One of my favorite memories of Morocco comes from seeing goats standing on the branches of argan trees, munching happily away. The argan trees grow in southwestern Morocco. In 2013, I saw them along the route from the coastal city of Agadir to Marrakesh. In 2015, I saw them along the road from Marrakesh to Essaouira.
The goats have developed the ability to climb up into the argan trees in order to eat the fruit. These trees can grow up to 30 feet (about 10 meters) tall, and the goats will climb as high as it takes in their quest for a tasty morsel. According to an article published in Small Ruminant Research in July 2007, the goats spend over 6 hours per day on an average up in the trees.
The fruits of the argan tree consist of a fleshy pulp that contains a hard seed at the core. The goats eat the entire fruit, but are not able to digest the central nut. The nuts pass through their digestive tracts, coming out in the poop. People recover the nuts from the goat droppings, and process the kernels to produce the argan oil that is so popular in hair care products and cooking.
In 2013, a tour bus taking us from Agadir to Marrakech drove through some countryside with argan forests, and the driver pointed out the goats as we passed by. However, to my disappointment he didn’t stop for us to linger, look at them, and take photos.
When I was enjoying Marrakech with 3 friends in 2015, we were looking at options for tours, and found one offering a day trip to the coastal town of Essaouira. The tour’s description promised not only the sights to see in Essaouira itself, but also an opportunity to see goats in trees along the route there.
The van picked us up at the meeting place, and we were on our way. It was a long drive in a cramped vehicle, so it was a welcome relief when it pulled over to the side of the road to let us out and see the goats. I realized that the tour organizers had arranged in advance with local farmers to herd their goats up into the tree just so we’d be sure of having some to see. Of course, it was suggested that we tip the herders…. I was happy to tip them. I was excited to finally be up close and personal with the goats!
Because of spending a month in Senegal in October 2017, I came to feel a real appreciation for the country and its people. Once I start to feel that level of connection, I find myself wanting to go back, and I do feel that pull to return to Senegal for a visit.
What would I do if I went back for a visit? This is my wish list. I really don’t think it would be feasible to do all of these things in a single visit, but I would enjoy doing what I can!
Visit the local people that I had an opportunity to get to know during my month there. Reconnect, get an update on their lives.
Return to Pink Lake with a swimsuit, and go for a swim in the salt water.
Return to Terrou-Bi, which was the original hotel that we stayed at for our first two weeks in Senegal, before we had to change hotels. Go for walks at sunset along its stretch of beach.
Dine at the seafront restaurants in the Almadies part of Dakar. That was something I was really fond of doing when I was there the first time!
Go inside the African Renaissance Monument, and climb to the top to look out of the windows in the man’s crown.
Seek out opportunities to see performances of sabar music and dance. Perhaps even take lessons in sabar dancing myself.
Seek out a ndeup ceremony.
Go back to Gorée Island, and this time allow a full day to explore the entire island.
Will I actually go? It’s hard to say. I’d like to have at least one travel companion that I can dine with, plan with, and share the experience with. I also would need to figure out how it fits into everything else going on in my life. For now, it’s on the back burner. But life can take interesting directions, and if the right opportunity were to present itself, I’d be happy to return.
I grew up on a farm, and even though my life took me in a different direction, I still appreciate animals of all sizes. Therefore, whenever I go to Egypt, I enjoy seeing the camels. Here’s a gallery of my favorite photos that I have taken of camels over the years!
At Saqqara, Egypt
When I went to Saqqara, Egypt to tour the ancient tombs, I saw this playful rascal. At first, he looked bored, but when he realized I was looking at him, he started making faces for the camera. It seemed to be fun for both of us!
Later, when I came back, the camel was still there, but now he was lying down. Once again, he made faces for me.
It looks to me as though the camel is laughing in this photo. So I created a meme from it to post on social media which said, “Jewel just stepped in a pile of my poop!”
After I snapped the above photo, the camel continued to clown around for the camera, so I took another photo as well.
At the Pyramids of Giza
It’s fun to go for a camel ride at the pyramids of Giza. This camel enjoyed resting after carrying me to the pyramids, while I ran around with my camera taking photos.
