I love Egypt and I have to say, this came as a wonderful surprise to me as I had prepared myself to dislike various aspects of the country yet I now often find myself struggling to narrow down my highlights!
It is normal to hear many reports of the constant hassles and crowds and yes, there is no doubt that both of these exist in abundance but I guess that is inevitable in a country so rich in history yet with so many of its people so poor. This said neither of the above can diminish the amazing sites and temples and there are many ways to get away from the crowds.
Cruising down the Nile as Agatha Christie once did is on most peoples list of ‘things to do’ & I have to say that this is a wonderful way to experience this beautiful river and the amazing history that lies on her shores. The river is calmer and more beautiful than I expected and watching Nile life drift by with the people of the countryside fishing at dawn, kids & families playing and cooling off in the shallows and the wonderful variety of birdlife it really is extremely relaxing. This coupled with the excellent food and wonderful service of the staff on board the Oberoi Philae, on which I sailed, makes for a special experience.
In stark contrast to the well-trodden route of the Nile & her sites, I also embarked on a long but worthwhile journey into the western desert and the oasis of Siwa. Just 65km’s from the border with Libya, Siwa is located on the edge of the sea of sand, barren but extremely beautiful land which forms a natural barrier between Egypt & Libya & stretches some 600km’s from north to south. Siwa oasis itself is charming and is made up of palm-lined, dusty streets where the main mode of transport is the donkey, salt lakes reflecting the surrounding mountains & over 280 thermal springs where the local boys & men bathe daily.
The people of this area are gentle and friendly and still abide by many ancient traditions as well as speaking their own language, derived from the Berber people. I enjoyed a wonderful evening by one of the many salt lakes with the great sand sea in the background, watching the sunset as flamingos flew low across the lake and we broke the fast (it was the month of Ramadan) with a Bedouin tea and dates picked freshly from the trees we were sitting under.
The accommodation here offers an Eco experience with buildings made from local materials, decorated with handmade artefacts from local craftsmen and often lit only by candles. One of my favourite meals of the trip (for all of £3) was enjoyed on the candle-lit roof terrace of the Shali Lodge with the evening’s call to prayer resounding all around me, interspersed with the occasional bray of a donkey!
I left Siwa wishing I had longer to spend there and planning a return visit with time to camp out in the desert, swim in a desert lake, visit an almost unvisited village nearby and many other things…..From Siwa, I embarked on a 7-hour journey across the desert to another Oasis – Bahariya………
I could go on as I have not mentioned my night of luxury on the red sea at the Oberoi Sahl Hasheesh or the picturesque city of Aswan but what I can say is that Egypt is a fascinating country with an absolutely incredible history that really needs to be seen to be believed. There are not many countries where one can enjoy such a rich culture & history plus beautiful scenery, wonderful diving and winter sun all in one holiday!