Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Second Day in Siwa, Egypt

We live in a world that is sometimes just too connected. At any time, most of us can sit down in front of a computer and access anything. The cost of that is our interaction with the real world immediately around us. The hotel that I am staying at has no wifi and I figured that this would be a great chance to do without the internet for a while. First of all, if one should go without internet anywhere, it's in the middle of a desert oasis. This is not only an oasis from the hundreds of miles of sand in all directions, but an oasis from the modern world of the internet and cellular phones, which I honestly believe sometimes do more damage than good.

There are internet cafes nearby. In fact, sitting on my balcony and I can see two of them. However, I know that in a few days I will be able to post on my blog and access the internet from the most humble hostel room in Cairo. A few years back, traveling to Thailand, that kind of thing wasn't to be expected. In fact, it was rare to find a hostel with anything more than a couple of computers hooked up and a long queue to use them. Many of the guests used a site called Facebook, which I didn't use at that time either (I have since tried and given up Facebook for good. Read more about that at Now, people are somewhat spoiled. We are able to use the internet anywhere we go. Back home, it's not uncommon to see people walking around and accessing the internet on the street. Soon a product called Google Glass will try to change the world by allowing people to access the internet constantly. Do we really feel the need to be connected all the time? Isn't some sort of privacy good?

I find myself often longing for the world before the cellular phone or before instant internet access became commonplace everywhere one turned. It's great to be able to use the internet often, and it's very helpful, but when one feels the need to be able to access it no matter where they go, there is a problem.

Siwa has become my retreat from the internet and such modern conveniences. I will remember it for that. There is something to be said about a vacation where one can turn away and take it slow for a while. If one should step into the past anywhere, Egypt is perhaps the place to do it. Yet, the reality is that Egypt is a very modern country, just like most places are quickly becoming. Although I do not see the same amount of people on cellular phones as I do in the United States, there is a very visible presence of cell phones here.

It is nice to sometimes take a while and detox from so-called modern conveiniences. The world around us is a beautiful place and we miss out on a lot by ignoring it to instead spend time living virtual (fake) lives on Facebook (link to fake lives post) or absorbing ourselves in whatever message the media wants to get across on the internet.

It was about 5:30 a.m. when we awoke. After preparing for the day, we went up the roof and saw the village around us. It was mostly quiet and serene. There was the sound of donkeys and roosters around us, while the honking of car horns was still silent, for now. However, one can barely complain, as their presence is never anything close to that of Cairo or Alexandria. We headed down from the rooftop and made our way out into the streets. We hiked through a nearby side street which lead through some palm tree lined roads into various neighborhoods. A young boy on a donkey cart passed by us as we made our way along the sandy dirt road. After walking for a while we decided to double back and check out what is known as the old city, or Shali.

We walked back through the square, near our hotel and made our way to the towering old city which is visible from our room. It is like a mountain of sand which has been shaped into buildings that rise from the green oasis. As we made our way into this area, we met a man who talked to us about Siwa and told us about some of the sights and about the restaurant he either works at or owns. He was very nice and mentioned that Siwa is safe. He also told us about Bir Wahed, which means Well One, a collection of springs and a hot spring, that lies a few kilometers from town. We originally came to Siwa wanting to take an overnight trip here, and we think that we will. Of course, that will be for a future post. He did mention that girls can swim there in a bikini a few times, which was kind of funny sounding, especially since he also mentioned that it wasn't good for a woman to be alone in Siwa. He said that it was good for Beverly to be with me, her husband, and that two girls is OK, but not just one. He didn't really explain further.

The people here are very laid back, especially the merchants. It is possible to go into the shops here without being hassled to buy something. It's somewhat refreshing, and I have found that it makes me more likely to buy something. There are many handicraft market areas around the old city, yet in the morning hours, these ones were closed.

We made our way along the paths that lead up into the city. As one rises, the views improve. Towards the top the views of the desert are stunning. Our hotel is four floors high, but the old city itself is much higher. Therefore, when we reached the top we could see much more of the lake in the distance as well as more of the city. There is an old building that has decayed where one can sit inside and see the oasis area beyond. We took some pictures there and enjoyed watching the town come alive. After that we made our way back down for some breakfast of date pancakes and yogurt. Dates and olives are a big thing here, and many shops sell almond filled dates and some are said to sell chocolate filled dates. I will be looking for the latter while I am here. Breakfast was delicious, and afterwards, we made our way back to our room, as the middle of the day in the desert gets very hot. Many people avoid it and instead opt for enjoying the early morning and the evenings here.

For dinner we went across the street and perhaps made fools of ourselves. Let me explain. We ordered various dishes off the menu which may or may not include baked macaroni, french fries, “noodle rice” and tomato soup. Oh, and Siwi Juice, which is a shake made from local dates. The waiter came to us and informed us, after ordering, that the tomato soup was out. Beverly asked if the Egyptian soup was vegetarian and the waiter said no, it had chicken in it. So, Beverly instead ordered lentil soup. The man asked her if she was vegetarian and she said yes. At home we are trying to be vegan, but gave it up on this trip as it has been hard to be vegan. Anyway, Beverly later got her “noodle rice” which was rice with some kind of meaty substance on it. The waiter came up and told her that he was sorry, but the rice had meat in it. She had noticed that there was meat throughout and on top in a large pile. She said that was OK and he got her a regular order of rice. He also let me know that baked macaroni had the same type of meat in it and I said that I, too, was vegetarian. He changed my order and later on brought me a piping hot bowl of baked macaroni. We felt silly for not asking if the meals were vegetarian. Well, anyway, Beverly has still been feeling sick so was not able to finish. The waiter wondered if she liked the food but she tried to explain she was sick. I am not sure if he understood. Later, on the way out, we were not sure if we should pay for the mistake or if that was just forgiven, as it was not on the bill. Well, I paid with a 50 EGP bill since it came to 41 EGP. The waiter had to go make change. (This was after I said Shokran instead of Shukran for thank you). Well, when he made change he brought a 10 EGP back and mentioned 1 EGP. I said “go ahead and keep it,” even though the tip is already calculated on the bill. Anyway, lo and behold he was asking me for a 1 EGP coin. I felt like a fool upon realizing that. I paid and we scurried away like rats. We joked that we were too dense to go back there and were probably banned for life. Little did we know that we would be returning once again tomorrow for another round of macaroni and Beverly would be getting cous cous and vegetables (but that's for another day).

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