03 March, 2010

Lessons from the Desert

Finally, a break to sit and write. I keep trying to sit down and write this post, but I always find a more pressing matter that must be dealt with right away, or I fall asleep, as was the case last night when trying to write. The last five/six days have been non-stop. Also, most of them have been without internet, computer, or many of the technological conveniences that I normally carry around with me in my everyday life that keep me connected to the world. In a way it was wonderful to just be out in the middle of nowhere, with very little connection to the outside world. On the other, I kept dreading the amount of e-mails and facebook messages and tweets I was going to come back to and have to catch up on when I returned...which were a lot. 

Overall, I have to say that the trip to Siwa was extremely relaxing, enjoyable, full of some adventure, and a trip I will never forget. If I have ever sounded like coming to Egypt was a mistake, which come on now...it's Egypt, how can it be a mistake to live here for 5 months?, this trip made up for the hard times I've had and has paved the way for more good times to occur. At least I hope...

I guess I should start at the beginning. Since that's the most logical place to begin a story and unless I feel like trying to put it in order later, this is just safer. I'm going to say I'm sorry now as the post may get a bit lengthy...and by may I mean will...You can't write a short post on a weekend where you ventured into the desert and took nearly 300 photos. It just can't happen. So, here goes nothing. 

The trip to Siwa began bright and early on Thursday morning. Classes had been canceled and we were to meet at the normal meeting place, Cinema El-Tahrir, at 8:00am for the bus to depart. Unfortunately, we didn't depart on time as rain had hit the city of Cairo, a rare and mysterious concept for those who live in a very dry climate...it's kind of like when DC and Baltimore get hit with snow...no one knows what to do...so, the traffic was absolutely horrible and we ended up having to pick up one of our adventurers from the side of the road where his taxi left him. But, we did eventually begin the trip around 8:30am...which is still pretty good considering we are all college kids who normally don't move until after 10am on a good day. 

I don't remember much of the beginning of the trip as I had put on my iPod and pretty much passed out until we hit the first rest stop. We had been informed to use the facilities everytime we came to a rest stop as they are far and few on the highways in Cairo. So, I did just that. And then I bought myself a tea at the coffee/tea shop at the rest stop just so that I became somewhat functional. It was a good choice. I was then able to be awake for some of the trip and read some of The Lottery and other short stories. I made a good dent into it and of course, I skipped around and read The Lottery so that I could discuss it with the others on the bus who had read it. 

I have to say, the bus ride there was super long. 12 hours to be exact and we definitely got lost a few times along the way. From the few times I woke up (I slept a lot on the way there), I can remember the bus driver asking for directions and stopping at a lot of places only to find we had missed a turn or something like that and had to turn around. Good times. 

We did, however, stop at El Alamein on the way to Siwa. For those who don't know it's a huge graveyard where many soldiers from WWII are buried. It was peaceful and I could have spent a lot more time there than we did. We then went into the museum and saw the exhibit on the battle, but due to our tight schedule I didn't see as much as I wanted. Also, the English translation was definitely not good...more like a direct translation from Arabic with no changes at all when put into English. 
  The entrance gate into the cemetery.
The El Alamein War Cemetery.
One of my favorite pictures that I took while at the cemetery. 
After our stop, we boarded the bus again and had lunch, which was packed by Tyler, Moose, and Matthew and was quite delicious. I really do enjoy the fact that whenever AMIDEAST takes us someplace, they come prepared with sandwiches, chips, fruit and drinks. It's kind of like being back in elementary school, but it's awesome. 

With some more road stops and a few more turn arounds, we finally made it to Siwa...at 8:30pm. We quickly checked into our rooms and headed for dinner in the restaurant of the hotel, which was pretty good and consisted of rice, chicken, there was some pasta, desert, tomato soup, and other things that were delicious. After dinner, a good bit of us sat outside, chatted, and had some tea before heading to bed. I crashed pretty early this night and I'm not quite sure why as I slept a lot on the bus. Oh well. The real adventure started on Friday morning. 

