Our Journey Into The Great Sahara Desert
16.05.2012 - 19.05.2012 43 °C
Writing this blog has always been a challenge. As soon as I get caught up, I get behind again as there is always something new to write about. We've really been on the move in Egypt and have covered most of this vast desert country. Here's a map to give you a idea of the distances I'm talking about:
That's a lot of LONG ASS BUS RIDES folks lol... yesterday was probably one of our most painful in recent memory - hot, no A/C, way too many stops and the bus broke down no less than 3 times.... there are definitely times when we wish we had the money to just fly everywhere lol. But now we're back in Cairo.... eewwhhh... big scary Cairo lol... things actually appear to be quite safe here. Aside from a few nearby protests things seem to be fine, even in and around Tahir Square where the revolution took place only one year ago. This is now our second time in Cairo (we were unable to book train tickets to Aswan when we first arrived so we stayed here a couple of days then and saw the Pyramids among other things) and it feels good to know that we are officially done travelling Egypt!! Not because it's been bad, but because we're tired lol. As you can see by the map we've covered a lot of miles and are really just excited to relax for 5 days before our flight, and to get caught up on a few things like writing and shopping.... remember we are travelling into the heart of Africa next and like travelling to any new country your never quite sure what products will be available (i.e. deodorant, coffee, sunscreen) and for what price (things are actually really cheap in Egypt.... I'll update you on our budget soon).
Siwa... we decided early on that it would be an experience of a lifetime to travel into the heart of the Sahara desert. The Sahara (Arabic: Aṣ-Ṣaḥrā´ al-Kubrā, "The Great Desert") is the world's largest hot desert and second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over 9,400,000 square kilometres, it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as China or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean. Since Egypt was our only country contained inside this great giant we decided to make a sacrifice (10 hour bus journey lol) and travel towards Siwa, an oasis in the heart of the desert.
The bus ride was long and very un-stimulating (desert and sand to look at for 10 hours). Then out of nowhere appears this vast lush green area of palm trees (you always imagine oasis' as myths or in the movies). We had finally reached Siwa! We quickly found a hotel in the heart of town and settled in. And man oh man was it hot!
In the second picture above you'll notice what looks like an old castle or fort. It used to be somewhat of both and housed hundreds of people at one time. That is until one year it rained for 3 straight days and completely compromised the mud structure (this is the equivalent to Saskatchewan having an earthquake... it just doesn't happen). The structure was abandoned shortly after.
Even though we travelled 10 hours by bus and would have to make the exact same journey back, we only planned to spend 2 days/ 3 nights in Siwa. You could easily spend more time then this, but at this point we still had lots of Egypt left to see and didn't want to cut our time short. For our first day in Siwa we toured the small town and decided to go for a walk (bad idea) to Cleopatra's Spring...
I wish that the pictures could convey the heat and sun! The walk from our hotel to the spring was only 3km, but in the heat of the day it felt more like 30km! We quickly demolished all our water and started to get concerned about the possibility of contracting heat stroke. But we made it to the spring and I took a dip (Stacey didn't because Siwa is a very traditional Muslim area and she would have had to swim fully clothed... fun fun). The spring was clean and refreshing! This is actually the reason behind Siwa's existence as the area contains around 300 freshwater springs that give life to the region (80 X 20km, 300,000 palm trees, 70,000 olive tress and a pop of 25,000 people). We chilled out at the spring for awhile before attempting to head back into town.
On the way back we hitched a ride with a local man and his son...
We saw these around everywhere...
We couldn't figure out what they were for the life of us, but Stacey guessed that they're pigeon catchers... lol seriously I think that's what they are. Pigeon is a traditional dish in Egypt and we would often see pigeons flying into these buildings... if you know what they are shoot me an email/message lol.
Our favourite restaurant in town... didn't have pigeon though lol...
Siwa has lots of sweet ass...
That night we took a taxi out to Siwa Lake (salt water lake) about 6km out of town. Most tuk tuk drivers in Siwa are really young kids lol, so we hired one boy for a few hours... he was so excited to have foreigners in the back of his tuk tuk lol.
For sunset we stopped at a place called Fantas Island which sits right out on Siwa Lake. Off in the distance you can see the Great Sand Sea... moments like these really remind us how lucky we are to be travelling. Such an exotic place...
