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A Siwi Date

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Well, I went back to Siwa. Woot! And this time, I took Ben and Brannon with me! We met Brannon’s friend Kevin (first met in Brannon’s post about Dahab) in Siwa, as Kevin’s from Cairo, and subsequently had a blast. We rocketed out to the desert, climbed a couple mountains, saw the world’s oldest footprints (again), swam (in chilly salt water, luxuriously warm iron and sulfur water, and ridiculously cold fresh water), slacklined, ate incredible food, bounced around on dunes, saw a meteorite (!), saw new fossil spots, sandboarded the freaking largest sand dune ever (and had to walk up it too), and ended the day at a desert camp. Ben wasn’t feeling tops, so Brannon and I introduced Kevin to our evening staple of the card game Egyptian Rattisker (also known as Slaps among IFSA), played on what Kevin called “baladi tables.” After a scrumptious supper of chicken, salad, rice, and soup (kind of reminiscent of Jordanian food, but spicer), we sat around a palm-leaf fire and traded American songs for Siwi songs. As the night progressed, Kevin brought out a bottle of Egyptian whiskey and a beer can, and the Siwans brought out their vodka and tea. Next to one of the Siwi’s bong…well, there’s a first time for everything, I guess. An hour of lame jokes later, we wrapped up in big, thick, wool blankets and slept around the fire underneath a full moon…I miss camping.

The next morning dawned clear, and we drank coffee and tea waiting for Ben to return from wanderings. I found out that my camera no longer zooms – I think sand got in it from the previous day. Shucks. Our driver brought us all back into Siwa, transporting the other three Siwans via the Toyota Cruiser’s roof. We breakfasted in Abdu’s Restaurant, checked Kevin into a hotel for a night, and went off to rent bikes for the day. We first biked to Cleopatra’s Bath, where Ben, Brannon, and I had shivered and watched the sun rise the day before. Local Siwans were cavorting around, so Brannon and I set up a slackline behind a fence in cultivated date palms. But for really persistant flies, that was awesome. By the time we were through, locals had disappeared, leaving the spring to just us. We took the opportunity to cavort ourselves. We then decided it would be neat to attempt to climb a nearby mountain, towards which we ended up off roading through really soft sand. Hiking up it went smoothly, with a couple stops here and there for Kevin and Brannon to boulder on the soft rock. We spent some time up top, then went to the higher peak, where Brannon showed off some yoga at what may have been a flagpole…? On our way down, we stopped at a wall of cracks for the two of them to boulder. Ben and I joined in for a bit, then Ben went off for personal time and I spotted the two climbers. Next, we biked furiously to Lake Siwa, the salt lake I’d watched the sun set two weeks previously. We found a different island and waded a bit among the salt water. All the trees on the island were dead, with their crowns lopped off at a specific point. Odd, but their flat surface enticed an egret to land while I watched. Headlamps helped illuminate the route back, and we got caught in a wedding celebration of donut-spinning men on motorcycles for a whirlwind minute, then we sat above Siwa’s noise and dust for supper until it was time for our bus!

Again, the bus rides were not my favorite part of the trip. Ben didn’t think so either, and the next three days after our return to Alex, he was hit by some sort of GI bug. (Ironic, that we learned the MSA verb “to throw up” that Sunday…)


Our first summited mountain was not the same pile of limestone and sandstone riddled with tombs that in local oral tradition date back to Roman times that I’d climbed two weeks previously. When asked where the bodies have gone, our driver, Hameida, responded that they were thrown out by fleeing Jews during World War II and disappeared. I have my doubts that Allied or Axis forces would want to steal the mummies for their museums, but you never know. Apparently, similarly to the caves of central Turkey, people retreated to these caves during times of persecution. I don’t have any facts to back really any of this up, so this is all hearsay.

The encounter with that bit of hearsay got me pondering something that’s tickled my mind since going to Aswan and Luxor. Our tour guide then talked about the importance of the inner most room within the temples we visited, putting an emphasis on telling us the importance of it before going into the room, in order to lend it some of the room’s original sanctity. While I don’t remember his term for the room in Arabic or in Pharaonic Egyptian, the English know the room as “Holy of Holies.” Presumably, at some point, the room and the spirit inhabiting a cult statue housed within the room would strike a chord within the two people allowed in there: the pharaoh and the high priest. They would recognize with their being something of the sacred. The room’s connection with that feeling is long gone, and the floods of tourists that pour in, around the central stone slab, and out again marvel at the room as an oddity with preserved carving rather than as some revered sacred holy site.

So that got me wondering about what bestows upon a place that sense of sacredness, and how to honor that sacredness after the society of origin has disappeared. In our anthropomorphic history, long stretches of time passed before humans separated holiness/sanctity from exclusivity; case in point are rooms such as the Holy of Holies, where two people are allowed, one of whom only at specific times. Tourists of all kinds and levels of respect for archaeology are allowed without cease into the room, and I felt no emotive reverence, only respect from a scholarly/archaeological perspective. Does the society around the place bestow it as sacred? Can a place spontaneously be sacred to one person? Regardless of a place’s claim to sacredness, how can museums and curators of sites recreate that sense, even a little bit, for their audience? How can something like a cemetery, or mountain punctuated by tombs, lend a sense of reverence to its visitors?



One Response to “A Siwi Date”

  1. Julie Frank Says:

    I am and have enjoyed your posts.

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