The previous post describes the first stop during our Easter-weekend trip to the Siwa oasis. It’s been a long time since I’ve consciously written a poem, in rhyme or out of it, partly because of late it just felt too affected to write that way. But in the case of the El Alamein cemetery, it was spontaneous. I had composed the poem with the photos (or at least the lupine photo) in mind while I was still walking there. So coming back and typing it out was just closure.

As for the trip itself — It was a getaway for AUC-ians organized by Louise, our faculty services person without whom I don’t know how we would function. Siwa, our weekend destination, is an oasis in the Western desert well west and somewhat south of Cairo. It lies in what at is called the Qattar depression (deepration in the unique Egyptian-spelt version of the word). Actually Siwa is closer to the Libyan border (within 20 miles) than to any city within Egypt itself, and has its own distinct language (more similar to Berber from Morocco than to Arabic) and culture. It has Greco-Roman tombs, temples etc and some spectacular desert scenery, and the very interesting ruins of an old city on a hill. To get to it (road is the only way as far as I know) It’s about a 10 hour bus journey through the desert. We first head North to the coast to a town called Marsa Matrouh which functioned (and still does I suppose) as the Mediterranean gateway to the Qattar depression.

Given the huge distance, Louise had very wisely broken the journey out into two legs. The first day we only went as far as Marsa Matrouh and had the later afternoon/early evening to chill by the sea. The sea being the Bahr Abyath as the Mediterranean is called in Arabic, which translates as the “white sea” as I learned the just last week in my Arabic class.

On our way to Marsa Matrouh some 3 hours or so after leaving the outer limits of Giza, we stopped at El Alamein, where my Arabic lesson was corroborated at the local military museum. A very strange museum it was, rather hokey actually with life-size wax figurines of soldier forming a huge part of the display but also newspaper announcements, armaments, army equipment and outdoors (thought I didn’t bother to check them out) tanks and other desert vehicles. The exhibit legends were interesting, not so much for the information they imparted, as much as the anthropological and linguistic interpretations they offered. It was here, by the way, that I learned the word deepration.

At Marsa Matrouh there was a nice hotel with a private beach where the water was bracing (okay, so that’s just a euphemism for icy!) with a million grades of the colour blue — enough to rival the attention the word gets in an Aussie dictionary! — ranging from the misty greyish hues to the deepest midnight shades (which, as I learned from Elissa, is called Copenhagen) to the shades of teal and turquoise (both green and blue turquoise) all of which are commonplace to the seas but never fail to please my eye. The one blue that was missing was the Tutankhamun blue (the color on his coffins) but no matter. The aforementioned Elissa’s toenails were painted that colour. This is the beach where we had the episode of the whale calling the porpoise blubber!

An indifferent dinner, a very nice walk and some cups of tea later I was ready for bed, with my roommate for the trip — Phyllis, an ELI teacher and one of UCSC’s earliest graduates, which makes her a fellow banana slug. Next morning we boarded the bus for Siwa, by which time we had established that Ryan was a Scrabble fan and since I’d had the forethought or blind luck to bring my travel version along, three of us had a game en route. Elissa the supposed beginner in the trio creamed the two of us. In Siwa by lunchtime, we visited the oracular temple after lunch and had some grand views of the oasis and surrounding hills. Too hot for much else, I spent the evening, after a brief dip in our icy-bracing pool at the lodge, sleeping the sleep of the innocent and exhausted, and resuming said rest after a brief waking for dinner. Oh and I bought dates and olive oil — different varieties of each — when I went out into town (a block away from our Paradise safari hotel) for a brief pre-dinner run of the town.

More about Siwa town itself later, including pictures, but I should say that it has a fascinating history and geography. The next morning was a special sunrise drive.A fraction of us on the trip woke up before the crack of dawn and while it was yet dark drove out with our driver across the dunes to watch the sun rise and the moon set. The sights over the desert were well worth a view, but the real point of the drive was really the ride itself. Like a sand-based roller coaster only better. Up and down the dunes we went in those four wheel-drives, with no discernible landmarks as far as I could make out. The slopes were step enough to seem almost vertical at times and we’d go speeding down these things like we were so many crazy teens. The scariest moments were not when we went but those when I saw our companion vehicle behind or ahead of us! “Wait a second? I was that a minute ago????”

The rest of day 3 was just as busy. Returning after sunrise and those crazy roller coaster rides in the dunes, we set off to visit various sights –the mostly-melted city (I’ll explain the word melted one of these days) of Shaali, a carpet factory and the mound of the dead. The afternoon took us to the “springs”, which seems to be the local lingo for pools. Not the famous, if misnamed, Cleopatra’s bath, misnamed because the Cleopatras may never have actually been in Siwa, but another pool several miles out of town. Shy (who me?) at first, or rather, self conscious about changing in a male-dominated landscape — until we arrived at the springs there was nary a woman in sight — I first followed my colleagues’ suit and dipped my legs in the water. Heavenly cool – not cold – it was especially in contrast to the heat of the day. I was jealous right then of all the male of the species who could strip and dunk with impunity. The gaggle of schoolboys who were cannon-balling in and out of the spring really had me turning algal green with envy. But then Elissa brave soul, literally took the plunge, and so happily I too followed suit. Very quickly removed my outer layers of clothes and got into the water. Sheer bliss. Later I learned that this action by the ladies — Mia joined us too — elicited some semi-creepy reactions from some of the other folks in the area. Photos were taken, and I suspect that one of these days I may appear with grafted parts and what not in some Egyptian porn flick or rag. Oh well! The water was heaven, and therefore worth the uncertain price, methinks.

Despite the exhausting day (we had climbed a fairly steep mound in the blazing sun earlier) I felt no need to sleep this afternoon. Lolled around with a cup of tea and after dinner went back into town. The ruins of Shaalli looked beautiful by night. A few small things later (scarves and a carpet-bag or sorts) we checked out this out-of-the-way tea house called Nour-something-or-the-other (thank you Mia & Rashid for this discovery and recommendation) where I sat back pasha-style in Arabesque cushions in their veranda and sampled a date milkshake. A lovely finale to a nice day full of new experiences.