Besides the view, the best part was that there was this little cafe with loungers, tables and chairs right there by the lake. So we got to smoke sheesha and drink fresh juice while we watched the sunset.
One of the best sunsets of the entire trip! Our kid driver picked us up shortly after and we headed back towards our hotel just as it turned dark. The plan for the following day was to book a tour and head out into the heart of the desert. So that morning we arranged it for the afternoon and then just rested... you honestly need to conserve your energy cause the heat just sucks it right out of you. At 2 pm we met up with our small group (4 other tourists), jumped into two Landcruisers (I want one so bad) and took off south west towards the Great Sand Sea!
That's our driver! Must have been 13 or 14 years old! He was definitely unsure of his abilities and was pretty nervous (first time driving tourists) lol, but what the hell... what could he possible hit in the desert right? Well little did we know that we would literally be riding the dunes like a roller coaster, driving straight down some of those massive dunes (they can reach 520m high) at break neck speed. I loved it and got some great video... Stacey on the other hand wasn't impressed... she wasn't prepared for a thrill ride lol. Pretty spectacular views though. It was hard for you to wrap your mind around the size of it (that's what she said).
Nothing but sand sand sand. I felt so sorry for our Landcruiser cause the kid kept on manually shifting it and he was red lining the piss out of it... you could actually smell burning lol. But it held up (all the more reason why I want one).
The sand was so soft too. Lots of medical tourists actually travel to Siwa because of this, taking what are called "sand baths" to help treat their arthritis among other ailments. We tried it and it felt good but I couldn't help but thinking 'why not just buy a shit-load of Magicbags instead of travelling all the way to Siwa Egypt?' lol... rich people (is Magicbag a Canadian thing?).
The craziest part about the whole trip was that we kept on driving to these little oasis' out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't help but think how it would look like a mirage to someone lost in the desert. They just look SO out of place in there environment.
The first oasis we stopped at I decided to climb up a sand dune so that I could get a better view of the water for a picture. As I was climbing I noticed a trail left by something. So I followed it, knowing what had made it, trying to conquer my fear...
I felt insane doing it lol. I just hate them! He was big too! At least 2 metres long and fast. I shot some amazing video of it. I actually got a little bit cocky at the end, ran ahead of it and then walked straight towards it to see if I could get a close up picture lol. He didn't like that very much and started coming straight at me. At this point my cockiness vanished and I got the hell outta there! Still not sure what kind of snake it was but our guide seemed impressed by the pictures and said it was venomous.
Before sunset, the last stop we made was at a site with an extremely high concentration of fossils. Apparently the Sahara at one point was much more wet and contained vast bodies of water or was under the sea. They have found massive fossils of dinosaurs, fish and crocodiles here.
I tried in vain to find a seashell but had no luck as they were all encased in what looked like fossilized coral. We have never seen anything like it. Being out in the middle of this massive desert and staring at fossils that had to inhabit some large body of water... sure makes you feel small and insignificant knowing how old the Earth is and how much it has changed. That's why I always laugh when I hear or read that humans are going to destroy the planet. Who are we kidding... the Earth will destroy us way before we will it.
This used to be wet...
To finish off the tour we drove to the top of big dune and just stared west...
Pretty surreal experience for us. Being in an extreme, foreign environment really jolts it into you... YOU ARE A VERY FAR WAY FROM HOME. Maybe because we've been travelling for some time now we don't notice it very much anymore, but when your staring off out into the Sahara Desert it really hits. 'I can't believe we're really doing this!!' It's a pretty great feeling knowing that all the sacrifices have been worth it... from working and saving for 2 years to take this trip or even the long ass bus rides to get to the sights!
As you can see these "sweet" buses often break down and your stranded for hours at a time on the side of the road lol. But it was all worth it right?? LOL in this case it was. Okay so being stuck in the middle of the desert with a bus shooting oil all over the ground wasn't fun, and at the time I was slightly frustrated, annoyed and tired. But sometimes you just gotta take what life throws at you, have a little patience and just laugh about it. Bus rides have definitely taught us both that. Patience...one of the most useful tools you can have travelling the world!