Sunday, January 2, 2011

Midnight at the Oasis

o·a·sis (-ss)
n. pl. o·a·ses (-sz)
1. A fertile or green spot in a desert or wasteland, made so by the presence of water.
2. A situation or place preserved from surrounding unpleasantness; a refuge: an oasis of serenity amid chaos.

I think this definition certainly sums up our most recent excursion to Siwa Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert. Yes, we actually spent midnight, New Year's Eve 2010 at a real live, honest to goodness oasis! Hard not to keep that horrid song out of your mind once you put the words "midnight" and "oasis" together, but once you get past that, the whole trip was fantastic. A long drive from Alexandria to Siwa (10 hours), but not bad when you have a car full of people who have been living interesting lives and who haven't seen each other for an extended period of time. Across the North Coast of Egypt and down to the Western Desert is not the most scenic trip, but the water of the Mediterranean is as turquoise blue as one could imagine and the occasional camel along the road more interesting than a road trip on the East Coast of the US.

Not to miss a moment in history, and given Steph's penchant for war museums, we made a stop along the way at El Alamein, where, in a series of battles between July and November, 1942, General Bernard Montgomery and the Allied troops managed to kick the "Desert Fox" Rommel and his Afrika Corps back to Tunisia, effectively turning the tide of the war and giving Winston Churchill an opportunity to break out one of his most famous quotes: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

One pit stop later, we ate at possibly the best kofta and kabab restaurant in Egypt, Abdu Kofta, then fully stated with lamb, tahini, baba ganoush and kofta, we slept the rest of the way to Siwa. (oh yes, we had a driver!) Arriving in Siwa at night is probably not the best way to do this as we missed the full impact of the transition from desert to lush green olive and date tree groves. However, it only added to the impact of our first real view of the magnitude of the oasis from the top of Shali Fortress.

No wonder Alexander the Great schlepped all the way from Alexandria to consult the oracle at Siwa...the existence of such a lush, green, water-laden patch of ground in the middle of the desert has to carry some kind of mystical weight with the gods. And, of course, it was here that the Oracle (being no fool) told Alexander that he was the son of the god Amun, which made Alexander quite full of himself (like he wasn't already). My son, Alexander, standing in the same spot, learned nothing more than that his own father was entirely mortal and anxious to go to lunch.

Just to remind us that the oasis was indeed surrounded by a quite awesome desert, we went out on our second day for a desert "safari" complete with a Toyota Land Cruiser, Bedouin guide, lunch and sand boards. While sand boarding should have been the most thrill producing part of the excursion, it was in fact, the driver taking us over the tops of some of the steepest sand dunes in the desert and then plummeting down the other side that made our hearts race and our stomachs jump. Some amusement park could make a lot of money re-creating this roller-coaster experience!

The entire trip was amazing, and we were taken to a salt-water lake for lunch, the fossilized remains of an ocean bed(complete with shells and sand dollars), a hot spring to soak our feet, a cold spring to watch the locals take their prayer break and finally, to the top of one of the largest sand dunes to have Bedouin tea. Not a bad way to spend the last day of 2010--especially after the chaos that this year has brought to our family!

Here's hoping each of you finds an oasis of your own in the coming year! If not, come and enjoy ours here in are welcome anytime!


  1. Do you wonder how it is that whenever people go to the beach they want to build a sandcastle, but take them to a desert and they never even think of it.

    Looked like a fun trip. Has Adrie learned to speak with a Scottish accent yet or would that question still get me a whatever answer?

  2. Really glad to see that you all were together for the holidays. Much love to all, Molly