Thursday, March 12, 2009

Under the Siwaian Sun ....

In a desperate attempt to escape the city and just have peace and a space, be disconnected for a while and breath clean air, I back bagged, borrowed a sleeping bag, and called the leader of a group I never heard of before so he would confirm that our trip to Swia oasis will still be on inspite of the bad weather that will overcome the city during this weekend. I had my other two friends with me, we had no idea what we are up to, who we are going with, we all decided its about time for an escape and just stood infront of the mini bus waiting for more people we have never met before to accompany us in a 12 hours journey in the desert.

I entered my 3rd decade few years ago however I never felt like I do belong to the 30 something box yet, most of my other friends are either single very busy people who gave up on such crazy ideas of having an adventure even if its just for a weekend, or just married couples with children who would love nothing as much as spending their weekend in bed with their kids. And since I didn’t belong to either of the two groups, I decided I have to find new people and mingle and start being more socially active specially while my best friends either live abroad or just about to leave soon.

But me – not socially intelligent at all – had to make a hell of an effort and open up a little bit and put my judgmental cynical attitude on the shelf and go with the flow. Right infront of the bus I met them for the first time, 8 other people from the age of 19 to 24. I looked to Salma my friend and she smiled, she got it from my look and I felt like the rest of them just looking at us and thinking, uh weirdoes! In your early 20s you never expect to be acting or looking like me in your 30s, I myself used to have a vision of me being a mum with at least one kid when hitting my 30s, but infront of them was a pony tailed short single girl carrying her pillow and looking fiercely at them, guess thinking what the hell was I thinking, this trip sucks already I will never be able to mingle, I have a 21 years old brother and we rarely say hi when it happen and we accidentally cross each other path.

I found Salma nodding calmly and telling me not to worry it's gonna be okay, I will still have fun. Then I looked at the bus, a very small bus so I looked back at her and guess she laughed at how terrified I looked and the panic attack ahead of her. We entered the bus, they looked cheerful yet still questioning and then their leader who is also 20 sth started introducing himself and asked the rest to introduce themselves to the others. Now I really panicked, dammit I'm not gonna give my age away. But fortunately it went smooth and we gave our names and a very short brief about what we do in life. Then we took off to the desert and some started having small chats while other preferred their Ipod company, me and Salma stayed awake chatting for a while and after 6 hours we decided we better try to sleep as we still have more 6 hours ahead of us.

We reached Siwa in the morning and the fresh air carried within it a rural smell that was so virgin and hasn't been affected by any kind of pollution. We head to our camp and since the tents weren’t ready for us yet, we the girls invaded the only hut in there while the boys guess went to the hot spring. I just slept for very few hours to wake up to the voice of the boys playing football near our hut, checked the bathroom, at least we had one, then our guide said its time to start our tour as there are a number of hot springs to visit and its about time. Still not talking to anybody but my two friends, and every now and then checking the only young girl with us, Rehab a 20 years old photographer who is so energetic, guess she didn’t bother to rest at all and while I was napping she took off alone to somewhere near our camp to take photos. She was loud, cheerful, challenging and up to anything and everything. When we reached the hot spring some went swimming while the others including me instead of sitting doing nothing decided to follow Rehab the photographer in her adventure as she decided to discover the area on her own so we decided to accompany her. Guess at the very beginning it wasn’t a very wise decision as I found myself in the middle of a meadow with long dry hay, we just followed her and away from the cuts everywhere in our hands and legs - the boys were wearing shorts! - I was enjoying it in a weird way, maybe as I never imagined this before, then we reached the sea and away from the mud and cuts I was so happy and seem that it showed so the others started talking to me and the ice melt on its own.

I smiled seeing them not fearing approaching and having a conversation and just like that we all started talking and on our way back to the hot spring I knew their names. Our next destination was to a place in the middle of the sea full of huts and ducks, I sat by the shore for a while enjoying the breeze then I joined the rest of them and started taking pictures of the place, again we had few talks and waited for sunset then took off to have dinner in a Siwaian restaurant. By then we were all tired but having a great time and I came to know all of their names and a hint about them, we laughed about food, tried to learn the language, tasted each other plates and tried their tea which was so sweet and very nice. Later we took off back to the camp in an attempt to get some sleep so we can be ready for another long day but once we reached there some decided to get into the hot spring again as it was freezing and the hot water was so tempting while the rest gathered around eachother nearby a fire under the full moon, in no time we decided we don’t want to sleep though the tents were ready and we didn't mind the cold weather so we started a game, we were all laughing, goofing and picking on eachother and for the first time in a long time I was young again. Their spirit and freshness was so contagious that I was just so eager to get back on time, I looked at them and remembered that once upon a time I was just the same, and I even started suggesting games to play, we talked about movies and favorite quotes and master scenes.