Going for a camel ride is a half-day commitment. It’s a good idea to allow about 2 hours for the ride itself, and then afterward you might want to take a shower to wash off the camel smell and rest a bit. It can be very tiring to be out in the hot sun for that long. I strongly recommend wearing sunscreen for the ride.
It isn’t easy getting on a camel. The handlers make the camel kneel, but the hump is so high that you need to lift your leg high to swing it up and over. Once you’re settled in the saddle, the camel gets to its feet. The first time I experienced this, I nearly fell off! First the camel raises its back legs, causing you to pitch forward, and then it raises its front legs. Be prepared to squeeze the camel tightly with your thighs to stabilize yourself.
The last time I went for a camel ride, my camel’s saddle wasn’t cinched very well, and it kept slipping from side to side as the camel walked along. The handlers noticed, so they had the camel kneel down so I could get off, and they then tightened the saddle straps. That same day, there were several additional times that they had the camel kneel down, and then get back up, so by the end of the day I had gotten quite a bit of practice keeping my balance for all of that!
One time, after I had been to Egypt a few times, one of my brothers asked me whether I perhaps had a photo of camel poop I could send him. I was surprised by his question – partly because I didn’t know why he would want a photo of camel poop, and partly because I didn’t know why he would think I would have taken one. Therefore, the next time I went to Egypt, I remembered his request, and I took this photo for him:
In Egypt, it is common for people to decorate their camels’ harnesses and saddle blankets with tassels. This camel’s halter is plain, but his saddle blanket is quite stylish.
The camels had an opportunity to rest a bit while all of us explored the pyramids and took photos of each other.
In parts of Giza (the part of the Cairo metropolitan area where the pyramids are), you can find cars parked on one side of the street and camels parked on the other side of the street.
Camels In Upper Egypt
On the west bank of the Nile at Aswan, one of the tourist attractions is the Valley of the Nobles. Tourists who want to visit it have a choice – they can either go for a camel ride up to where the tombs are, or they can walk up the steep hillside for about 30 minutes.
When riding via bus from Luxor to Aswan, the road runs parallel to the railroad tracks. Somewhere between the towns of Edfu and Kom Ombo, I saw these camels traveling alongside the tracks.
April is the time of year when Egypt is most likely to experience khamaseen (sandstorms), but sandstorms can arrive during other parts of the year as well. I’ve personally experienced these storms on 3 different visits to Egypt over the years, and in 2018 I “enjoyed” the bonus of experiencing two sandstorms in a single visit! Lucky me! My sandstorm adventures occurred on:
April 14, 2009 in Cairo
February 11, 2015 in Cairo
April 30, 2018 in Luxor
May 7, 2018 in Aswan
What a Khamaseen Is
The word khamaseen is the Arabic word for the number 50. It is also used to refer to strong winds that blow sand, which are most likely to appear in a 50-day period in the spring between mid-March and mid-May.
Wind speed typically exceeds 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour), and can be as high as 85 miles per hour (140 kilometers per hour), which is about the same as the wind speeds in a Category 1 hurricane. The storm can last for several hours, or even a couple of days. The one I experienced in 2015 was a 2-day event, whereas the one I experienced in 2018 lasted only a couple of hours.
A khamaseen stirs up walls of dust and sand, filling the air with grit. It’s fascinating to watch one approach, because it looks like a wall of sand heading your way.
What It’s Like to be in a Sandstorm
In many ways, a sandstorm reminds me of a blizzard, except that instead of being cold and snowy, it’s hot and sandy.
Both can snarl traffic due to problems with visibility.
Note the above photos I took of the pyramids and Sphinx. They show what the view from my hotel window looked like at two different times on February 11, 2015 – one before the sandstorm arrived, and the other during the storm.
Sometimes, rural roads close until visibility improves.
Both can create unsafe conditions that affect transportation.
When the khamaseen struck Luxor in April 2018, it stirred up choppy waters on the Nile river, causing ferries to suspend service until the water calmed.
Often, airlines will delay or cancel flights when a sandstorm arrives, due to the high winds and poor visibility.
Both cause businesses and schools to close early. Our original plan for February 11, 2015 was to tour two museums. Both museums hurried us through. They were eager to close so their employees could go home.
