Siwa Oasis, Egypt

Travelers find their purpose at this made-from-scratch Egyptian Oasis

By Iuliana Marchian

I have always been fascinated by desert oases, dunes, and palm trees. Whenever I visualize an oasis, I see myself amidst palm trees, natural springs, and traditional mudbrick huts. When I planned my two-month trip to Egypt, I was hoping to find such a dreamy place. 

But I would have never imagined I would also find a person with an amazing and touching story in such a place.

Maysara is the passionate manager of the Shamofs. He was born in a village in the northern part of Syria, Saraqib (at the border with Turkey). As a Syrian refugee, he had to find a new place to start life from zero. He came to Egypt in 2012, lived in Cairo for two years but didn’t resonate with the craziness and chaotic life in the capital. He then moved to Marsha Matruh, on the Mediterranean coast, and soon discovered Siwa Oasis which is only 300 kilometers away, deep into the Sahara Desert.

“I fell in love with Siwa and wanted to have a place here,” he told me while sitting around the fireplace he built with his own hands. He felt good when he arrived in the far-west oasis of Siwa (at the border with Libya), quickly connected with the friendly locals, and partnered with them.

In Siwa, Maysara met his partner, Yahia, who had a small garden on the outskirts of the oasis and encouraged him to build something there. I looked around the camp with astonishment. It was so beautiful and cozy. Maysara built the camp with his own hands in three years, thinking of every single detail for his guests. In the beginning, he lived in a treehouse for eight months to connect with the place. 

As a former architect, I can say that this is a different approach than I was used to.

After years of intense work, the Shamofs was a fairytale place featuring a big organic farm with guava trees, pomegranate, small apple trees, palm trees with dates, aloe vera, olive trees, eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers. In the small palm grove, Maysara built a treehouse, a tent for relaxing massage and meditation, a fireplace, an authentic house of limestone bricks, mud, and palm trunks, and a small pool with a thermal spring.

I felt shivers on my back while he was telling me his story. He was sharing with me secrets from his new world. What he was telling me about Siwa seemed like another world to me. I felt that coming to the Shamofs had a more profound meaning. Listening to Maysara’s story I was immersed in the spirit of the place which revealed itself before I even stepped off the property.

Maysara had found the home he was longing for in Siwa. Because he couldn’t travel, he wanted to bring the world there at the Shamofs, create an authentic accommodation for people who want to connect with nature and local traditions. Looking around, I must admit Maysara managed to do that very well by putting his soul into every part he built in the camp, designing, planning, and building everything from scratch – including a hobbit house. 

The camp and the garden looked amazing. Then Maysara explained to me how he learned to build everything from scratch.

I could feel how much passion he had for his project and guests from the way he spoke and explained to me everything about the Shamofs. Shamofs is the acronym for Spirituality, Healing, Art, Meditation, Organic Farm, Siwa. 

Maysara has thought of every detail to enrich the guests’ experience as much as possible. I could feel it was not about the camp, it was about connecting people with nature in Siwa, with the locals, and with their soul and higher purpose in life. Telling me the story about how he built the camp, he shared a piece of himself and his life project. This reminded me of a very important element of travel – connecting with the locals and learning about the story of a place directly from them.

“I wanted to make something simple, where people can come and experience nature – herbs, palm trees, and stay away from cities,” he told me. 

Then he learned carpentry. He even bought a sewing machine to make the couches’ tapestries and the tents in the garden. He learned how to make fireplaces. And then started to host people who enjoyed connecting to nature. Ultimately, he showed me how he made all decorations by hand – he dried pumpkins the whole summer and then made lights out of them. 

Everything he designed at the Shamofs had his gentle touch. There was personalization and passion evident in every piece of furniture and decorations all over the place. And without Maysara’s explanations, I would have never understood the role of each thing in the camp.

But the beauty doesn’t end here. Maysara helped me to connect with the local culture and gastronomy, too. The first dinner we had duck cooked in hot sand – Siwan style (bumardan), something I would have never known where to find. He also offered me an alcoholic drink made from dates (araki), which is natural and they don’t add anything to it, so you don’t get headaches. And not to mention the delicious very thin bread made of wheat flour (rakak).

Aside from everything he did at the Shamofs, Maysara has loved to draw and paint since he was a kid, so while building the camp he drew soul portraits for those interested to see their spiritual double on paper. He’s also passionate about falconry. Together with his friends, he goes to the desert in Matruh for three months, they catch falcons, train them to hunt a specific type of bird or rabbits, and after one year, they set the falcon free. They share the food with the falcon. The falcon will hunt the bird, they will take half of the bird and then give the rest to the falcon.

I listened to Maysara’s fascinating stories about falcons while sitting around the fireplace cuddling one of the cats, called Sahara. It was a simple evening around the fire, but listening to his stories from the desert it seemed as if I traveled with him there and connected with the falcons.

Shamofs is your gateway to the local culture, to people’s hearts, and nature. And guests will certainly think back to their stay with gratitude for their Passionate Manager, Maysara.


About the journalist:
Iuliana Marchian is a travel writer and author based in Sibiu, Romania. She is the founder of Authentic Travels.