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Wadi Al Hitan means (Valley of the Whales)

I have always wanted to camp in the desert beneath a star littered sky for as long as I can remember. My wish finally came true last October, when a friend of mine proposed that we go camping. When he suggested it to me I was leaping for joy!
I was packed and ready days before we were due to leave.

Our guides in to the desert were two Bedouin men, the best guides you could ever possibly have. Bedouins are desert dwellers and know every sand dune and cave there is to know about. They were fabulous; they wouldn’t let us assist in constructing the wind breaker, the fire or cooking the night meal. The night we happened to be camping there was a full moon. The moon lit the desert up and made the ground look like the surface of the moon. The star littered night sky was better than I could have ever imagined.
Tucked safely and snug in my sleeping bag, in the desert under the sky, in total seclusion and in silence was so peaceful. I think that it was the best night’s sleep I have ever had. I only slept 4 hours but I woke feeling refreshed. There were two reason why I woke up so early, I had forgotten to turn off the 5am alarm that I have set for getting up every day (Yeah,….I know!!, I’m just grateful I didn’t wake anyone up), the second thing that woke me was dawn breaking. I had seen many sunrises by the sea, but none could ever compare to that! It was watching a documentary in the making.

The area we camped at was a few hours drive away from the UNESCO World Heritage site. The reason it is protected is because there are thousands of whale and other ocean fossils scattered on the ground of the Valley. Since the valley became protected in 2005, a clear and easy trail has been marked out and the information center offers a map of the Valley for you to be able to view all the fossil remains. The fossil remains of whales have been roped off, so that visitors don’t step on them or attempt to steal them.  (It’s a great place to take students for a Geography field trip).

The fossils were very well intact and fascinating to look at but what really blew my mind was the incredible landscape and rock formations that had been carved and smoothed out by the extinct sea that had once flowed through the valley over hundreds of years ago.
To tour the Valley you don’t have to do it on foot, there are camels available and I believe that you can bike it too, just as long as you stay on the path.
There are a few sheltered areas along the path way that have been constructed for visitors to rest in. It’s a good thing there are too because the temperatures out in the desert are scorching hot and resting in the shade of the rest area helps to bring down your core temperature whilst you sit and enjoy the view.
While you sit and take in the scenery your lungs fill up with clean air, the pollution that had been clogging your mind suddenly evaporates and your thoughts are clearer than they have ever been. Your mind feels open and your thoughts move freely without a single worry or interruption.

For October the weather was hotter than usual and thankfully I had my Bedouin scarf that I tied around my head to protect my self from getting sun stroke and I had a huge bottle of water, which was bone dry by the time we got back to our guides who had been busy preparing our lunch while we had been trekking in the desert for hours. (Bless them!)
We were absolutely parched and famished by the time we had made it back to them.

From there we made our way back to Cairo, but along the way we stopped an oasis. As we were driving toward it we thought it was just another mirage because we had seen many of them along the way, but when our four by four came to a halt and we got out, we couldn’t believe that in the middle of the desert there was a huge lake with turquoise blue sparkling water. It was phenomenal, breathtaking and captivating at the same time. From there we went to a waterfall in the middle of the desert!!! It isn’t man made, it’s all natural! It was no where near as spectacular as the Oasis but it was interesting to see.

When we entered the city limits I could feel my mind cloud again and the camping trip like the sea that had once flowed through the valley became a distant memory. 
This year 2010-2011, I would really like to be able to go camping in the White Desert when there is a full moon. People who have been said that if the moon is full, the light from the moon reflected on to the sand turns it blue.

To read more about Wadi Al Hitan click on the link below
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Al-Hitan

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This past Sunday I accompanied Grade 5 on a trip to the museum with their Social Studies teacher who has 20 years experience as an Egyptologist and Tour Guide. I had heard about how informative her trips are and that they were a lot of fun. I had been to the museum the previous year with my Grade 2 students and I hated every second of the trip. For a museum that big with some of the most fascinating antiquities that the world has ever seen, you would think it would be air-conditioned a child friendly.