Both can produce howling high winds that last for several hours. The February 2015 sandstorm lasted 2 days, while the others I experienced lasted a few hours.
The strong winds can cause power outages. That happened at our hotel in Luxor in 2018, causing a 30-minute outage.
Coping with a Sandstorm
It’s a very bad idea to wear contact lenses during a sandstorm. The grit gets under the lenses and hurts. Glasses are much more comfortable, and they offer the bonus of protecting the eyes somewhat against the blowing sand. This is why it’s so important for people who wear contact lenses to take along a pair of prescription glasses when traveling to Egypt. People who don’t need prescription lenses can wear either goggles or sunglasses for this purpose.
The blowing sand irritates breathing passages, which can lead to allergies, asthma, or catching a cold. I think nearly every person in our group caught a cold after the 2015 sandstorm. Egyptians will typically wrap a scarf to cover the nose and mouth. Some even wear a mask over the nose and mouth for further protection. In this 2015 photo, I’m doing both, with the scarf hiding the mask.
If planning any kind of travel, it’s best to check whether the activities you want to do are still available, whether transportation is still running, and whether delays are expected.
After experiencing several sandstorms in Egypt, I have to admit they’re not particularly pleasant. However, I don’t worry about the possibility of being in one, and I’m willing to come to Egypt during the khamaseen season. It’s interesting to take a step back and notice how people who live with this weather deal with it. There’s always a story to tell if you look for it.
Rain is rare in Egypt, because of its location in the Sahara desert. In my previous visits to Egypt, the “rain” I experienced was similar to what we might call “sprinkling” in my home in the U.S., and it lasted only a short time. The average rainfall in Cairo for April is 1/4 inch (7 mm) in the entire month.
So, imagine my surprise when we experienced two days of genuine thunderstorms with heavy rain on April 24 and 25, 2018 while I was in Cairo! And then, a week later, a miniature thunderstorm came to Luxor on May 1!
Egypt receives rain so rarely that a major rainfall is a big event. Here are some of the consequences that happened in Cairo’s 2-day storm:
There are no storm drains, so streets quickly became flooded.
Cars stalled when the flood waters overwhelmed them.
People didn’t know how to drive on the rain-slick roads.
Building roofs leaked, because they normally don’t need to be watertight. I was eating supper at Felfela restaurant with rain dripping on my head! But it was okay, because I was enjoying the sound of the storm.
Events were canceled due to rain leaking through roofs. For example, the Balloon Theater canceled a performance by the Kowmiyya dance company one evening due to rain.
Parts of Cairo’s Ring Road were shut down for several hours due to flooding. Many people needed to sleep in their cars.
The road closure caused traffic snarls throughout Cairo as people tried to find other ways to get home.
Some buildings and bridges collapsed.
Trains were delayed.
In Luxor, the “thunderstorm” consisted of one flash of lightning and one brief rumble of thunder, followed by some sprinkling. Therefore, we didn’t have the above problems that come from heavy rain. However, the locals were so worried about the storm that they insisted that the members of our group who intended to walk somewhere take a bus instead.
I live in a part of the U.S. that experiences frequent thunderstorms, with heavy rains. My dad used to call these storms “toadstranglers”. Therefore, I have always taken storm drains, culverts, and watertight roofs for granted. It never occurred to me that other places would forego such infrastructure. It makes sense, of course. Why would you need to build watertight roofs and storm drains in the Sahara desert? I can understand why it might be viewed as an unnecessary expense in a place that gets thunderstorms so rarely.
The Bandia Reserve is a wildlife park about 65 kilometers from Dakar, Senegal which features a variety of animals from throughout Africa. Although some of Bandia’s animals are native to Senegal, others were transported in from South Africa and elsewhere. The park isn’t big enough to accommodate the hunting needs of large predators such as lions; therefore, it features only herbivores such as giraffes, antelope, zebras, etc. The exception is that there is a hyena in a fenced area, and some crocodiles in a stream that’s some distance from where the rest of the animals live.
The Bandia Reserve offers trucks that can be rented, with drivers and guides. Our guide had been with Bandia ever since it opened 20 years ago, so he was able to share with us a large amount of information about the park’s origins and history. The backs of the trucks are open-air and outfitted with benches which can accommodate up to 9 passengers. It was the perfect size for our group.
