Although the primary theme of my blog is travel, 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 local-to-me sunsets if I want to!
I don’t have to travel far to see beautiful sunsets. These three 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.
We had interesting colors in the sky shortly after sunset on June 9, 2018. This photo shows what I saw when I looked out the front door of our house.
I love seeing the sun reflect off the edges of clouds. In this case, the clouds on June 15, 2017 were very dramatic and worthy of a photo!
Sometimes, it’s not possible to watch the sun set because of storms passing through. These clouds looked much darker and more menacing in person than they do in the photo. They were the leading edge of a real toadstrangler (strong thunderstorm). The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning, so of course I needed to head out into my driving to capture this photo of it approaching!
After the sun has set, then it’s time to appreciate the moon! Here are some photos of the moon. All were taking in the vicinity of Iowa City and Coralville, Iowa.
On September 27, 2015, we had a beautiful view of the Blood Moon, which occurs when a lunar eclipse covers the full moon, causing it to take on an eerie reddish color. Our neighborhood held an eclipse viewing party so we could watch the eclipse progress together as a group.
One of our favorite restaurants for casual dining is Bobber’s, which resides on the shores of Coralville Lake outside of North Liberty, Iowa. We timed our visit on September 17, 2016 so we could be there at moonrise, watching the full moon rise over the lake.
I visited my brothers at our family farm near Strawberry Point, Iowa on October 16, 2016. This photo shows the full moon rising behind the barn that my grandfather built.
On November 15, 2016, we had a beautiful view of the moon rising behind the houses across the street from our house. I grabbed my cell phone and sneaked onto the lawn of our neighbor across the street so I could take this photo. Fortunately, that neighbor is a close friend, and I knew she wouldn’t object to my trespassing!
On May 14, 2018 my husband and I were driving around Iowa City when the full moon began to rise. We pulled off the road into a park so I could take this photo.
One thing I always try to make time for when I visit Egypt is a boat ride on the Nile at Aswan. Many Nile cruise itineraries either begin or end at Aswan, so I’d recommend arriving either a day early or staying a day late to allow time for this opportunity to enjoy a scenic, peaceful, beautiful experience.
My favorite boat captain to use for cruising the Nile River at Aswan is Captain Karim. He expertly guides the boat along the Nile, offering close-up views to the many sights along the way, and he speaks enough English to answer questions. If you ask, he’ll play a radio station with Nubian music.
There are many scenic views along the Nile River, and this is exactly why I have done this many times. After spending time in the urban, high-energy environment of Cairo, I look forward to coming closer to nature when I get to Aswan.
There are two different types of boating experiences you can use to experience the Nile scenery at Aswan. One is a ferry boat, which is what I was riding at the time I took these photos. The ferry has an engine which is silent enough that it doesn’t detract from the peaceful beauty of the ride. The other is a felucca, which is an Egyptian style of sailboat.
Sometimes young boys on a small raft will paddle out to meet your boat. These young buskers sing to you, hoping you will tip them for the entertainment they provide.
I personally enjoy the boys, so when I see them approach, I’m inclined to give them an Egyptian five-pound note. I used to give them just one pound, but Egypt’s economy has experienced significant inflation since 2011’s revolution, so I tip in higher amounts now than I did in 2010. You may be wondering what songs they use to serenade you. The ones I’ve heard the most are “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Frère Jacques”.
One of the landmarks you’ll see on the western bank of the Nile River at Aswan is the steep hill containing Aswan’s Valley of the Nobles. High on the top of that hill is a structure known as Qubbet el-Hawa, the Dome of the Wind, which marks the tomb of a long-ago Islamic sheikh named Aly Abu el-Hawa. I have also heard people refer to this structure as the watchtower because of the expansive view it offers of the Nile valley. The entire mountain is also sometimes referred to as Qubbet al-Hawa, encompassing the Pharaonic tombs in addition to el-Hawa’s tomb.
I have personally never climbed this mountain to explore its sights. There is no road that a taxi or tour bus could use to take you there. The only way to approach it is from docking the boat on the bank of the Nile River at the bottom of the hill. From there, you can either ride a camel up the hill, or you can hike up. If you want to use a camel, it’s best to prearrange for that, because there often are not any camels waiting at the bottom.
Another hillside on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan features the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan III, Sir Sultan Mohammed Shah, the 48th Imam of Nizari Ismailis. He was born in the city of Karachi, which lies in modern-day Pakistan, and he assumed his title of Aga Khan at age eight, after his father died. His tomb was built in the style of the historic Fatimid tombs that can be seen in Cairo today.
