"People ask me why I don't paint Cairo ", says Marilyn Batte, a Canadian landscape artist who has been painting professionally in Egypt for the past three years. "And if you notice, there are no people in my pictures. I found I was in need of quiet places, place you can just step into and get away."

As a photorealist, Batte's method is to photograph beautiful places outside Cairo and then paint them to look like the photographs. Her idea of a perfect escape-one she has painted often-is Waadi El-Ryan, just an hour and 45 minutes from Cairo . Drive down the road to Upper Egypt , through Saqqara and turn off just before Fayoum: The waadi is part of the great Fayoum depression, which is partly underwater. "The reason I like Waadi El Ryan is the contrasts there: the desert, the huge lake, the lush green surrounding it and the waterfall," says Batte. The mild climate is also one of Egypt 's best.

At the site, the 83 kilometre Lake Ryan gently slopes into the sand on one side, creating a beach like effect, while on the other side the dunes are higher and cut down abruptly to the water, forming a small cliff. The water is clean enough to swim in, especially around the waterfall, so expect crowds of city dwellers on public holidays. But wander away from the waterfall and it's possible to escape all over again. "In the late afternoon, there are incredible shadows across the dunes," says Batte, who recommends fall or winter as the best seasons to visit: Swim, hike among the dunes and finish the day around a campfire before sleeping under the stars near the shore of the lake. She also enjoys listening to the eerie sound of the fisherman on the lake drumming and chanting to attract the fish.
  Proctor, Sophy "Escape Artist." Egypt Today, Sept. 1998: 85