A network of gravel roads runs throughout the park. The drivers and guides are quite familiar with all the routes. They use phones to stay in touch with other colleagues who are taking other trucks through the park, which is how they know where to find the various types of animals on any given day.
Throughout the park are a variety of trees that are native to West Africa. These acacia trees have vivid reddish bark, which contrasts beautifully with the surrounding vegetation. Senegal lies just south of the Sahara desert with a dry climate whose rainy season runs about 3 months. The acacia trees and other local vegetation are adapted to these dry conditions.
When Bandia Reserve was first started 20 years ago, the owners brought in 4 giraffes from South Africa to start their herd: two male, two female. Today, the herd contains about 50 giraffes. The guide told us they occasionally bring in males from the outside for breeding, to add some diversity to the gene pool. The giraffes are surprisingly comfortable with the truckloads of camera-toting tourists that pass through. Our truck was able to get rather close to them.
There were several mother giraffes in the park with their babies. I found myself wishing that my late college roommate, Tammy Dudley, could be alive to see those with me. She had always loved giraffes, and owned a collection of over 100 giraffe figurines.
Many of the giraffes stayed together in a herd as they moved through the trees, snacking on the leaves.
There are a variety of species of gazelles in Bandia Reserve. We didn’t get close enough for me to snap good photos of all of them, but here are the ones I was able to capture.
There are a few small monkeys living inside of Bandia. I only saw this one.
We saw a group of about 3 ostriches near the herd of giraffes.
It was surprising to see how close these zebras allowed our truck to get to them.
When Bandia Reserve first started 20 years ago, a pair of white rhinocerous (one male, one female) were brought in from elsewhere in Africa to populate it. However, they never produced any young, so today they remain the only two rhinos in the park. The guides and truck drivers use their mobile phones to keep each other informed of where in the park the rhinos are relaxing on any given day. It took some time for us to find the corner of the park where they were the day we visited.
Bandia Reserve contains many large baobab trees. These and the acacias are both very representative of the African landscape. Near the end of the tour we saw this massive baobab tree. It is estimated to be 1,000 years old.
The insides of baobab trees are hollow, and this one has been used for many years as a graveyard for the griots (storytellers). The tree is known as the tombeau de griots. The griots were the elders of a tribe, the keepers of its oral history. When they died, their bones were carefully placed inside this large baobab tree.
This photo, taken from a bit of a distance, shows the large size of the baobab tree.
At the end of the tour is a restaurant and a gift shop. In the water next to the restaurant lives a family of Nile crocodiles. They were shy the day we visited, but we did manage to catch a glimpse of one.
We visited Senegal in October, which is typically a very hot time of year. The day we visited Bandia Reserve, temperatures hovered around 93 F (34 C). By the end of the trip, we all wanted to take a siesta. Our friend Mario Villalobos decided to go ahead and do so while others shopped or picked up snacks at the restaurant!
All in all, I was very enthusiastic about our visit to Bandia Reserve. I’ve been told by people who went on photo safaris in South Africa and Kenya that Bandia is smaller and less impressive. However, I have never been to these other countries, and Bandia impressed me a great deal! I’m very glad I went. For me, it was well worth the time, money, and effort!
Traveling offers many opportunities to see beautiful sunrises and sunsets. In this blog post, I’d like to share my photos taken in Egypt, Morocco, and Senegal. These are all my original photos, and my property. Please do not steal them.
Sunrises and Sunsets in Egypt
I have traveled to Egypt 12 times, so naturally I’ve had many opportunities over the years to photograph sunrises and sunsets there. Here are my favorites.
At the Pyramids of Giza Near Cairo, Egypt
Any post celebrating sunsets in Egypt clearly needs to start with the sun setting behind the Pyramids of Giza!
This sunset photo was taken in February, 2017 when I went to Egypt as part of Sahra Kent’s “Journey Through Egypt 3” tour. We stayed at the Sphinx Guest House, which is a bed & breakfast place in Giza, Egypt (near Cairo). This was the view from our window! If you look closely, you can see the Sphinx in front of the middle pyramid.