Although the Aga Khan was from Pakistan, Egypt held a special place in his heart because it was there that he met his French wife, Yvette Blanche Labrousse. She took on the name Begum Oum Habiba after they were married. Below the Mausoleum, behind the trees in this photo, is the villa where the Aga Khan and his family spent their time when they came to Egypt for visits.
Locals report that after he died, the Aga Khan’s fourth and final wife used to visit his tomb in the Mausoleum every day and lay a red rose on his grave. When she died in 2000, she was laid to rest next to him.
On another hillside, a historic monastery looks down on the Nile. This monastery, which dates back to the 7th century, was originally dedicated to a local saint named Anba Hedra who renounced the world on his wedding day. It has also been known as Deir Anba Sim’an. In the 10th century, it was dedicated to Saint Simeon. In the past, it housed about 300 monks. The troops of Salah ed-Din (Saladin) partially destroyed this facility in 1173.
There are no roads for vehicles leading to this monastery. If you want to visit it, you’ll need to ride a boat across the Nile. Once across, you can either walk up the hill yourself or hire a camel to carry you. If you plan to use a camel, I’d recommend prearranging it. This area does not always have camels sitting around waiting for something to do.
Before the Aswan High Dam was built, the west bank of the Nile River at Aswan was mostly uninhabited because of the annual inundation by the river. As a result of the dam being built, the inundations ended, while south of the dam Lake Nasser arose, flooding the homeland where thousands of Nubian people had lived since ancient times. Reports vary on how many Nubian people were displaced by the rising lake, with estimates ranging from 40,000 to 100,000. With the inundations ending north of the dam, some of the Nubian people whose ancestral homes now lie under the waters of Lake Nasser have started to develop a community on the west bank of the Nile at Aswan.
A village named Gharb Sahel has arisen, with homes, hotels, shops, and more. The Nubians who live there have preserved their traditional architectural style, which is highly effective at encouraging ventilation and insulating against the heat.
It is possible to book a tour of one of the Nubian homes in the village. There are several who are willing to show visitors their architecture and talk about their lifestyles.
I have found these tours of Nubian homes to be a highlight of my time in Aswan because of the opportunity to learn more about the culture. The photo below shows the ornaments that dangle from the ceiling and the table with items for sale. The cool cat modeling the sunglasses is the ferry boat captain who transported us there, Captain Karim.
After visiting Gharb Sahel, the return trip on the boat offers additional scenic views along the Nile.
El Nabatat Island, also known as Kitchener’s Island, is a popular tourist destination because it hosts the Aswan Botanical Garden. Today, the island is owned by the Egyptian government and is used as a botanical research station. It is possible to arrange a boat ride to the island and walk through the garden. I have not personally done this, but it’s on my wish list for a future trip to Egypt.
Elephantine Island’s history dates back to Pharaonic times, when it was the southern outpost of Upper Egypt, on the border of Kush (Nubia). The book River God by Wilbur Smith sets some of its action on this island. One of the items on my wish list for a future visit to Aswan is to visit what’s left of this archaeology site today. A boat can take you close to its Nilometer for a closeup view, as shown in my photo below. See my article about Nilometers for more information about this and others.
Today, a hideous, soulless Movenpick Hotel crouches on Elephantine Island, a blight on the scenic landscape of the Nile. I hate the sight of this eyesore so much that I’m not including a photo in this blog post.
In ancient times, Aswan’s population included a large number of ethnic Nubians, and still does today. With the Kush empire (also Nubians) immediately to the south, it was important to the Egyptian Pharaohs who were based in Luxor to ensure that Aswan was governed by someone who was capable of maintaining the respect and loyalty of the Nubian locals. For that reason, many of the governors in Aswan over the centuries were ethnic Nubian. Queen Nefertari, who was honored by the temple at Abu Simbel and the spectacular tomb in Valley of the Queens at Luxor was a Nubian princess whose father governed Aswan.
Because of Aswan’s position on the southern border of Egypt’s Pharaonic empire, some boulders along the river feature cartouches that declare Egypt’s claim on this location, as shown in the photo below.
A popular Egyptian pop singer and actor named Mohamed Mounir has built a mansion on the banks of the Nile near Aswan, and it is possible to see it from a ferry boat or felucca. The mansion is the domed building in the foreground of the photo below. Many of Mounir’s fans refer to him as “The King”.
