November 29, 2005
Siwa is a destination that takes some commitment. First of all, it is nowhere near the Nile river. In fact, it is about as far as you can get from the Nile without leaving the country.
To get there, we took a long 7-hour bus ride from the main Alexandria bus station. The ride there begins by tracking its route along the Mediterranean shore, but then heads inland through barren desert and small towns. The road conditions gradually become worse and the roadside amenities few and far between. Travelling through the desert for that many hours does begin to play tricks on the eyes. In fact, you might even believe you are seeing a mirage when first encountering Siwa. It seems like it almost comes out of nowhere, and before you know it, you are in a town of about 20,000 inhabitants. Also by this point, you are not too far from the Libyan border.
Siwa's existence relies solely on its oasis, aptly known as Siwa Oasis. It continues to supply all of the water the town needs as it has for several thousand years now. Walking around Siwa feels like stepping back in time. Even for a Muslim country, Siwa is quite conservative. The only men and women you see together on the streets are the tourists. Most modes of transportation are by donkey cart or just plain walking. The Siwans don't even speak the national Arabic language, but rather a local Berber tongue that is uniquely their own.
Near the center of town lie the ruins of the ancient community of Shali. These ruins are very accessible and are fascinating to walk around in. We toured the ruins early in the morning and encountered only one other tourist there. From the top of the ruins, which are built on and around a hill, all of Siwa can be easily seen as well as a wonderful view of the desert as it extends to the west. Given the time, a two or three day trip to Siwa and the surrounding desert should be seriously considered. The ride to and from Siwa is tiring and pretty boring. But the town of Siwa is a fascinating look at a part of the world very few people ever get to see.
From journal The Sands of Time