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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 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 !

Planning a vacation to a foreign country is always exciting. Researching all the touristic places you are going to see and reading up on the history is a good way to go, but I think people need to take it a little step further. When coming to the Middle East, I think female visitors and tourists need to find out more about the cultural ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ before they hop on a plane to the land of the sun.

 Forgive me for being blunt and not sugar-coating this but some times things need to be said out right instead of beating around the bush.

 You are probably wondering what the trigger was for me to choose this as a topic to write about. Well, I went on a school trip to the Cairo museum with the Grade Two’s last Tuesday and I don’t want to even try describing some of the visions I saw!! What makes me laugh is that some times the tourists and visitors get offended by the stares and comments that they get and they can’t understand why! So, I’m going to spell it out for them as nicely as I can without being too harsh!

So, here it goes.., If you are hanging out of your clothes and are leaving very little covered or to the imagination don’t be surprised if people’s attention is directed more towards you than ancient artifacts! Just DON’T act surprise, disgusted or flustered when people can’t stop staring! You might be making it really difficult for them to focus their eye sight else where!

 I am a big fan of spaghetti strap tops, shorts that are just above the knee and flip-flops. If I could wear them all day long, trust me I would do so in a heartbeat. The reason I don’t is because I respect the culture of the country that I am living in. Egypt is quite a conservative country. It’s more liberal than some of the neighboring Gulf countries but it is still fairly conservative. Walking around in hot shorts, and wearing a tight chest bearing halter top or just baring a lot of skin will most often attract a lot of unwanted attention and some very derogative comments.

 I know that back in Europe and in the West it’s normal summer attire and it’s a great way to soak up the sun’s rays to get an amazing tan and it’s relaxing as well as comfortable. When I go back to Montreal for my summer vacations ‘I do as the Romans do’, (or so the saying goes). The reason being because I know no one is going to give me any hassle for what I’m wearing because there are hundreds of other women wearing the exact same thing and even less! If I dressed like that here in Cairo, I would be sticking out like a sore thumb and feeling very conscientious, like when you have one of those dreams where you are naked in the middle of a street or the work place and everyone is staring at you.

 I know that the temperature here in Cairo can get really hot and you want to stay cool, trust me the less clothing you wear the hotter you are going to feel. You won’t catch the Bedouins, (desert dwellers) stripping down to the bare minimum when they are out in the sun. The best thing to wear would be a light-colored, loose-fitting shirt or t-shirt, with short or long sleeves. That way the breeze can circulate through your garments freely. You could wear a long skirt, trios quart pants (pedal pushers) as well as linen trousers, (preferably not see through, they are called under garments for a reason).

 Another reason you don’t want to expose too much of yourself is because Hollywood although very entertaining hasn’t done Western or European women any favors here in the region. The movies most of the time portray women to be ‘loose’ and very ‘easy’ to lure in to bed. (Cast your minds back to ‘Brook’ from the day time soap “The Bold and The Beautiful” and Eva Longoria’s character in ‘Desperate House Wives”). The men here don’t often see a lot of skin, so when they DO see it, some of them may not be able to contain themselves and they will then act upon their desires and give ‘Egyptian Men’ a bad wrap.  Isn’t enough that we as Middle Easterners are trying to fight the stigma of being labeled ‘terrorists’ do we really need to fight off the reputation of being perverts too?

 I’m not saying don’t bring them. Do, but there are places where you can wear them. Clothes like that are considered more beach or pool wear. So, if you are heading down to lounge by the pool at the hotel you are staying at or hitting the beach in Sharm El Sheikh by all means throw on your hot shorts and tank top and head down to the water. Just re think your wardrobe for when you’re in the cities and visiting the touristic sites, especially the mosques and other religious sites.

 When you dress like that in the city it would be like me walking in to church with a really short skirt and an off the shoulder top that revealed a bit too much of my cleavage. It’s disrespectful and inappropriate. So take my advice and think twice.