Friday morning came at around 7:30am for me. Breakfast was at 8am and so, I wanted to make sure I was somewhat functional before I left. I also made sure that I had everything I was going to need for the day before I left the room. Here's the part where I thank Geoff a lot for buying me the backpack he insisted I have before going to Prague last semester. The detachable part made caring everything in one succinct area so much easier...so thanks Geoff! 

The city of Siwa. A mix of old and new. 
Once everyone had finished breakfast, we loaded the bus and began on the historical aspect of our trip. Our first stop was an area in Siwa used for tribal rituals though for the life of me I can't remember what it was called. After that we headed to see the Old City of Shali, which were in ruins but very awesome to look at and climb through, we saw the old mosque briefly and then went to the House of Siwa, which was opened specifically for us. The House of Siwa was a museum that pretty much documented the culture of Siwians that is slowly dying out. It houses a lot of the old jewelry and clothes and the museum itself is actually built like a house is built. 

 The ruins of the Old Shali city.
 After the lunch, we departed for Geb el-Mawta, which were Pharaohnic tombs if I'm not mistaken and I believe the Roman tombs. Either way, we saw some tombs and William and myself once again found ourselves trying to read the hieroglyphs on the walls, and on any other piece of rock we found. I really think I'm going to just start bringing my hieroglyphs book with me on trips so we can translate things.
 The Pharaohnic tombs were buried inside the "mountain". We climbed all the way to the top! 
We then stopped for lunch at a small restaurant in town where I had some delicious chicken curry and mango juice. Couldn't have asked for anything else. 

Then we finally got to the real reason Siwa is "famous". We got to see the Temple of the Oracle. This is the same temple that Alexander traveled to and received his great news. We got to see the sanctuary where the oracle would have been and it was very cool. We also stopped by the Temple of Amun, which was pretty destroyed due to a gentleman taking it apart for use in his house...but, nonetheless, Will and I proceeded to try and read the hieroglyphs. We also stopped by Cleopatra's bath briefly and considered coming back to swim, but unfortunately did not. 

The Temple of the Oracle ruins. 
Me standing outside where the oracle would have been kept. 
Rebecca "saving" Will from one of the last walls of the Temple of Amun...he's trying to read the hieroglyphs.
Instead of swimming at Cleopatra's bath, we settled for the hot spring-like pool that was at the resort. Although, I must say it was rather gross feeling on the bottom. My guess is that because it's not tourist season yet, they didn't clean the pools and such just yet. But, it was rather nice and enjoyable to float around in.

Once we finished swimming, I quickly returned to my room for a shower and then met everyone at the bus for a trip to see the sunset on Siwa lake. 

The sunset over the lake was the most relaxing thing I've ever seen. I sat and talked with people and just lounged in chair. I took a lot of pictures of when the sun went down and enjoyed it. 
Saw this sign on the way to watch the sunset. I thought it was pretty funny...it's about swimming in one of the springs nearby.
The sunset over the Oasis. So pretty!
We then returned to the hotel for dinner, and then hanging out under the Bedouin tent playing cards and games. I learned quite a bit of card games and I sort of learned to play tawla aka backgammon...sort of anyway before I returned to my room for the evening. 

Saturday morning came around at about the same time as Friday, though it didn't have to. I got up for breakfast and then caught the bus with a few others and went into town to do some shopping. I started off with everyone, but soon drifted off on my own to do my own thing. I bought some gifts for the people back home, plus a few things for me, which is rare as I never buy things for me. 

We returned to the hotel at 11:30am, had lunch at the hotel and then met out front of the resort where we boarded three SUVs and began on the "desert excursion". I didn't realize how close our resort was to the Sahara desert. We literally drove two minutes and then we were in the desert where we began jumping dunes and driving. It was so much fun. I want to do it again! 
SUVs in the desert. Taken from the window of the SUV I was in.
We drove for a little bit and then stopped once it seemed we were nowhere near civilization. There was a huge dune which we all proceeded to climb up. It was here, unfortunately that Camille, my camera, became a victim of the sand gods. (I'm currently looking for a place to fix the lens problem as that's all that's wrong with the camera.) It kind of killed my mood for a bit of the trip...which meant the stop at the warm spring wasn't exactly fun as I really wanted pictures, but couldn't take them. Oh well. By the time we hit the huge dune for "sandboarding" I was fine again. I didn't get to "sandboard" per say, but I did get to "sandsled". Unfortunately, I only got about halfway down the dune before my board began to cover in sand. I quickly got up and started back up the hill and realized how hard it was to climb in sand when you can't see. I decided not to try again as the hill was so difficult to climb. 
The boys heading for the top of the dune.
 Everyone falling in the sand. You can can sort of see how windy it was.
Once everyone had had their fun with the sandboards, we packed the SUVs again and drove down the massive dune and made a rest at the lake. Some of us went swimming, I opted to only dip my feet in the water as it was really cold. The drivers also brought some tea and cake with them, so we sat under a canopy in the desert and sipped on tea and ate cakes. These are things that you really only get to do once. 