In all honesty, (I know I’m going to get booed for this), I find it to be very cluttered and disorganized. The artifacts aren’t displayed as well as they could have been and not all the antiquities are described and those that have an explanation were done by that ancient machine, called a typewriter and the paper has yellowed with age. They haven’t been up dated in god knows how long. If I was to describe the museum, I would have to say an over priced warehouse for tourists. However, having said that, if you are in Egypt you have to go to the museum, to see the mummies (which is in an air-conditioned enclosure, Thank God! But, it costs a whopping 100LE for foreigners and 20 LE for Egyptians), The Tutankhamen exhibit (is partially air-conditioned, the room which holds the famous gold death mask along with other breath-taking items are in a small room. This room is very crowded).

 If I were you I would go there as soon as it opens at 9am, otherwise you will not get any pleasure out of the trip. If you are in Egypt between the months of May and October, then the earlier you go to the museum the better. It will be cool enough for you to tolerate from 11am on wards you will be in a furnace and will come out of the building drenched and stinking of perspiration. Make sure you have a bottle of water with you too, you will need it. You may want to have some tissues hand too, incase you need to tinkle.

When you go on vacation a camera is a must have! You would think that you would be allowed to take pictures in the museum….consider this a BIG heads up, the Cairo Museum does not permit ANY pictures taken inside the building. If you have a camera you have to turn it in, take a number and it will be taken and put in to holding until you come out and reclaim it.

On my most recent excursion to the museum with a pro, I found it to be really enjoyable! It makes such a difference when you go with someone who knows the place and all the ins and outs of the place. The Social Studies teacher had all the kids and accompanying teachers wear earphones that were on the same frequency as her microphone. It was GREAT! We could hear everything that was explained and pointed out to us. The noise of other tour groups was just background noise to us. The frequency of the packs are really good, I had to leave the students to find the newly opened Children’s Museum. I had to go out of the main museum and I could still hear the teacher. (I believe it costs 10LE per pack, I’m not 100% sure, and I’ll have to get back to you on that)

If you have your back to the entrance of the museum and walk to the right side of the building and turn right there and follow the signs you will find the children’s section below the building. I have to be totally honest, I wasn’t expecting much! I thought it would be a hogpog of things thrown together, but to my delight and surprise it is actually very well done and the set up is better than the main museum, (sad but true).
The explanations of things have been simplified and among the ancient artifacts are Lego replicas of some of the famous statues and portraits that we have seen on documentaries and in history books. If you have children or are planning to take your class to the museum on a school trip, then I highly recommend that you go in to the main building first before it gets too crowded and over heated and then make your way to the Children’s museum. (Entrance is free)

From dreading my trip next week with my class, I am actually excited about going there and teaching them about all the new things that I learned from the Social Studies Teacher. I will let you know how the trip goes.

As the weather in Egypt starts to climb so do the risks of getting food poisoning. I used to think that I had an iron stomach, but 7 years ago I learned the hard way. I had sever food poisoning, I had para typhoid! To this day I am unsure where I got it from, because I would go out quite a lot with my friends in the evening after spending the day on the beach in Bianki, Agami. What made it even harder to pin point was the incubation period, its approximately two weeks. Since then I have become very anal about where I eat out and when I eat out.

During the HOT season, the shelf life of produce is cut in to a quarter, food rots faster.  Any dips, sauces made of cream and especially mayonnaise will go off really quickly if it isn’t refrigerated and covered well. Flys seem to multiply during the summer and they seem to have hyper SENSORS. They can detect food from miles off and before you can tuck in, you are being bombed by kamikaze flies  left, right and center. They will pull out every trick they have just to have a chance to land and spit on your food.

Consumption of water and Sodas sky rockets during the summer too. Before you pop open a can of your favorite carbonated drink to chug down to quench your thirst, wipe the surface of the can really well or even go as far as washing it. When the cans are waiting to be shelved, the roaches have a field day climbing all over them and sometimes even lay eggs on them. When buying bottled water make sure that the plastic seal is on the bottle. If the removable seal is not there, there is a possibility that it isn’t a fresh bottle of mineral water

Restaurants and Cafes get really busy too, so the pressure on the dishwashers in the kitchens is tripled. You will often find that the plates, glasses and cutlery are not very clean. If you have an inkling that it isn’t very clean or you are uncomfortable with the way it looks, then go with your gut instincts and politely ask the waiter to change it for you. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It isn’t fun being quarantined during the summer and having typhoid isn’t anything I would wish on my worst enemy.

