I keep finding new-to-me and fascinating forms of marine life on our walks up and down our stretch of Red Sea coastline. Two life forms in particular have caught my attention: cuttlefish and chitons.
I first encountered the chitons when we visited a snorkeling and diving camp on the coast – one of those places that’s fenced off to the low-tide mark to discourage anyone from gathering sea life there. The tide was going out, and I was picking my way along the rocks and emerging tidal pools when I spied a creature clinging to a wet rock face that looked almost exactly like a sowbug.
We’ve been spending time in the Black Lions Library over the past couple of weeks. It’s a real treasure: a quiet, relaxing little library, with a good collection of books about Siwa Oasis in various languages. You can also find books on other Egyptian topics: history, archaeology and the geography of this vast and varied country.
Black Lions is not a lending library, but you can sit and read for as long as you like. Alan has been reading “Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians” by Edward Lane, published in 1836, while I’ve been reading “Oasis: Siwa from the Inside, Traditions, Customs and Magic.” Written by Fathi Malim, it’s the only book about Siwa Oasis written by a Siwan person.
Alexandria is an interesting city, full of history from ancient times and forward. A lot of what we want to see is very walkable – an hour or less from our hotel. Today we walked through a series of interesting neighborhoods to the catacombs of Kom al Shoqafa, a tomb complex dug deep into the ground – so deep that the bottom level is now underwater.
Today was our last full day in Alexandria, and there was one more place we really wanted to visit: the Roman amphitheater. Luckily for us, it’s just a short walk from our hotel – not much more than a kilometer – so we set off after breakfast to buy our train tickets back to Cairo and see the amphitheater.
Whenever we get to a new place, Alan likes to pore over whatever maps he can find, looking for interesting locations that may not be written up in our guidebook. When you scan tourist maps of Alexandria, you can see the city offers a number of interesting places, including the old Jewish cemetery near Alexandria University’s Faculty of Pharmacy.
So after a visit to the Alexandria National Museum (great place, by the way), we walked toward the Jewish cemetery. As we got close to where it seemed to be on the map, we looked around, expecting to spot a large open space dotted with tombstones, just like other cemetery grounds in Egypt. No such sight appeared, so we walked slowly around the edge of a high wall overhung with tree limbs, looking across a small roundabout to the pharmacy school, where we could see lots of young people hanging out and chatting.
One of the great pleasures Alexandria has to offer is a morning walk on the Corniche. You can wander up and down, people-watching to your heart’s content, despite the constant flow of noisy traffic on the six-lane highway separating the seaside walkway from the rest of Alexandria.
You almost always see people fishing with incredibly long poles (I estimate they’re about 15 feet). But this morning we got to see something completely new to us: a large group of men wielding a huge net, and dragging their catch in to shore.
When I first read about the rebuilt Great Library of Alexandria years ago, I wanted to see it. But it never occurred to me that someday I’d be able to casually stroll there after breakfast.
That’s exactly what we did this morning, after enjoying a plate of fuul and some tomato-and-cheese salad at our favorite coffee shop. We walked along the Corniche, enjoying the morning breezes and watching fisherman casting their lines, until the Alexandria Library came into sight.
You can’t miss the Shali. As soon as you arrive in Siwa Town, you see it looming at the center of everything – a small mountain surrounded by an ancient city of mud houses melting together. It looks like it’s caught somewhere between a fairy tale and a futuristic sci-fi movie.
When you read guidebooks or travel websites describing activities around Siwa Oasis, it’s easy to overlook that this area is largely agricultural. Most Siwa residents spend their days caring for crops – olive trees, date palms, vegetables, guava, nehbak and pomegranate trees, a bit of emmer wheat and forage crops for the animals. People here also keep domestic animals for their meat, milk or labor – sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, pigeons, cows, donkeys and horses – and the animals, too, require care.
On the way out to Taghagheen Island to watch the sunset with our friends Amal and Ahmed one evening, Alan noticed that there were tombs and interesting formations along the line of hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis. “It’s not really all that far from town,” he said to me. “We could bike out here and hike around these hills.”