Thursday, August 14, 2008

Nabq, Sinai's Coast of Enchantment

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By 1983, the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs realized the importance of protecting Egypt's rich heritage and its diversity of ecosystems, in turn started declaring locations as protected areas, which are now collectively known as Parks Egypt. In 1994 the (NCS) Nature Conservation Sector was established and given the responsibility of managing Parks Egypt. The NCS is entrusted with implementing policies, programs, studies and other actions that ensure compliance with the nation's habitat and species protection legislation as well as Egypt’s commitment to the relevant international conventions. By 2007 more than 14% (27 protected areas) of Egypt was protected under the NCS, with plans to further accommodate all of Egypt's natural habitats and ecosystems. The expectation that by the year 2017, a total of 40 protected areas, which is around 17% of the country, will be protected and managed by the NCS.

To conserve these ecosystems and habitats, the species of flora and fauna have to be safeguarded, to maintain the sustainability of the area. In Egypt, the fairly low number of species and the relatively large number of eco-zones and habitats makes the preservation of both especially important. Likewise the indigenous people are an integral part of these ecosystems. Their knowledge and tradition are an important part of Egypt's cultural heritage, which have become threatened by modern intrusions of expanding civilization. Being able to create revenue to fund for the management of these protectores and to create business for its indigenous people, conserves not only this unique culture and knowledge but the nature as well, through traditional means and ethics.

Among the largest of these protectores is the Nabq Managed Resource Protected Area. Nabq is about 35 km north of Sharm El Sheikh and 500 km from Cairo. About halfway between Naama Bay and Dahab, Nabq lies at the narrowest part of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is the second of the five protected areas of South Sinai. It is the largest coastal park in the area stretching over 600 square kilometers and shelters a variety of ecosystems. It was established in 1992 to protect the coral reefs, wild life and the mangroves.

The park provides unique and extremely diverse landscapes and habitats, from the high mountains in the North, to rolling dune systems of the South, to the rich coral environment where the desert meets the sea. The park is known to be home to 134 plant species, 6 of them are found only in Nabq, and 86 are perennial. The coast of Nabq is said to be fringed by 4.8 km of mangrove forests. This mangrove which is composed of just one species of tree, Avicennia marina, is very fragile and worth protecting because of the important role it plays in the survival of the wild life surrounding the bay. If you are a nature enthusiast, bring along binoculars to observe a variety of birds and animals that live on the park. The park attracts birds holding an important ecological role either as a migratory stop, or as breeding grounds. Species that frequent the area include the Heron (both white and grey), Ospreys, Spoonbill and even storks. Also Nabq is home to a variety of animal and marine species, finding sufficient food and shelter. One of the largest populations of gazelles in southern Sinai is often seen at sunset in the vicinity of the dunes. Nubian ibex can be found in the mountain areas and hyraxes thrive in Wadi Khereiza (one of numerous wadis, or valleys in the park.)

The mangrove stand at Nabq fronts the shoreline at the mouth of Wadi Kidd, which runs far into the center of southern Sinai's mountains. Near the top of Wadi Kidd is the lush oasis of Ain Kidd, boasting many date palms, and toward the bottom of the wadi is mangroves, dune growth, and wild life. Wadi Kidd is one of the Sinai's most abundantly watered wadis, supporting prolific vegetation all along its length, which explains the abundant presence of vegetation and wild life. They are sustained by the periodic valley flooding following heavy rains. The wadi also provides a supply of fresh water to local populations, and is an important grazing area for Bedouin sheep and goatherds.

The mangroves' root system, allow the species to adapted and tolerate their saline surroundings. Their remarkable aerial roots that appear as leafless branches sticking out of the ground around each tree help aerate its submerged roots. They act as a barrier that holds back most of the salts from the seawater. The excess salt that has been absorbed by the root is then removed in the form of salt crystals on the underside of each leaf. The shallow calm waters around the trees form a haven for crustaceans and small fish playing an important role as their breeding and nursing grounds, in turn attracting an extraordinarily varied population of bird life.

