Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sand Sea And Sun

Some 90% of Egypt's population lives within 50km of the Nile and its delta. OK, I'm not sure whether the number is strictly correct, it could just be one of those accepted truths, but at any rate a lot of people in Egypt live in the thin strip of land along the Nile. And it's not surprising when you leave the fertile, irrigated Nile valley you soon hit upon sand, and lots of it. The entire western two thirds of the country are taken up by the Sahara and its tributaries (such as the Libyan desert). I therefore took the opportunity to head out to one of Egypt's more remote oases called Siwa, only some 100km distant from the Libyan border.

The oasis is the last outpost before the Great Sand Sea of the Sahara begins. As soon as the intensely irrigated cultivated land stops the dunes begin, and do not stop for another 2000km or so (as long as you go in the right, or wrong, direction). I wandered in for about 6km until I was almost out of sight of "civilisation" before heading back again before the sun set (for this outing into the desert I was more prepared than last time and even took some water with me!). The oasis must have been a true little haven of peace, unspoilt by the big bad world, but the influx of tourists has changed that. Not that it isn't a pleasant place to kick up your heels and relax, but it's not as genuine as it used to be. Mud brick buildings are being replaced by breeze block boxes, every other shop rents out bicycles and everyone speaks English. But I wasn't going to let that deter me, I've been to Vang Vieng and survived. For the history buffs there are the ruins of a couple of pharaonic temples, namely the Temple of the Oracle which, for some reason, the Persian emperor Cambyses decided to attack only for his army to get lost in the sand en route, never to be heard from again (to this day archaeologists are hunting for the lost army). For those with a less ardent desire to see all things old and crumbly it's fun to cycle round the less touristified villages of the oasis seeing a slightly more traditional way of life among the groves of date palms, perhaps even getting a glimpse of the elusive women dressed up as Nazguls, and to take a dip in the numerous springs that dot the area. A truly strange thought to be lounging in a pool only hundreds of metres from the largest desert in the world. Perhaps just as odd is the fact that one of the biggest exports of the oasis is water. Aqua Siwa is one of the biggest brands of bottled water in the country. It just makes me think that our world truly has gone crazy when we are taking water out of the desert, putting it in bottles, shipping it hundreds of kilometres and then selling it to people who have decent drinking water coming out of their household taps.

1 comment:

Inihtar said...

That's a great photo! And "women dressed as Nazguls?" I had to laugh at that! Are you as big a fan of Tolkien as I am?!??!