Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Trip to Bahariya Oasis, Black Desert and White Desert

I spent the last weekend exploring the vast desert land of Egypt around the Bahariya Oasis, southwest of the capital Cairo. The trip was organised by my language school Kalimat and there were 12 in our group made of 8 students and 4 other expatriates working in Cairo. Instead of putting words with selected photos of the trip like I used to blog, I will share my experience through my online album.

There are simply too much to share about this trip and it is better done through photoblogs. For those without the luxury of time to browse the albums, you can get a glimpse of my eye-opening trip through the two short video clips (Part 1 and Part 2) I have uploaded on my YouTube channel.

Before this trip, I only have an abstract idea about the vast barren lands that were said to be the seabeds of huge oceans probably tens of thousand of years ago. The fossil sea shells found in the White Desert evidenced the geographical phenomenon. We spent hours on the road traveling through the realm of nothingness but sand and rocks. The desert imposes a deafening silence and its stillness easily causes one to lose the sense of time unconsciously. The two nights camping in the open desert under the bright moonlight and blanket of stars was a unprecedented experience for me. I wondered what would I do if I woke up stranded alone with nothing but my sleeping bag. My blood froze in my veins at the thought of it.

Fortunately, we had a great team of local guides who would do nothing like leaving people behind. We were led by the general manager of Golden Valley Hotel, Mr Ahmed El Shimy, from Bahariya Oasis. He has a really nice establishment in the oasis and I will definitely be revisiting the lovely neighbourhood after I assume post next year. For those who are interested, here are Ahmed's contact details:

Golden Valley Hotel, Bahariya Oasis, Bawiti
Tel: +20 (2) 38473031 Mobile: +20 (12) 4972143
Email: or

This was my first trip out of Cairo since my arrival in Egypt one month ago. I cannot wait to embark on my next trip to the Giza Pyramids on 1 Dec 07 and I have also started planning to visit the Siwa Oasis in the far-flung of the Western Desert when Irene visits over the New Year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007







Friday, November 02, 2007

Outing to Carrefour at Maadi City Centre

Today is Friday, the first day of the weekend in Egypt, and a quiet day on the roads. I got up early today, made myself a simple breakfast and set off to Carrefour at Maadi City Centre, rearing to try out my taxi vocabulary. I hailed a taxi easily, shout out the name of the Metro station and got on the taxi.

By the way, Metro is the name of the mass rapid transit in Cairo. Although it is essentially an MRT system, it is more like a rail system. For those in Singapore, think the 3rd class train on Malayan Railway from Tanjong Pagar, if they still exist. For those in Taiwan, it like the 平快 or 电车. The stations and trains are not air-conditioned but with the windows opened, it's actually not too hot inside. The ticket is cheap, just 1 EGP (or about 30cents) to travel from Dokki to Maadi, about 10 stations away. The meagre price tag explains the pathetic condition of the stations and trains. Appearance aside, it's actually quite easy to commute in the Metro with the English transliterations of the station names. There are two lines running east/west and north south. The east/west line runs from El Mounib in the west through Giza (where the Great Pyramids are) to Dokki, where are got on, all the way to El-Marg in the north east. The north/south line runs from Shobra in the north through Sadat, the interchange where I changed train, to Helwan in the south, going through Maadi where I got off.

The Metro ride is pretty fast, about 20 minutes, but the problem started after I reached Maadi. Mistakenly thinking that the Carrefour is at the Grand Mall, I started walking towards it. In fact, Carrefour is at the far flung corner of Maadi that will take me hours to reach by foot. To make the matter worse, I took the wrong turn and ended up walking in the opposite direction until I reached the Nile! I asked someone along the way for directions and I was told to take a taxi instead. The first taxi driver wanted 20 EGP from me which I though was a rip-off. So I continued walking until I saw a yellow City Cab which normally charges by meter. I got on and arrived at Maadi City Centre in 15 minutes. Guess what, the meter was 20 EGP.

The Carrefour here in Maadi City Centre is comparable to the Carrefours I have been in Singapore and Taiwan. It is big, clean and well-stocked. Here's a video clip I took at Carrefour.

I have practically made up my mind to find an apartment in Maadi next year when I bring my family along. The Maadi City Centre is a new modern shopping centre with Carrefour as the anchor store and it also features many international brands like Levis, Esprit, Starbucks and even Mothercare. I think the shopping mall should be fully opened by March next year.

After buying a few items at Carrefour, I got out and started looking for a taxi to bring me back home to Mohandiseen. A nice chap waved at me and asked for 50 EGP for the trip up north. I bargained for 30 but settled for 40. It turned out that this guy is no ordinary taxi driver with a crap taxi like the ones abound. He is a part-time taxi driver with a nice clean comfortable sedan and so the 40 EGP is definitely worth it. His name is Nasser and he speaks quite good English for an Egyptian taxi driver. Nasser gave his card to me and told me that he is normally available on the afternoons from Saturday to Thursday and the whole day for Fridays. He can also ferry me around if I wish to tour the city and even the pyramids at Giza. This contact will come in handy when Irene visits in January next year. Here's a video I took on the taxi ride with Nasser.

PS: Check out my Facebook photo album of Cairo for new photos. If you are reading this blog on Facebook, you can view the videos on my YouTube channel.

Into the Second Week of Stay in Cairo

Today is the 1st of November 2007, the start of the second week of my stay in Cairo. I am now blogging away in the comfort of my temporary home watching Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets on satellite TV. My nice landlady, Mrs Nadia, helped applied the ADSL connection for me and it comes along with a wireless router providing a 512kps download speed. From now on, I will not need to take the long march to my office everyday to video call my wife. Hoo haa!

This morning, I took my sixth lesson in Arabic and I am half way through the level 1 text. The going is tough and learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) concurrently can really be quite confusing. While both are Arabic, the description and pronunciation of many things are different in MSA vis-a-vis ECA. My strategy now is basically to focus on reading and writing for MSA and speaking for ECA. It's very much like learning Chinese for reading and writing and Hokkien for speaking.

So far, my progress has been quite good according to my tutors and Mr Raafat, the Managing Director of Kalimat. The plan now is for me to sit for the Intermediate Level test in early Feb 08 at the end of my language programme. For MSA (also known as Fursa), I am now able to recognise the alphabet in words quite accurately and I am working on the voweling, which can be quite complicated. I need lots of practice in writing and reading as well as building up my vocabulary quickly to enable me to move on to more meaningful Arabic reading.

Of the two, ECA (or Amaya) lessons are relatively more lively and fun with many exercises and conversations. To date, I've learnt basic greetings, some vocab, days of the week, months of the year, time, money, directions, prepositionsl, numbers and sequence, just to name the key ones. Yesterday, I managed to apply the 'taxi language' I learnt at class by directing a taxi from office to home. Tomorrow, I will do the same when I make my way to the Metro station nearby enroute to the Carrefour in Maadi. I will also try to call the laundry shop and get the man to come over to my place to collect clothes for laundry. I blog about my experiences along the way to share with everyone. Check out my Facebook photo album of Cairo for new photos.

PS: Please note that my transliterations are not the conventional ones commonly used.

Music Nournishes The Soul & Mind (Chinese Songs)......