When we travel, it can be very tempting to cram our schedules full of every imaginable activity, every day. This can lead to burnout by the end of a vacation. I find that the ferry ride on the Nile helps me replenish my energy. It allows me to spend time in nature, on the river, and it allows me to forget for a while about the frantic schedule that tours often provide. There’s something fulfilling about being out on the water, simply enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Other Blog Posts About Aswan, Egypt
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy these others posts I’ve made about Aswan, Egypt:
In October 2018, I did something I’d wanted to do my whole life: I went on a Caribbean cruise! One of my friends invited me to join her and share a stateroom with her, and I jumped at the chance!
We booked our trip through Susan Strong of Sanborn’s Travel in Corpus Christie. Susan was a pleasure to do business with, and I would gladly recommend her to others. She also came with us on this cruise, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know her a bit.
This was a one-week adventure, with three stops and shore excursions. Our cruise ship held about 6,000 people: 4,000 were passengers, and 2,000 were staff. It’s amazing to think of the ship as holding more than 4 times as many people as there were in the rural community where I grew up!
On this trip, I was able to do the following things that have been on my bucket list for most of my life:
Go on a Caribbean cruise
Swim with dolphins
Visit Mayan ruins
Before the cruise, I was very frustrated with Royal Caribbean because of the many struggles I had dealing with their buggy web site. Royal Caribbean’s telephone support people were polite, but would put me on hold for 20 minutes at a time, only to come back saying they were unable to solve the problem. Fortunately, once I boarded the cruise, things went smoothly, and I was able to have a great time with my friends!
Exploring Liberty of the Seas
Our ship for this cruise was called Liberty of the Seas, and it was operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
This floating city featured a large informal dining room with buffet that was open all day, several sit-down dining rooms, bars, shops, swimming pools, hot tubs, a fitness center, a spa, and more. It featured a variety of entertainment on board, including bands playing music for dancing, movies, game shows, and other acts.
Each day, the carpets on the floors of the elevators on the ship told us what day of the week it was. I found it somewhat fascinating to think there are people whose job it was to change the elevator sign every day.
On the top deck, there were two swimming pools: one for children, and one for adults. The children’s pool also featured a water slide. I kept intending to try it out, but somehow my time filled up with other activities and I didn’t get to it.
Near the children’s pool is a dispenser of soft serve ice cream (shown above) called Sprinkles. The ice cream cones are free, and I enjoyed several of them during the cruise!
The promenade deck was the level that featured many shops, bars, and restaurants. During the week of the cruise, a number of events were held there, including a Halloween party for adults. I particularly enjoyed the jellyfish sculpture that hung from the ceiling!
I enjoyed several treatments at the spa on board the ship, including three massages, a salt scrub, and a facial. Word soon got out in our group that I was doing this, and the final night of the cruise our organizer Susan gave me a certificate proclaiming me “the Spa Queen”!
There were many gorgeous views to enjoy while on board the ship. I found it very peaceful to stand at the side and look out over the intense blue of water and sky.
Our first two days of cruising, we were out in the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.
We saw several beautiful sunsets during the cruise. This photo shows the one that greeted us our first evening on board.
The Shore Excursions
The ship made 3 stops during the week: Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico, and Cozumel, Mexico. We had the option of either purchasing an excursion package, going into town to shop and explore, or staying on the ship and enjoying the many facilities it offered.
The number of options for each stop was amazing. It was so hard to choose what to do!
I enjoyed the cruise very much, and would going on another in the future, especially if I had a friend to go with. Although Royal Caribbean’s online check-in process was extremely cumbersome due to a poorly designed web site, once I was on board the ship I was able to relax and enjoy the cruise. I took over 500 pictures throughout the week.
As I make additional posts about the cruise, you’ll be able to find them at this link:
I was excited when I saw that one of the shore excursions that our cruise ship offered on my 2018 Caribbean cruise was “Dolphin Encounter and Snorkeling”. Swimming with dolphins has been on my wish list for many, many years, and I was so happy to see there was finally an opportunity! For $154 U.S. dollars, the tour offered:
“Experience what it would be like to be a part of the pod in the wild as you interact with curious and friendly dolphins on this unique dolphin swim and snorkel tour.”