After a nice long rest, we loaded the SUVs again and drove to the Great Sand Sea, where we were shown fossils of fish and sand dollars. I'd say I'm now pretty convinced there was once a sea where the sand now sits. It was pretty cool, I have to say. 

We returned back to the SUVs, did some more awesome riding around in the desert and then headed back for the resort where I watched the sunset over the desert from the wall of the resort that bordered the desert. Luckily, Sylvia, my video camera, was there to take some pretty pictures of the sunset. 

Dinner was again at 8pm, and it was soon followed by more hanging out under the Bedouin tent with people. This time I actually played a few card games instead of just watching and learning. I really enjoyed playing with the guys and Yasmina. It was fun and I stayed up much later than I have in the past just hanging out and such. It was a great day...the only problem had to be getting the sand out of my hair and off of me once we returned from the desert. 

Sunday morning marked the end of our expedition to the desert. I packed my things the night before and proceeded to put them on the bus around 7:45am or so. I then had breakfast and everyone met on the bus at 8:30am. We were trying to make the trip shorter on the way home, so we planned on cutting out a stop at a restaurant for lunch and instead just stopping at a fast food place...too bad this didn't work out. 

We had been on the road for approximately three hours or so, when all of a sudden the bus began to slow down. We had run out of gas...in the middle of the desert. I'm sure you can see how this would be a very bad thing. I think our driver was worried about this so, he had asked the police to follow us in case it did...and well, it did. Luckily for us that about three minutes later, a tankard carrying petroleum came cruising down the road. We flagged the tankard down and were able to secure some more gas rather quickly and soon we were on the road to Mersa Matruh, the port town we weren't supposed to go to. We stopped there for lunch at a very nice restaurant and then took a quick stop over to see the Mediterranean Sea, which was beautiful, blue and cold. I did dip my toes in. 

The rest of the bus ride home was pretty uneventful. I did all of my International Relations reading, sat and talked about things with Dr. Randa, my Egyptology professor, and read some more. I was awake for most of the ride home. 

We arrived back in Cairo at approximately 9:00pm, which left us all pretty exhausted and unexcited to have classes the next morning. So, we offloaded our things from the bus, and headed back for the apartment where I then proceeded to crash. 

The trip itself was wonderful. A bit tiring and full of adventure. So, by this point I'm sure you are all wondering about the title of the entry. Well, while in the desert I learned a lot of new things. So, without further ado, here's the list of lessons I learned in the desert. 

1. The proper use of a scarf is to tie it around your head, so that sand doesn't get in your hair and it can also be used to cover your face. Sunglasses also help you see when the wind picks up. (I will post a picture of this as soon as I can find one of me...)
2. Cameras do not appreciate when you fall in the sand. 
3. The desert was at one point a sea. 
4. Burial tombs are fun places to try and read ancient writing on the wall. 
5. Running out of gas in the middle of the desert is not necessarily a bad thing. 
6. Using squat toilets are quite interesting and let you know that there are muscles you've never used before. 
7. Being on a bus for 12 hours is quite exhausting. 
8. Before tourist season, swimming pools are rather gross. 

And that's about it. I'm pretty sure there are more than that, but I don't remember much more. It was awesome. End of story. 

So, keep looking for more adventures like this one. They are sure to be appearing more frequently now that the semester is definitely kicked into full gear. I can't believe I've been here over a month already. Time is flying, and the posts are too. Keep watching!

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