Siwa Oasis on the western border of Egypt is one of the country’s most isolated settlements, with a population of over 30,000 people. It was not an easy town to get to and when I return, I will do it in a more comfortable manner. It is a very remote oasis about thirty miles from the Libyan border, and it feels as if you are worlds away from home, even if your home is in Cairo.
Just outside the main village of Siwa are the salt water pools, which are both a tourist destination and an active mining area. I suggest if you visit that you have a guide with you, especially if you are a woman. Although it is quite safe, the local boys and men regularly do not see a woman without being fully covered. I learned this through my guide after having curious conversations about Siwa’s customs. The conversations initially started when my guide became irritated with the young man at the guard house of the salt water pool enterance.
We had stopped and the young security guard was speaking with my guide, and I could tell there was a slight tension. The guard asked me where I was from, and I said “America”. That was when my guide pulled out, and started saying that he had no right to aske me where I was from, or to talk with me. I asked him why he asked me that question, and my guide said it was because he wanted to see what a woman looked like.
With that said, have a trusted male guide from your accomodations, or a legitimate company with you who understands the roads and customs of the town. I booked my guide through my hotel and he was terrific, I felt that I lucked out with him showing me around Siwa.
The salt water pools, in all its turquoise and white beauty were created from the combination of a low annual rainfall and high rates of evaporation. Just as in many heavily salted lakes around the world, these blue pools of salt water have been known for its healing properties. YES, you can also float due to the heavy amount of salt content. Just be careful not to get any water in your eyes because the burning sensation is very real!
When driving throughout the salt pools, you will notice a lot of mining happening. The mining is not very harsh since there is an abundance of salt on the earth’s top ground layer. All that is removed is a thin layer of sand that tops the raw salt, which has been deposited over the many years. Once the top dirt has been removed, the natural salt is excavated.
The excavating for salt not only helped Siwa’s economy, but had also created spectacular swimming pools. The pools were stunning; turquoise blue water that reflected the hills of white salt. It reminded me of snow topped mountains, with a mirror reflection in a crystal blue lake during wintertime.
Although you can visit the salt pools on your own, it is recommended that a guide or a local brings you there for your own comfort and safety. The salt pools are not straight forward, and driving to the best swimming pool can change due to the current salt mining. Plus, you do not want to swim where you are not supposed to!
Enjoy your adventure to Siwa Oasis!
But it is the journey that matters, in the end…– Ernest Hemingway
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