The hot sand of the desert probably seems the last place someone wants to be, especially in the searing heat of high summer. But for some, being buried neck-deep in the sand of the Siwa oasis near Dakrour Mountain in western Egypt is their last hope for a cure.
When I heard a few years ago about these mid-summer “sand baths”, I thought it was a new fashion. But I came to realise it was a traditional treatment. Locals say that bathing in the dry sand can cure medical conditions such as rheumatism, joint pain, infertility or impotence.
Haroun, who runs the sand bath operation with a team of about a dozen people, follows on from his father and grandfather. Most of the patients find the first bath difficult but they then get used to it, he said. It’s very rare that patients ask to stop the treatment because of the heat.
Before the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, patients included foreign tourists, but political turmoil and attacks by Islamist militants since have kept many tourists away from Egypt.
El-Fiqi comes to the sand baths for reasons other than his back.
"It's the pure air, the quietness that you can't enjoy in crowded cities."
“Even the food tastes better because of the more natural environment."
Back in Cairo after the assignment, I remember the heat and the serenity most vividly. How I savoured the peace and quiet.