Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Yesterday, I arrived at Siwa Oasis after an overnight bus trip.  It is a small town about 550 kilometers away from the capital and somewhat detached from the hustle and bustle and developments of the outside world.  Time had stood still in this conservative town of about 25,000 inhabitants which somehow has a different culture from the rest of Egypt.  Perhaps owing to its ethnic background, being of berber origin. 

People are more calm and gentle, not the usual heavily accented tone I got used to hearing from most of the population in the capital.  Several of my colleagues are from Cairo and Alexandria and some of them have that really thick brogue that sometimes it’s difficult for me to interpret if they are angry or making a point or simply telling a story.  I can’t seem to spot the difference.

The Siwans are rather calmer and if communication is not possible, they just smile.  I think the inherent traditional background had somehow endured.

Anyways, it’s early morning, the sun is not too bright yet and I have to find a transport to see the highlights of the town.  Coincidentally before crossing the main intersection right after passing by the vegetable and fruit store, I saw the same tricycle driver that picked me up at the bus terminal yesterday.  He smiled at me and asked me if I wanted to go around the places of interest, and how could I turn down a bargain of EGP35 for two hours.  I jumped in to his vehicle and off we went.

The 3-wheeled tricycle in Siwa is much like the tuktuks of Bangkok although a bit jagged.  It’s sort of a DIY 3 pieces of plywood nailed together to form a shade under your head, seats covered with pads and carpets to make it comfortable to sit on.

The tricycle drivers in Siwa are honest workers and can give you loads of information on accommodations and places to see.  So if you’re on a budget, they should be the first line of tour resource.  

About a kilometer from the town center, we reached our first itinerary was- the Mountain of the Dead which is accessible through some stairs to get to the ticket booth. The guy at the booth asked me if I’m a student, I said yes (obviously I’m not) and asked for an ID card which of course I can’t produce and he knows it, so I just have to pay the smiling guy the full entry fee of EGP25.

The mountain of the dead is a lump of rock hill with several cavities around its edges revealing small cave-like rooms.  On top of it is a smaller mushroom-shaped rock hill that resembles something like, well, it’s up to you to decide, look at the picture.  The place is a necropolis with tombs carved around its thresholds dating back to Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

Mountain of the Dead.

Tombs at the Mountain of the Dead,

Most of the cave-like crevices are empty, some of the bigger ones that have steel gates have inscriptions and elaborate drawings on its internal chamber.  It’s a bit daunting but climbing to the topmost level of the hill affords a nice view of the town, the vast green palm trees and the lake in the distance.  The location of the necropolis is about a kilometer or so from the town center.  After less than half an hour I went down back to where my tricycle was patiently waiting and we navigated the dusty street to the Temple of the Oracle located at the village of Aghurmi.

There are local women and children selling souvenir items right before the gate.  The temple is a big complex that sits on top of a rock plateau above the village and can be ascended through a path on the side of the rock hill.  The entrance on the top is through the ruins of an old mosque which dominates the whole temple. 

Temple of the Oracle Complex.

The Temple of the Oracle.

It is said that the Oracle was visited by prominent figures in history and mythology like Perseus, Eubotas, Lysander (the Spartan General), Pindas (the Greek poet), Hannibal, Strabo and several others.  Prior to the visit of Alexander the Great, it was called the Temple of Amun during the reign of Amasis around 570-525 BC.  It was told that Alexander consulted the Oracle in 332 BC to seek confirmation that he was indeed the son of Zeus.

It is evident that this used to be inhabited during the past, there was a deep well and several underground passages.  The temple of oracle itself is located on the far end standing right at the edge of the cliff constructed from concrete blocks of stones which is much disparate from the materials used on the other structures surrounding it.    Entry Fee is EGP25, Students pay 10.

Few meters away from the Temple of the Oracle, is the Temple of Umm Ubayda which is said to be a part of the whole complex. Nothing much left of the temple except the reconstructed portion of a wall with figures of several deities carved on its facade and erected like a monument, and couple of inscribed concrete slabs that have tumbled down below the wall.  It’s an open-air monument so entry is free.

Temple of Umm Ubayda.

The last stop is the Spring of Juba, popularly known as Celopatra's Bath named after the Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt who according to legend has visited Siwa and bathe on its waters.

In the past, this pool that is fed by natural spring that create blubbles from beneath was used by local brides as pool bath, perhaps vefore the wedding ceremony, but it has charmed some foreign visitors and has been made as a tourist attraction.

There are visitors bathing on the pool although the green water looked dull to me.  Although the locals told me it has some therapeutic properties because the water is coming from a natural spring, well, I saw a can of soda at the bottom of the round pool.

Table and chairs on the side of the pool.

Some enterprising people has taken advantage by putting up some restaurants, a shisha cafĂ© and some juice bars serving expensive drinks around one side of the pool.  Nothing truly interesting about it but it’s along the way to and from the Temple of Oracle so why not pass by.

Cleopatra's Bath.

My tricycle driver drove me back to the town center after my two-hour tour for the day.  It was an interesting tour all-in-all.  I was starving so I passed by the East West Restaurant with one of the few English-speaking local around town manning the cash register, located near the intersection of the town.  The meals are reasonably priced and I ordered a curried chicken and vegetable, sat at one of the chairs outside the patio and had my late lunch while watching the passing donkey carts.


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