What It’s Like to be in a Sandstorm in Egypt

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

Jewel took both of these photos from the same window in Giza on February 11, 2015.

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.

    Coping with a Sandstorm

    Photo of Jewel 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.  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.

    Closing Thoughts

    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.

 

Thunderstorms in Egypt!

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.

 

Photo Safari at Bandia Reserve in Senegal

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.

Dirt roads such as this one run throughout Bandia Reserve in Senegal.

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.

The acacia trees inside Bandia Reserve have a vivid reddish bark.

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.

This mother giraffe and her calf brought a taste of family life to Bandia Reserve.

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.

The giant eland living in the park were rather spectacular to look at!
This is one of the species of gazelle that lives inside Bandia Reserve.

There are a few small monkeys living inside of Bandia. I only saw this one.

This small monkey near the entrance of Bandia Reserve is near a giant baobab tree.

We saw a group of about 3 ostriches near the herd of giraffes.

The day we visited Bandia Reserve, the ostriches were gathered near the giraffe herd.

It was surprising to see how close these zebras allowed our truck to get to them.

A family of zebras lives inside the park.

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.

A pair of white rhinocerous live in the park.

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.

Mauricio Andrade and Marcel Furumoto explore the area around the base of the baobab tree’s trunk. Note how small these full-grown adult men look compared to the tree’s trunk.

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.

These skulls are actual human remains. They were griots (storytellers), and were honored as the keepers of the oral histories of their tribes.

This photo, taken from a bit of a distance, shows the large size of the baobab tree.

This 1,000-year-old baobab tree serves as the tomb of the griots (storytellers). Look carefully, and you’ll see the skulls under the tree to the left.

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.

The crocodiles at Bandia Reserve were brought from Egypt.

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!

Mario Villalobos has the right idea.

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!

In case you’re wondering why I was in Senegal for a month, I was there as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps.   You can read more about that here: http://roaming-jewel.com/2017/10/17/ibmcsc/

African Sunrises and Sunsets

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.

Sunset over the Pyramids of Giza
The sun sets behind the pyramids of Giza, Egypt on February 6, 2017. Look closely, and you’ll see the Sphinx hiding 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.

Sunset over the pyramids of Giza
The sun sets behind the pyramids of Giza, Egypt on February 10, 2016.

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.

Sunset over the Pyramids of Giza
The sun sets behind the Pyramids and Sphinx in February, 2015.

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.

Moonrise over the Great Pyramid
The moon rises over the Great Pyramid in June, 2004.

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.

I saw this sunset on the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor, Egypt in February 14, 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.

False Dawn Over Lake Nasser Just before Sunrise at Abu Simbel
The glow of false dawn appears just before sunrise over Lake Nasser at Abu Simbel, Egypt on February 22, 2015.
Sunrise over Lake Nasser at Abu Simbel
The sun rises over Lake Nasser at the Abu Simbel temple in southern Egypt on February 22, 2015.

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”.

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria
The sun sets over the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria Egypt on June 30, 2008.

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.

Sunset in Essaouira, Morocco
The sun sets over Essaouira, Morocco, on September 10, 2017.

 

Sunset over Essaouira, Morocco
The sun sets over Essaouira, Morocco on September 10, 2017.

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.

Sunrise in Dakar, Senegal
The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean at Dakar, Senegal on November 1, 2017.

 

Sunrise in Dakar, Senegal
The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean at Dakar, Senegal on November 2, 2017.

In case you’re wondering why I was in Senegal for a month, I was there as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps.   You can read more about that here: http://roaming-jewel.com/2017/10/17/ibmcsc/

Gratuitous Sunsets in My Own Community!

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.

The sun sets over Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City, Iowa on July 6, 2014.
The sun sets over Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City, Iowa on July 15, 2016.
Sunset in Iowa City, Iowa November 2017
The sun sets over Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City, Iowa in November, 2017.

And this photo was taken about a half hour’s drive from our house, at Coralville Lake.

The sun sets over Coralville Lake on October 21, 2016.

Exploring Senegal’s Pink Lake (Lac Rose, or Lake Retba)

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.

Pink Lake in Senegal
The waters of Lake Retba in Senegal can look pink under the right conditions, due to microalgae in the salty lake that produce beta carotene.

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.

Mauricio Andrade after a swim in Pink Lake
My friend Mauricio Andrade from Brazil emerges from Pink Lake after taking a swim. He was part of our group for IBM Corporate Service Corps.

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.

Orange waters of Lake Retba near the shore.
The waters of Pink Lake in Senegal can look orange in the shallows near the shore, but pink in the deeper waters out in the lake.

In case you’re wondering why I was in Senegal for a month, I was there as part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps.   You can read more about that here: http://roaming-jewel.com/2017/10/17/ibmcsc/