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, causing a 30-minute outage.

    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.  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.

    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.

 

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.