The next day brought us out into the western desert on a 4×4 safari, stopping along the way to see a two million year-old footprint left by our small-footed ancestors.
Cruising through the desert in the 4×4 trucks felt like a cross between a roller coaster ride and a Land Rover commercial. It was comforting to know that the vehicles’ were supposedly designed to do this, but I cannot imagine the engineer in Detroit had the Sahara in mind when he was creating the vehicle.
We had no difficulty with the flat portions, but it was when we started going up the dunes, and back down them, that our hearts started beating faster. We would see the truck in front of us tip down at what seemed to be a ridiculous angle before plunging out of sight, leaving us to follow. Just like a roller coaster, the truck always seemed to pause for just a second at the top of the dune, giving us time to grab something/someone and say a quick prayer to reach the bottom right side up!
Flying down the opposite side of the dune might have been more bearable if the truck did not always start to turn slightly as we descended, causing everyone in the car to hold on harder to whatever surface/person they could find.
When we reached the bottom of a particularly steep hill seconds/years later, the driver, who up until this time was silent, would turn to us and ask in Arabic, “afraid?” Our hearts racing and our hands still in white-knuckled grips on the door handles, we responded with a shaky, “pssssh, this is normal. We do this every day back in Cairo…”
Many dunes later, we reached a small lake that seemed to suddenly appear in front of us, its glistening surface and green banks surreally surrounded by mountains of sand. Swimming in the middle of the desert is a dreamlike experience I kept expecting to wake up from, like being sucked into a sidewalk painting in a Middle Eastern version of Mary Poppins.
As if that was not enough, we then went from cold water to a natural hot spring, located in its own surprising oasis five minutes away. We shared the pool with a group of locals who seemed to have driven out for a picnic, as they were starting to cook up a meal as we left to catch the sunset.
We ended the day with a tent-covered meal in a small camp between the dunes, after which a troupe of local musicians serenaded us in a traditional Siwa style with flutes, drums and singing.
We rode back with some of the musicians, who kindly let Caity and I play their drums (Caity actually playing and me just whacking the drum without any beat or rhythm). Our traveling concert was sadly brought to an end once we reached the edge of town, the musicians telling us that they don’t play music in Siwa except in the cultural center or in hotels for tourists.
We awoke early the next day and boarded the buses for another grueling ten-hour bus trip back home. We left with a sun tan, wet swim suits, suitcases weighed down with local dates and olive oil and our pants and hair filled with the desert sand.