When we got off the cruise ship, we were met by a representative from Anthony’s Key Resort, which was the local tour operator that was offering this excursion. They took us via bus to the cove where the dolphins lived. There were changing rooms for us to change into our swimsuits, and lockers we could use to store our belongings until we were done. We each received a set of swim fins and snorkel mask, and then they led us down to the water. They said we could bring cameras and phones to take photos.
The trainers separated us into two groups. Each group would work with one trainer and one dolphin. Our trainer instructed us to wade into waist-level water, standing side-by-side. He called over a dolphin named Callie. He used whistles and hand signals to give requests to Callie. After she performed each task, he rewarded her with fish. Some of the things Callie did for us included:
Swimming past our line so we could pet her as she passed. Her skin was very soft.
Swimming with her belly pointing up to the sky.
Jumping up out of the water.
Going to look for objects buried in the sand, then bringing them back to us. The trainer told us that dolphins have excellent built-in sonar, and they can use it to identify where items are buried.
Flapping her tail on the water to make a big splash.
Going for a “tail walk”, which meant rearing up vertically out of the water, and then “walking” across the surface of the water with her tail. This was my favorite part!
Posing for photos with each of us in turn.
The following video shows Callie going for her “tail walk”.
For part of the above activities, we had an opportunity to use our phones and cameras to take photos. For the photos where we posed with Callie, a professional photographer snapped photos of each of us, and naturally we were given an opportunity to purchase those at the end of the tour. As an individual (i.e., not part of a couple or family), I was able to purchase a package with all of the photos with me in them for $45.
The above “dolphin encounter” activity took about 30 minutes.
After the “dolphin encounter” part of our tour, we set our phones and cameras aside and put on the snorkeling gear. We swam out into the cove. As we swam, the dolphins would come along to swim with us. They often chased each other, passing underneath us close enough to touch. Sometimes they surfaced and swam next to us.
This video shows Callie and Allie leaping together during the initial 30-minute dolphin encounter:
The bottom of the cove was not as spectacular as what I saw when snorkeling at Maui. The fish were not brightly colored, they were simply a silvery color. There were some coral formations, rocks, and seaweed to look at, but the colors tended to be neutrals. I was happy with it, though, because the dolphins were so much fun!
This too lasted about 30 minutes. It felt like the right length of time. At the end, the staff called us to the shore, collected our snorkeling equipment from us, loaded us onto the bus, and took us back to our cruise ship. I went to bed that night happy, dreaming of dolphins!
About the Dolphins’ Lifestyle
Some people have asked me whether the dolphins seemed to be captives or abused. Based on watching them, I got the impression the dolphins are comfortable in their habitat, and staying there by choice.
According to the trainer we worked with, the dolphins who live in the cove were born there. They consider it their home, just as your pet dog would consider your house his/her home. The dolphin behavior I witnessed seemed consistent with that. The dolphins were not restrained, and had enough freedom in a large area that they could have opted to swim away from us and stay away.
The cove at Anthony’s Key is fenced off from the open Gulf of Mexico. At times, the trainers will open the gate to allow the dolphins to play freely in the open water. The dolphins voluntarily return to their home afterward. A dog might run joyously around when taken to a dog park, but will choose to return home where his food and his social group live afterward, and the same is true of dolphins.
If I Were Going to Do It Again…
I would take:
Dry clothes to change into after snorkeling.
Swimsuit. (I’d wait until I get there to put it 0n.)
Something to photograph the dolphins underneath me while snorkeling. This could include:
Either a zip-top bag on a neck lanyard to put my cell phone inside, or
A waterproof camera.
Sunscreen, maybe also a hat.
I’m glad I removed my contact lenses before leaving my room. It’s all too easy for water to get into the snorkel mask and wash a contact lens out of the eye.
I did take my prescription eyeglasses, and I wish I would have left them in my locker with my dry clothes when I changed clothes at the cove. I took the sunglasses off when we got into the water, and they became an extra thing to remember to grab and take with me when it was over.
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.
In the Dora at Luxor
Once a year, the residents of Luxor, Egypt celebrate the moulid (festival) of Abu el-Haggag. On the final day, the festival ends with a parade known as the Dora. One aspect of the Dora is that people dress their camels up in brightly colored scarves, flags, and other pieces of fabric. Here are two of the camels that caught my eye in the Dora on April 20, 2019.
This camel dressed up in a Bob Marley hat for the Dora in the Abu Haggag moulid on April 20, 2019.
This camel dressed up for the Dora at the Abu Haggag moulid in Luxor, Egypt on April 20, 2019.
Camels In Other Parts of 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.