Desert’s best kept secret

Maybe you happened to buy bottled Siwan water around the corner in Egypt or other Middle Eastern countries and you did not know what an amazing place it comes from.

I discovered Siwa by accident ….. while browsing Google Maps :). Being remote promised authenticity and we plunged to discover! The Great Sea of Sand hides its secrets very skilfully, the distant oasis is cut from the world by the desert. It is different from the rest of Egypt. It is a place of breathtaking views and an amazing unique culture!

We took the 10-hour overnight bus from Cairo Gateway bus station via Marsa Matruh directly to the oasis. We reached Siwa in the morning, enjoying a big orange sun rising over the flat duneless desert on the way. The dunes start much south, deep inside the Sahara desert, after Siwa. Being situated below the sea level (-133m) Siwa has to do with salt. Geology speaking, it is the second lowest point in Africa, after Assal lake in Djibouti. There are dozens of super salty lakes in Siwa on both sides of the vast oasis.

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Accommodation is SUPER affordable. You won’t believe it, but you don’t need much in order to travel here. Rent a bicycle and get to feel at home. It is nothing like Cairo, everybody minds their business,  people are friendly and polite. Welcome to the one of the few if not the only Amazigh community in Egypt! The current number of Amazigh living in Egypt is very small, most of them living in Siwa and a small number in Beni Suef. The people here speak Siwi, one of the Berber languages, Arabic is learned as a second language. Siwans are mindful of preserving their traditions and distinctive culture, which is closer to the Berber roots than to the Arabic ones.

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Cars are not that much used here, locals are driving wide donkey carts and motorcycles. Siwi donkeys are mostly white. Adorable!

There are several natural pools with pristine water here. Ain al-Arais is just 5 minutes from the city center. Further on you can find Cleopatra’s pool, a much larger spring. It is amazing to find them in the middle of Sahara Desert. The bottom of the pools have a grotesque surface. Bubbles make their way to the surface from the deep pools, giving the sensation of boiling, but the water is actually cold and refreshing. Siwans love to jump in the springs, they have colorfully decorated baskets used for clothing and toiletries, which they carry with them when going for a bath.

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This place is also all about dates and olives. Millions of palms and olive trees make Siwa an oasis. Date palm have separate female and male plants. You have to help them pollinate in order for fruits to grow up – an entire procedure out there!

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The Great Sea of Sand is just over the horizon. I have never seen a finer sand anywhere else: every piece is perfectly round and shinning! Spend the night camping in the desert, by the fire! It is unforgettable! Surely enough, little white desert foxes will roam around, scared by your every move, but curiously daring to approach again and again!

You can have a sand therapy in Siwa. It is a traditional practice which is believed to cure rheumatism and other diseases. They will bury you up in sand during the hottest time of the day for a period of up to 30 minutes, leaving only your head above the ground. They will cover your head with a tower to create shade. The idea is to sweat in order to eliminate impure water from the body.  However, consult a doctor in case you already have a medical condition before taking the sand bath.

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Dunes are driven away by the wind and are gathered into new dunes. They can get super high, making it a great spot for sandboarding!

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You will always choose a big dune, but climbing back can take ages!

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A trip to Bir Wahed is a must. The two lakes – one with ice cold water and another with hot water – have emerged after drilling in search for oil, several decades ago. The oil was not found, but the water lakes were left to develop into popular attractions. How amazing, there is a naturally cold water in the middle of Sahara Desert!

You have to get a permission to visit the lakes, as they are very close to the Libyan border, but it can be arranged by the tour guides.

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The jacuzzi is a natural spring of  hot water, just across the dune which separates it from the cold lake. This pool has a slightly sulfurous content and is known for its therapeutic effects.

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While roaming around we were lucky to see pink flamingos in the Siwa lakes. Flamingos love salty environments, no wonder it is the right place for them.

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Every year in October there is a festival for a couple of days near the Dakrur Mountain. The settlements constructed specially for this event remain empty for the rest of the year.

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I think Dakrur Mountain is the dream of every archaeologist and every geologist. It is full of petrified fossils and marks which prove a series of natural changes in the world. You can clearly see traces of marine life here – shells, corals and bones.

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… And we were sitting there, wondering how it used to be here in the past, when Sahara desert used to be an ocean 🙂 …

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We loved the local cous cous and the traditional molokhia soup (made from Jute leaves). We used to have a dozen of karkades (hibiscus tea) daily, whenever possible. Karkade is full of vitamin C, it is a great drink to appease thirst and to refresh yourself when being in arid desert environments. In Egypt they love sweet staff, therefore your karkade will never be sour 🙂

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In the middle of Siwa you can see the ruins of Shali, a former desert fortress. Houses are made of salt mud, which is not a long-living material.

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Fatnas Island lies a little bit on the side of Siwa center, connected via a narrow path.

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A cozy cafe is hidden between lush palm and olive tree groves.

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On Fatnas there is another fresh water spring with a bubbling bottom.

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Right across the lake is a luxurious ecologic hotel.

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You would never want to leave this place…

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Off the beaten track trips are special by all means!

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Siwa is a must, just as much as Musandam or Wadi Rum!

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About Imagineth

Ukraine born and raised...... after that, a long time has passed :P I'm an observer. Stopped traveling for a while. This is my break. Tomorrow is another day, hopefully tomorrow will bring me somewhere closer to the beach and the sun!

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