110 kilometres into the middle of the desert lies a weird and (not so) wonderful place called Wahet Omar; a place that we would not be surprised to have stumbled upon while on a really bad acid trip, but which actually exists...
If one day you wake up from a deep doze in the back of a car, journeying from Alexandria to Cairo, stay alert for a rest-stop that lies between the boundaries of reality and a bizarre dream world, suspended in time and space, a figurative oasis… like a building from Inception, or Platform 9¾. This is Wahet Omar; the weirdest thing I've seen on any Egyptian high-way since Mr.Olive's en route to Sahel; a giant multi-coloured cement structure tapering upwards towards the sky with a massive sign that simply states “Mr.Olive's,” in big letters, without a single olive tree, farm, or anything surrounding it.
You've probably been there before. Situated at 110KM on the Cairo-Alex road, nothing about Wahet Omar seems remarkably abnormal at first. You walk into a stale-aired behemoth of a dining area scattered with timeworn wooden tables spread out between huge spaces, with a wooden oven in the center next to the depressive gremlin cashiers. Pretty much like every rest-stop in Egypt then, so far. I catch a glimpse of a classic hantoor chariot used as décor in the corner. It's not that weird, quite charming even. I go to the cafeteria and purchase Siwa mineral water for 7 LE each. I mean, that's expensive but not altogether odd considering inflation and general prices at any rest-stop. I go to the bathroom; it's spotless, as in zesty and shimmering, with toilet paper in each booth. Now this is a bit strange for an Egyptian rest-stop but it's a level of hygiene that should be the least to be expected for any lavatory around the world.
But then, then, I went round the corner, into the last shop in the row of bazaars. I rubbed my eyes, still in a haze from the long slumber. How could this be? I had stumbled upon the best confectionary shop in Egypt, in the middle of no-where, a veritable Willy Wonka wonderland of every single imported sweet, chocolate and snack you can imagine. The place brought out my inner-sweet tooth as I frolicked in between Werther's Originals, limited edition Nutella Jars and Davidoff Coffee, everything perfectly branded as if we were in Hamley's, whilst in Cairo people stare blankly at the decrepit kiosk stand, deciding between fake Oreos and fake Borios. Still, that is neither where the weirdness ends nor even where it even begins.
It begins with a screeching "Meeeeeihhhh, Meeeeeeeeaaaihhh." 'What's that?' I wonder, while happily sucking on my Werther's Originals. I turn a corner into a vast and dark-landscaped area. I stop in my tracks and my pupils magnify. In front of me lies a cage the size of a couple of dining room tables, with twenty to thirty Bambis; white tailed-deers scrambling on top of each other, gasping for a bit of space to breathe, hungry and screaming whilst an irksome Egyptian family rattle the fence of the cage and taunt them.
Within the next five minutes I stumbled around in a state of wide-eyed grim delirium from cage to cage, as I zoomed into the sad eyes of exotic animals' faces, feeling like I was in the midst of an Edgar Allen Poe(m) to a Alfred Hitchcock score. Gigantic emus gnawed at their own bodies and hissed, llamas brooded into the night and goats rammed their heads repeatedly against a fence as a cross-eyed goblin lurches in the dark asking if I would like to feed the animals.
The piece de resistance was a singular flamingo, just one, perched in the middle of a giant puddle bigger than all the other cages combined. It was the most depressed flamingo in the world at the weirdest rest-stop in the world. Not even one of my Werther's Originals could cheer it up.
I don't know what kind of sick person owns this establishment; my best guess is the lord of this kingdom is some sort of millionaire cartoon-ish baby, an overgrown blob of flesh still in nappies throwing tantrums for fluffy animals and sweeties at his behest...