At the far end of the bay is an old shipwreck, which provides for a unique and rare diving site. Known to the locals as "Al Gharaqna" (in English "the drowned"), the site can be accessed from the shore, walking knee-deep through the water with suitable shoes, to aid walking over the stretch of shells and endless starfish. The coral reefs of Nabq are rich, virtually untouched and rarely dived areas stretching the entire length of the coast. Possessing a diverse coral population, small and large fish alike, and sea grass beds, the reefs here are different from those of Ras Mohammed National Park. Marine life that can be seen includes turtles, huge variety of pipefish, jacks, wrasse, groupers, stonefish, lionfish, moray eels and seahorses.

The wadi also supports a number of Bedouin tribes who depend on the natural resources of the area, which provides for their fresh water for drinking and for the goatherds. In the late 20th century many of these tribes gave up their nomadic way of life and settled in the wadi, building hut villages along its coast although some still consider it only as a summer retreat. Bedouin population is centered in the Khreiza and Al Gharqana villages. Their knowledge of the area and its plant and animal life has been employed to protect the park. The NCS has committed to a programme that fully integrates the resident Bedouins in all aspects of its area management strategy. As the Bedouins are legendary for their hospitality they are the ones to provide for all the touristic services in the park. These will include catering services at the visitor centre, guide services, provision of camels for access to areas closed to vehicles (all desert areas are considered fragile and off track driving is prohibited), maintenance, visitor interpretation, operation of camping areas (camping is allowed in designated areas but there are several hotels in South Nabq and along the Gulf of Aqaba), selling handmade necklaces and oriental dress and other activities of mutual benefit. Most of them are familiar with many foreign languages due to their continuous contact with tourists.

About the Author:

Gawhara Hanem


Egypt Tours

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Egypt 101

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Many people have come to Egypt armed with a travel book, "Lonely Planet" or maybe "Rough Guide", only to be disappointed with their trip. Sure these books give you a lot of good information, but don't explain or clarify everything, and certainly don't provide advice in dealing with problems, so it's not advisable to rely on them solely.

The first and most important step you need to overcome is to dispense any preconceived notions. The experience you are about to embark on will be like no other. A journey into a different place in time, the operative word being "different" of course! With that out of the way, every encounter will be an adventure all on its own, so relax and enjoy yourself!

To get things started let's do some history! Egypt has always been recognized for being the world's most ancient existent state. Being at the crossroad between the Middle East and North Africa, this unique geographical location, has invariably made Egypt the bridge between Asia and Africa. Egypt also overlooks the Mediterranean so linking it to Europe too. Over the years this land has been occupied by the Greeks, the Persians, and the Romans. And during its conquest by the Arabs it was ruled by the Fatimids (969-1171), the Mamluks (1250-1517), and the Ottomans (1517-1798). It then went through 150 years of occupation by the French and British colonial rule until the revolution of 1952 that finally returned the power to Egyptian hands. But every new rule that came along, rather than destroy what had been conquered, opt for building a new city, just upwind from the old one. This makes Egyptians of special nature as they have acquired throughout the years the customs and habits of the different regions the country belonged to. Egypt has been cited in the three holy books and has been witness to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Indeed, one of the joys of Egypt is that its historic areas are still vibrant, living spaces and not open-air museums. The physical remains of a thousand years of history, being conquered and reconquered by different groups, are the bare essence of its charm. The past here is more a state of mind than a historical fact and that, ultimately, is the way in which Egypt is truly overwhelming.

One of the first things that will arrest your senses, beside the heat, is Cairo's chaotic rhythm of the traffic and people. Egyptians seem to be a rowdy lot, but they never miss an opportunity to laugh at a joke. Nor do they miss on an opportunity to lend out a hand or point out directions; even with very broken English everyone is eager to improve their English regardless if they know the answer to you question or not. Egypt is a safe country, since tourism is a highly valued industry and security is high especially around busy touristic areas. Street crime is rare and the crimes reported in the press would be family dramas or con deals of some sort. So open you eyes and mind, and if you're organizing your own excursions be prepared for the occasional swindle.

