey pictures (brought me back). The Egyptian desert also looks like a hell of a time. You'll have to tell us all about it when you get some free time, seems like you're very busy over there with the piano moving and other adventures.


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