Just last week a friend of mine went out to satisfy his sweet tooth and bought himself ‘Ruz Bil Laban’ (Rice Pudding) and regretted it a few hours later. Luckily he only had very mild poisoning, he was fine the following day. AUC (American University of Cairo) has had to have Tobasco close on campus because of cases of food poisoning. (I wish other restaurants would do the same and have a BLITZ clean)

I try very hard to eat at home more during the summer to avoid mild or even extreme food poisoning.  Your home is the only guaranteed place you can be sure of having  well-cooked food and clean utensils.

This morning I awoke from my slumber short of breath and feeling far to warm for first thing in the morning. This indicated to me, that summer has officially arrived.  Instantly I knew that today was going to be scorching hot! When the air seems to be hot, still and dry, you know it’s going to be an uncomfortably hot day. In Cairo it’s a dry heat. In Alexandria, it’s humid and hot. Frankly, I no longer know which is worse, nor do I particularly care as long as I can keep cool.

I have found on days like today when the temperature reaches 42 celsius, that the best thing to wear is a long-sleeved light-colored top,  loose trousers and comfortable shoes.  Wearing tank tops or spaghetti strap tops, doesn’t help make you feel cooler. It has the opposite effect, it actually makes you feel hotter because your skin is exposed to direct sun light. Keep hydrating your skin and applying lotion or sunblock. Drink lots of water to keep yourself hydrated and if you have to be out doors a light-colored cap to protect your head from the sun. If you can dip the cap in water, that’s even better. I personally avoid drinking carbonated drinks and eating foods that are loaded with sugar or are extreamly salty because it just makes you more thirsty. You can not drink enough water on a day like today. 

If you are lucky enough to be at home on a day like today, then turn on the air-condition and make your movements minimal.  Galabeya’s ( long cotton shirt dresses that can be worn by men and women) are garments that lots of people wear in the comfort of their own home. My mother has an abundance of them and loves wearing them around the house to keep cool.   I personally wear shorts and t-shirts in doors. It’s days like today where you can have the air-conditioner on the coolest temperature and it may not feel as though its making a bit of difference. To help the air-conditioner work better switch off unnecessary lights and close the blinds, shutters or curtains to help cool down the room.

I love home cooked meals but on days like this, the thought of being in the kitchen and cooking is like being in a sauna. I recommend that you go with salads, cold cuts and fruits.

If you’re vacationing by the sea or pool, try to avoid the beaches at the hottest time between noon and 3:30pm). If you want to be out at that time make sure you wear a VERY high factor sunblock (I’m a fan of Nivea and Coppertone), keep applying it generously even if you are sitting under the shade of an umbrella (trust me, you can still get badly burnt. I am speaking from experience).  For those of you who want a tan, believe me when I say, even with sun block on, you can get a tan. Keep your head cool to avoid sun stroke and drink lots and lots and lots of water.

If you are unfortunate and get sun stroke, then go back to your room, take a bath (add Ice if you can) or shower in cold water. If you get burnt, take a cold shower and apply 100%  Aloe Vera gel it is great to reduce the prickly heat feeling and the itching. Another ulternative solution is to apply plain yohgurt to the burned areas. It works like magic!!!

If you are a car owner, then I strongly suggest you put the sun visor up. I think having 2 is better than having one. One for the windscreen and one for the back window. It helps keep the temperature inside the car a few degrees cooler. If you don’t have a visor or don’t want to use one, well at least put a cloth over your steering wheel and your gear stick. The temperature is hot enough to burn your hand. When you head back to your car, leave the windows or the doors open for at least 5-10 minutes before switching on the air-conditioner. It helps get rid of the hot air that was trapped inside the car and will help the car to cool down faster.

If your kids are tired of being cooped up and being indoors and you don’t feel like going to the pool. The malls (City Center, City Stars..etc)are another alternative. They can have fun at the indoor amusement parks or take them to the cinema. It is more costly, but you have central air-conditioning!!

My favorite way to keep cool is drinking watermelon juice or lemon juice. My favorite things to eat in weather like this are watermelon, salads and ICE CREAM!

If you have any suggestions that you would like to share, please do so !