The next morning we woke up for breakfast and sure Siwaian tea that I guess we were addicted to by then. They all decided that we have like an hour before our desert excursion so our leader decided we go hike in a nearby mountain. My two friends weren’t excited to hike as much as I was and on the way there they abandoned me with the group to return back to the camp and read. I found myself with the group alone and hiking for the first time in my life but what the heck I kept going though I didn’t talk much. The boys were so kind they all acted nice and they always kept an eye on me and Rehab the photographer who was going wild climbing eagerly with her camera (Dawlat) and taking pictures. I was clumsy so two of them accompanied me and tried to protect and guide me all the way up the hills. And by the time we reached the peak, the view was amazing, we gathered for a group photo and laughed about having no idea on who to follow to get back down, I found them so kind giving me a hand and trying routes before asking me to follow them and I was touched by their kindness and helpful gestures.

Back to the camp we were divided into two 4x4 cars with expert desert drivers and we had our excursions in the smooth waves of very soft sand everywhere around us, we were racing and laughing loudly and stopped to check few hot springs in the desert before going sand boarding and watching sunset. The boys were so excited and started betting on who will master the sand boarding this time and have more rounds. Me and Salma weren’t enthusiastic to share so we backed off while our other friend Chitra just hit the sand. One of the guys came to me saying I cant travel for 12 hours to come to the desert and not try this, so again since I was absorbing their spirit I said what the heck hand me a board am on fire. That wasn’t even in my wildest dreams as I didn’t even know about such kind of sport and away from all the fun one might think it could be, yet still it’s the most freeing feeling ever. I who hated the beach because of the sand didn’t mind having sand in my eyes and ears, I was literally buried in sand and I loved it. We loved the contest among the guys and Rehab as she the tiny little girl managed to beat them all and had all her rounds and maybe more. Two of the boys dedicated their time to go grab her every time she falls, while another one was standing taking pictures of the rest and managed by the end of the day and right before sunset to convince Salma to at least have one round and she did.

Again a really fun day ended with laughs and we saw sun set and went back to the camp for dinner, we gathered around the tables on the floor and ate together on candle lights and again had the Siwaian tea, then we started playing games and getting to know more about everyone indirectly through their favorite things in life. I was attacked by all living blood sucking crawling and flying creatures but I stood still till the end of the night playing and laughing with them and I just felt like we all knew eachother before and that weird feeling I felt at the very beginning just disappeared. I didn’t see in their eyes the weird look that was there at the very beginning; on the contrary we all talked about our weirdest moments, shared views and guessed one another character and number of siblings, till we were all so exhausted so we decided to get some rest before sun rise. The third day was our last day, we were supposed to have a tour in the village and check few monuments so after having our last breakfast together and trying the Siwaian "Afket" which I have no idea what exactly the ingredients but it had onions in it, yet we all loved eating it. We again grabbed our sleeping bags, said goodbye to our host and checked Cleopatra's bath and Amoun temple, then went shopping in the village for olives, dates, and souvenirs, had tea with pancakes and went to Gabal el mouta before hitting the road back to Cairo.

Our way back to the city wasn’t like how we started, now we all know eachother and the trip back was more fun though we all shared one feeling, we didn’t want this to end. We started playing the game of first impressions and I was delighted to know that though I gave a firm belief at the very beginning of being a serious not fun person to know but they agreed on me being an easy going person. I never thought that I would really enjoy such a trip, to me it was like an adventure, sleeping in a hut in the desert, sand boarding and enjoying the company of total strangers and being comfy around them. I was young in spirit for an entire weekend and I loved it, I loved their cheerful spirit and hoped nothing will ever ruin it for them. Adam our easy going active leader. Moumen the very kind pure helpful guy ever. Chip and Dale or as they kept referring to eachother Da Vinci Etisalat and Azhari Mobinil, fun guys very energetic and competing all the time. Bakir the calm dreamy guy who reminded me of myself 10 yrs ago maybe because I studied English literature like him. Mahdy the funny light spirited guy who picks on everyone in a nice fun manner. Sherif the calm and loyal Disney movies addicted fan, Chitra the social fun with the coolest giggle ever. The hyper active, very talented Rehab and her inseparable Dawlat. Abd El Rahaman or Mr. ego our very proud 4x4 driver. Hemeda the siwaian smiley guy and our guide, kind, cheerful and always helpful. And sure Saloumi the always ready, prepared and always cold even with 3 heavy layers of socks on.

We stopped in the middle of the way to have a quick bite then back to Cairo we said goodbye and promised to stay in touch. Next day I got a group email invitation to a new place outside Cairo for the next weekend, I cheerful replied yes am on. Now that it turned out that what I feared most and thought I am not capable of is the only way for me to revive the lost me, I guess I am going from now on to adopt this spirit of positives I found in them and be the fun older sister they agreed on me being.

I am hiking next week, wanna join?