#4 Egypt, February 25, 1999

Dear Everybody,

Friday I walked to the Sun Hotel in the dark at 6:00 AM to join a group going to the camel market. I went with three Taiwanese couples. As we drove out of town, it became very foggy and dangerous to drive, but we eventually arrived at the camel market. There were hundreds of camels unpenned—we could walk completely among them. The keepers had obviously come from long distances and were busy trading like mad. The keepers were as interesting as the camels.


As the early morning market activity waned, we drove back to Cairo

Then another day I took a tour to Memphis, Saqqara, a carpet school and Giza. The tour leader was a grad student who spent way too much time telling us detail that we really didn’t want to know and too little time for us to actually see the monuments! Then he would quiz us on the material he had just imparted! The good news was that the other three people on the tour were great fun and interesting. They had all lived/studied in exotic places.

We saw many interesting and beautiful things at Memphis like a Ramses statue which was a twin to the one I had seen at the Railway Station and an alabaster Sphinx. At Saqqara we saw Zoser’s pyramid, which is about the oldest one in Egypt. We also saw the House of the South with some very old graffiti, the serdab where we looked through holes at a statue and a mastaba tomb of Akhti-Hotep and Ptah-Hotep which was beautiful. However, there was much more that we didn’t see because we spent so much time on our ‘lessons.’ We did have a good lunch with a good talk among ourselves and a nice stop at the carpet school before going on to the Giza Pyramids. I, of course, had already been there, but it was fun to see them again, although we only looked at the three big pyramids and the Sphinx.

That night I attended a concert featuring a Russian cellist named Rodin, who played Dvorak’s cello concerto and other numbers. I had a nice visit with an Australian woman who lives part-time in Cairo.

After lazing around for a few days, I left for Marsa Matruck on an early bus. When I arrived my taxi to the hotel was a donkey cart! My hotel room overlooked the Mediterranean with its beautiful turquoise-colored water.










I ate wonderful lamb kebabs off a street vendor’s roaster, which were served on a bed of anise.

The next morning when I was checking out to catch the 7:00 bus to Siwa, after first waking up the desk clerk, I asked for my passport, which hadn’t been returned to me. The clerk began looking for it helter-skelter, picking up one thing and another in a pretty haphazard way. Then he asked me for a pen so he could make out my bill and told me that my passport was at the police station! I emphasized my plan to take the 7:00 bus and said that I needed a taxi to take me to the station. He made a phone call and said that a taxi would come and that the taxi would bring my passport. Much foot tapping and waiting and another phone call; then the clerk left (he had taken my 30 pounds for the 24-pound bill and said that he would get me change later); finally at 6:55 a taxi and the clerk arrived, put my suitcase in the trunk and ordered, “police station!” The taxi drove to the police station with loud Arabic chatter on the radio; the clerk went in and came back with the passport and gave me my change as we drove.  We arrived at the bus at 7:03! I stood in line for some time to buy a ticket and eventually got on the bus, along with my suitcase. No problem!

We drove through desert—almost nothing but sand with a very flat landscape to the Siwa Oasis. Siwa is scruffy but interesting, but in the grip of ‘winter.’ Again my taxi to the hotel was a donkey cart. After settling in I explored Siwa and then had lunch at a restaurant with many resident cats watching furtively for the possibility of stealing my chicken.

The Shali is the 13th century ruined fort in the middle of town made of mud and rock. The crumbling mosque has a minaret which is actually climbed by the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer without benefit of a loudspeaker—almost unique in Egypt, I think. Sleeping was not too successful that night with a huge, rock hard pillow, donkeys braying, roosters crowing, men talking and laughing, and mosquitoes humming. Oh well.






The Tombs of Gebal al-Mawta were interesting as there were human bones and mummy cloth scattered all around. I got acquainted with a German couple, deciding that we would join forces to take an excursion the next day. It rained that afternoon—we were told that it was the first rain in seven years! Local people worried about their mud huts collapsing. I had dinner that night with the German couple, Martin and Bridget. I also learned that Alexander the Great had visited Siwa to speak to the Oracle of Amun to ask if he really was the son of Zeus and hence, divine.

The next day Martin, Bridget, Ahmed (the driver) and I set forth on our excursion. We did see the Oracle Temple to Amun which was built in 664-525 BC and visited by Alexander the Great in 331 BC (he probably got the same donkey cart taxi). Actually I heard nothing from the Oracle, unlike Alexander who was assured that he was divine. We saw wonderful carvings on the Temple of Umm Obazda that still retained some blue and green coloring; we visited the Cleopatra Spring, similar to the Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone Park; then Dakrun Mountains and then Qurayshat.


Continuing on we saw the Zaztum Temple in the Sennusia Village with Roman olive presses, and another pool called Abu Srouf, followed by the Bedowin village of Safi where the women had tattoos on their faces.

We returned to Siwa for lunch and car repairs, and then went west of Siwa to Khamisa with its many Roman tombs cut in the rock, and nearby Maraki which is the site of some excavations resulting in a woman’s claim that she had discovered Alexander the Great’s tomb. This is disputed, although he had made it known that he wished to be buried at Siwa.

Finally ‘as the sun was slowing sinking in the west’ we went to the Pool of Fnatas (called Fantasy Island for the tourists), a very pretty sight. All day the decrepit jeep was giving problems, but we successfully made it back to town. We really had a very thorough look at the whole oasis.

The next day I walked to the Tombs of Gebal al-Mawta in full sunshine, found the caretaker and asked him to unlock three tombs (Se Amoun, Mesu Isis and Neperbathut) that all had beautiful decorations in them. They were all from 2000 to 3000 years old. In one there was a mummied skull with short dark straight hair and also some Roman amphorae about 2 ½ feet high.

Lunch at my favorite Siwa restaurant (East and West) was feta cheese, tomato and cucumber, bread, honey, butter, olives and tea, after which I photoed some scenes of Siwa life. 






Later I reconnected with Bridget and Martin and another German couple for dinner.
















I moved on in another early bus to Alexandria, staying in a high-ceiling, beautiful old Victorian hotel. I had just read a book by Margaret George (from Madison, Wisconsin) called The Memoirs of Cleopatra and so I looked for the old Alexandria, but not too much to see. The next morning I walked all along the Corniche on the Sea to Fort Qait Bey, built in the 1400s out of stones from and on the spot of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ Alexandria Lighthouse. An interesting structure, but, of course, one wishes the Lighthouse hadn’t been destroyed.



I also visited the Ras at-Tin Palace where King Farouk lived, the Necropolis of Al-Anfushi and then kept walking a long way to Pompey’s Pillar and the Serapeum. I ended up at the Catacombs of Kom ash-Shuqqafa. These were a mixture of Roman, Greek and Egyptian styles from the 2nd century, after Cleopatra’s time. I trammed back to the hotel after meeting a New Zealand couple who were also waiting for the tram.






The next day I walked to a new conference center and library that is being built and then to the Greco-Roman Museum that had wonderful displays. I especially enjoyed heads of Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar.  There was a 3rd century Roman amphitheatre.




I had a look at the Mosque of An-Nabi Daniel which some people think has been built over the site of Alexander’s Tomb.




There was something to view, looking down, that supposedly was the tomb.







A stop at the old Brazilian Coffee House refreshed me and so I continued on to the Royal Jewelry Museum. The building was as interesting as the diamonds—after a while even diamonds get boring!

Tomorrow I shall leave for Port Said on the Suez Canal.


This entry was posted in 1999, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, & Turkey. Bookmark the permalink.

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