And because I love Egypt and its pyramids so much, here’s a sunset photo I took in February 2016. This year, too, I accompanied Sahra’s “Journey Through Egypt” tour, and I took this photo from my room at the Sphinx Guest House.
I caught the sunset at a different point in February, 2015. This year was the first time I accompanied Sahra on her “Journey Through Egypt” tour, but it wasn’t my first time in Egypt. This photo offers more light, and therefore a clearer view of the Sphinx.
One of my favorite photos that I have taken in my travels is one of the moon rising over the Great Pyramid. I sat with friends in the garden cafe at the Mena House hotel, and this was our view. I had accompanied my friend Morocco to the Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival, which was held at Mena House.
The Overnight Train from Cairo to Luxor
It’s about 400 miles from Cairo, Egypt to Luxor. An affordable way to make the trip is via an overnight train with sleeper cars. The train leaves Cairo late in the afternoon, which allows an opportunity to watch the sun set while you’re making the journey. I took this photo in February, 2016.
At Lake Nasser, at the Abu Simbel Temple in Southern Egypt
Twice a year, on February 22 and October 22, the rays of the rising sun pierce the inner chamber of the Temple of Ramses at Abu Simbel, Egypt. On this date, the light shines on Amun-Ra of Karnak, Ra-Horakhti of Heliopolis and Ramses II, but the fourth god in the sanctuary, Ptah of Memphis, remains always in shadow. I was there for this event on February 22, 2015, when I accompanied Sahra Kent on her “Journey Through Egypt” tour.
The Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria, Egypt
These photos are from my visit to Alexandria, Egypt in June, 2008. My friend Saqra and I went to a family-oriented beach one beautiful afternoon. Alexandria is a popular place for families from Cairo to spend vacation time during the summer, due to the fact that the sea air gives it cooler temperatures than Cairo. We stayed to watch the sun set, then went to the theater at the Alexandria Library to watch the show titled “The World Dances with Mahmoud Reda”.
Later in the sunset, as the light begins to fade, the sky remains beautiful and the sea takes on a range of colors.
Sunset in Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira is a seaside community in Morocco, facing onto the Atlantic Ocean. It offers beautiful views of the ocean, and also of sunsets. I was there for Funoon Dance Camp, which was organized by my friend Nawarra.
Sunrises in Dakar, Senegal
These two photos were both taken at sunrise (approximately 7:30 a.m.) in November, 2017, from the Pullman Hotel in Dakar, Senegal.
Although the primary theme of this post is African sunrises and sunsets, I can’t resist sharing some beautiful sunsets from my own neighborhood in Iowa City, Iowa. After all, it’s my blog, and I can include non-African sunsets if I want to!
I don’t have to travel far to see beautiful sunsets. These two photos were taken from my front door, looking across the street at my neighbors’ houses.
And this photo was taken about a half hour’s drive from our house, at Coralville Lake.
A fascinating site to visit in Senegal is Lac Rose, which is French for “Pink Lake”. Its actual name is Lake Retba, but because of its pink color, it picked up the nickname.
Interestingly, this lake doesn’t always look pink. The color depends on variables such as weather conditions, time of year, and the state of the algae that give the lake its pink appearance. Two weeks before I went to Lac Rose with some of my IBM colleagues, a few other people from our group went. They were disappointed because it wasn’t pink the day they saw it. However, lucky for us, it was pink the day we went!
The conditions required to make the pink color include a combination of dry weather, high salt content in the lake (higher concentration than sea water), warm temperatures, and bright light. This is because the lake acquires its pink color from beta carotene manufactured by a type of microalgae called Dunaliella salina, and these weather conditions help the algae to thrive. One of our local friends also told us that the pink color is more apparent when there’s a bit of wind to cause ripples in the lake’s surface. Weather can vary, so that’s why some visitors see the pink color and others do not.
At times, the lake can look orange, again because of the beta carotene. It seemed as though the shallow water near the shore was more likely to look orange, whereas the deeper water out in the lake looked pink.
The day we went, temperatures had recently been in the 90’s (Fahrenheit) or low 30’s (Celsius). There had been several days in a row of bright sunlight, and dry weather. There was a breeze stirring the surface of the water a bit.