Saturday, June 26, 2004

Waving at Libyans

So my time at the Siwa Oasis was well spent. I did a whole lot of not too much and generally regained some of my sanity after the breakneck pace of the last two weeks.

The first day I hung around the room, reading and doing laundry in the sink (the glam aspects of the jet set lifestyle). In the afternoon, when the sun cooled off to just ridiculously hot, I rented a bike to see the sights of the town. The bike rental guy was at the mosque when I got there, so I sat down and watch Arabic Sesame Street until he got back. (Today’s episode was brought to you be the letters saad and hamza, and by the number ithnine…) The bike I got was a little old lady bike, with brakes that can best be described as ornamental, and off I went, wrapped up tight because of the strict dress code of the Islamic village. The bike made this repetitive rhythmic rattle-squeak-shake-squeak as I bounced along through the sand. Think Lawerence of Arabia meets the Triplets of Belleville. My first stop was the Temple of ‘Obayda, which lasted thousands of years only to be torn down by some bureaucrat in the late 19th century for housing stone. But I enjoyed scrambling up the ruins to try and get a better view of the desert beyond. (Come on, it does SAY don’t climb on the antiquities.) The next stop was the Oracle of Amun, where Alexander the Great trekked out to find out if he was a god (oracle gave him the nod). I figured, considering my recent run of good luck, and since I was in the neighborhood, to find out if I was a god. The oracle produced one small tail-less gray lizard. I’m still interpreting the results.

After my fun with oracles, I headed 5 km out the other side of town to watch the sunset, or, a more fun way of measuring distance, one-tenth of the distance between me and Libya. I got there before the sun was ready to go down, so I walked out into the dunes a bit, through the dry salt flats. A little strange, wind blowing over the dunes, the taste of salt in the air, hundreds of miles from the ocean. After the sunset I raced the coming darkness, and some little 9 year old punkass in a donkey cart that thought he was somethin’. I smoked him AND his donkey

Next day I similarly did nothing until late afternoon. Then I went out on a 4x4 to the edge of the desert. (You used to be able to go out into the desert, but the military closed it after some Italian hit a “landmine” coming across the Libyan border during a semi-sanctioned desert rally race a couple months ago. The “landmine” was likely an unexploded ordnance from WWII which litter the desert, and which the Italians dropped in the first place. So a guy from a country that decided it was in their strategic interest to bomb a town made out of mud brick, a week’s camel ride from anything, with no running water or electricity, is pissed off because he accidentally ran over one of the remnants and put a hole in his tricked out Extera? I am markedly unsympathetic.) Anyway, then we hiked out 2 km into the dunes to watch the sunset. 360° of sand. Nothing but sand. Not even a dead weed. Just sand and the huge hot sun sinking into the horizon. I was glad the guide knew the way back. We hit town just in time for me to jump on the 10 pm bus back to Alexandria and connect to the train to Cairo.

Where I was going to get the 10 am train to Aswan (of the big dam fame), but, oops, the guy in Alexandria was wrong, train is at 10 pm. So I have a day to kill in Cairo. I get some falafel and fresh mango juice to assess the situation. I have seen all the sights listed in the book with the exception of the “City of the Dead.” The City of the Dead is a former necropolis that was taken over by squatters in the late 80s. Forget Disney baby, this year we are taking the kids to the City of the Dead. The guide book says that it “teems with life.” Um. Times Square teems. Delhi teems. Ant hills teem. The City of the Dead has to settle for “being inhabited.” But, even with all that, and the fact that someone narrowly missed my head winging a dirty diaper out a second floor window, the mosques were nice and the view from the minarets incredible. The flat shanties and buildings of the City of the Dead spread out in the shadow of huge opulent mosques.

Which brings me to my current position, spinning my wheels until the train. Hope all is well!

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