"El salamo Alaikom" (or peace be with you) can be used all day as a verbal greeting. And before any form of social interaction, as a basic code of etiquette, greetings are expected, even to perfect strangers. Like in most Mediterranean countries, Egyptians are emotional by nature, loud and use their hands and faces to complete the theatrical effect of the words. If you're male don't be surprised if another man holds your hand or forearm. Egyptians are comfortable with less personal space between them and the person they are talking to, a show of intimacy. Unlike in the West this is in no way associated with homosexuality. In general Egyptians are a conservative people. Egypt being over crowded, with people living in very high population densities they are accommodated to this forced proximity. It is hard to decided whether, despite or because of this crowding, there is segregation by gender, which can be seen in having two queues (one for men and another for women) or separate cars on trains.

'Baksheesh' is an integral part of any Egyptian workers life. As wages are low, workers rely on tips from foreigners and locals alike. But since you’re a foreigner, many poor people will consider you rich no matter what part of the world you come from, so stock up on change. It also helps to learn the phrase "la shokran" (No thank you). You can also use the same phrase with someone who is trying to sell you something, and if you forget "la shokran," just say it in English, and walk away. It definitely works better than "emshi" (go away), which appears as advice in some travel books because it could be taken as an insult. Guide books also warn travelers of the hassle of buying from local shop owners. This is an exaggeration. Yes they may call for you to come into their shop but a firm and polite "la shokran" is more than enough to do the trick. All the same you should be prepared to bargain for anything you buy, and don't get abusive to the trader, he's only trying to feed his family. It’s easier to haggle with your currency and credit cards out of sight, and stored separately from your Egyptian pounds (LE), if you can show you have just a few LE on you. Souvenirs are better bought from Khan El Khalili (the old bazaar in the Islamic district), at better quality and prices.

It is advisable to arrange for a private guide. This can easily be arranged through your hotel, and is not at all expensive. They are very useful at the Cairo Museum since many of the artifacts are not labeled and the place is enormous, they can save you time by showing you all the relevant exhibits. Besides it’s a fast and sure way to learn from an Egyptian first hand about the country and the life style of its people.

Although Egyptians dress in a modern manner, they are conservative even in their attire. And not all women are veiled. Even though some women are veiled for religious reasons it is still a matter of choice. Egyptians can accommodate foreigners dressed skimpily, which is not a good idea though if you dislike being ogled at. There is no need for women to cover their hair, shoulders and legs. Nonetheless longer, loose clothes will protect you from the sun as well as show your respect for local customs. Since the floor of most of the sites is either sand or uneven stone it is advisable to wear sensible footwear too.

Please don't drink from the tap water! You can shower and wash your teeth with it but bottled water is cheap and plentiful so use that for drinking. And don't forget to drink enough, in this heat it is easy to become dehydrated. Always carry around enough, you maybe charged outrageously for a bottle at temples and sites. There's a lot of Sun in Egypt so make sure you always have a high factor Sun protection on. It's also useful to travel with a medical- kit. Include plaster, safety pins, antiseptic cream, diarrhea and headache tablets.

The hotel front desk is a reliable place to stop and ask about any query. It is also the best place to book or just ask for advice for an excursion like a felucca trip (sail boat in the Nile) for example or camel/horse rides at the Pyramids. They know the best taxis and tour companies, and will be happy to assist you, saving you time, money and hassle. With most hotels you can arrange to keep safe some of your luggage free of charge (or at a very low cost), if you are on a multi-centre holiday and intend on returning to your first hotel before your departure.

On another note it is also useful to know that internal flights must be booked and confirmed in advance. The conversion rate is far better in Egypt, so don't exchange all your $, £ and Euro at home. Exchange enough to get you along on the first leg of your trip, and exchange the rest when you get to Egypt. Don't forget to always have enough change for the "baksheesh".

Relax! You do not need to take any more precautions in Egypt than you would traveling to most Western countries. People are very kind and respectful. No question that it’s a different culture, but that doesn’t make it wrong, just different and a truly amazing experience at that.

About the Author:
Gawhara Hanem
Egypt Tours