In Egyptian slang, there is a fantastic expression that transliterates to istash’feit.  This comes from warak shafaf, or blotting paper. The meaning of the expression is subtle: you use it to indicate that you see something, or soak something in, or understand a situation but not very clearly.

Yesterday, my Internet service went down just before 5PM.  So I called the operator and told them to connect me to the Orascom customer service.

From my experience at the Abu Tig marina apartment, I knew there is often finger pointing going on with Orascom (which seems to run things here, but I’m a little nebulous as to where their responsibilities end and begin with respect to TV and Internet) and Orange, the telco that actually provides TV and internet connectivity over the fiber that I guess is installed and maintained by Orascom.

By the way, let’s stop right here for a moment.  If, like me, you are here in Gouna to “chill” and relax for a bit, you don’t want to know or care about any of this infrastructure crap.

Unfortunately, this will not be possible, if you stay in Gouna any length of time, after which you will cease to be an impervious basha and will inextricably be drawn into having to personally — ugh, the very thought of it! — deal with these low class u’mal (ie, worker bee) guys, such as the pool guys, and the water guys, and the plumber guys, and the internet guys — all of whom seem to have unclear (at least to me) relationships to Orascom and/or Orange and/or whoever really owns the place across the street.

At Abu Tig marina, for instance, there would be frequent interruptions in Internet service due to the constant construction there, so I knew all about these guys, and had to walk to the Orange Office in Abu Tig multiple times to have my service restored.

 It was maddening, but I did it; at least in Abu Tig, the office was right there. Where I am now there is no local Orange office.

Are you starting to get the murky picture?

At any rate, I called Orascom to check if the fiber connection had been cut from all the construction around here (where I am now).  The Orascom guy said there was no complaints about Internet connectivity in the area, and that this was an Orange problem.

So I called the Orange office, but unfortunately their offices had just closed for the day at 5PM. Luckily, from previous dealings with these clowns, I had the Orange Service number. That number, if you ever have to deal with this problem in Gouna, is:


Even though I had pressed “2” to get to someone who speaks English, it was very difficult communicating with the person I was talking to about the simple problem I was having — namely, that there was no Internet service at the villa.  Finally they said they would call me back right away, and that of course did not happen.

This morning there was still no service, so I called customer service again at 7:30AM, and this time they asked my for my network ID and password for the so-called “access point” (which is Orange/Orascom speak for a WIFI router). I asked why, and he said they were going to reset it remotely, and would call me back right away.  This too, of course, did not happen.

Welcome to Gouna, where life is as it should be.

To compound matters, I just got my utilities bill for the rental period between Dec 16th (when I moved in here) and Jan 15th. It was 5,000 LE, or around $284 US dollars (at current rates).

I was floored by this amount, because:

  1. I have been told it would be be less than half that (around 2000 LE)
  2. I barely use any of the facilities here:  I seldom cook, never use the AC, and don’t have much by way of laundry to do. I am here by myself, and most of the villa is dark most of the time except for the living room.
  3. I do not use the pool or ever sit outside at night, mooning about my wife, with exterior lights blazing; it is simply too cold to do either.

I could not understand, therefore, why this bill would be so high — but the agent said that it was what Orascom was charging (yes, them again), for electricity, TV, the pool maintenance (this is very same pool that is too frigid to use), and watering the garden.  

ford escape

I kinda miss my car, and the gorgeous stretch of beach that is on the other side of the stand of sea grape

In conclusion, I have a few words of advice for you, if you are thinking of renting a villa or apartment in Gouna long-term

Either have it in writing that all utilities (including electricity, water, gardening, internet and TV) are part of the rental agreement, or have it specified in the contract what the ordinary carrying charges are for the property you are renting.

Better yet, seriously think about if you wish to live for an extended amount of time in a third world country where you probably don’t speak the language, although, if you do so, even at a modicum level, you will be undoubtedly delighted at the creativity of Egyptian slang.

For example, touristas are sometimes referred in Gouna patois to as “el ahs,” meaning they freely emote in the sereer  — a charmingly apt, if of course horribly sexist phrase, that no-one would ever think of using in polite company.

Frankly, what El Gouna has done for me is make me appreciate the life of leisure I had in Florida, without having to constantly deal with all these sorts of problems.

The nateega (or result) of all this I am now rethinking whether I want to stay another month (after my March 15 lease expires), or even if I wish to return in the Fall to the opaque wilderness of the Red Sea. You could say that, after 5 months of living here, istash’feit El Gouna: a charmingly succinct way of saying that I’m still on the fence about this shadily sunny, oblique place.


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New digs

Things are suddenly looking sunnier.

The real estate agent called today, and off we went to inspect the new place.

I love it!

It’s a bit pricier (but not by much) than my current digs, but this villa solves a lot of the problems here, especially the heat issue, the floor issue, the bad neighbors issue, and the unwanted traffic issue.

Plus you can see the Red Sea from the front porch; the lagoon in front of the villa leads to it, and it is not far away. It also has nicer bathrooms and a bigger kitchen, with dishwasher and microwave.

Nicely located, this villa is not in the middle of nowhere, like where I am now. I can easily walk to Abu Tig marina, or Downtown, but am far away enough from both to not suffer from undue noise. Moreover, the door fittings are brand new and very solid wit a double lock system that keeps out noise and sand.

I can move in March 15 thru April 14, or put a different way, around the time the US Treasury is going to run out of money thanks to the Orange Clown and his sycophantic enablers.  I have a few days to think about it, and want my wife to tell me what she thinks, but I believe she would love it.

Now it does have a northern exposure, so I am going to have to think about if I want to rent it for 6 – 8 months come Fall.  I would be in a position to tell after a few weeks on that score.

But this place solves another, more immediate problem:  I don’t want to go back to the USA just yet, and this will allow me to do just that, but also experience Gouna during the best time of the year.

By the way, I learned something today.  The reason why there are no solar panels in houses in Gouna is that ORASCOM (the company that provides electric power here) apparently will not allow it.  Who knew?


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Bye bye birdie

El Gouna Egypt

The Blue Lagoon, with an evaporated water mist cover on the horizon

Yesterday, Erin and I decided to visit the Blue Lagoon.

This is a shallow body of hypersaline water (which is true of the entire Red Sea) between the shoreline and a spit of sand that parallels the beach for maybe 200-300m. Its mostly clear enough to see an occasional fish, but milky, with salt foam in some parts; the sand is actually reddish clay on the main shore, and coarse, lighter-colored silica on the spit itself.

What I loved about this place when I visited it last October was the presence of a small seabird colony.

Our goal was to find them.

It was unlikely they would have migrated in Winter. Would they still be there?  Or had the damage been too great in the intervening three months?

Our walk there took less than an hour from the New Marina (it was quite debilitating to do this alone, in the lingering heat, two months ago, but no problem now) and we stopped along the way to eat croissants bought at the outset of our journey, at 7th Star in Abu Tig marina, and of course hydrate with the water we had brought along in my old dive bag.  We also re-applied 100 SPF sun screen, which did wonders to protect our skin from the sun high in a cloudless sky, and marched on.

One of the nice things about walking along the beach this way is the absence of flies, midges, and fleas.  These are everywhere in El Gouna, but largely absent here — possibly due to the wind; although it was calm yesterday.

We arrived at the Blue Lagoon around noon.  It is just past Mangroovy Beach and the Blue House, and is situated between that area and Element (which we visited yesterday via tuc tuc, which cost us 70LE round trip).

One of the not-so-nice things that drove me to consternation last time I came here was the sudden presence of quads that drive up the shoreline, squashing all the fragile dunes and mangrove seedlings and tiny beach critters in their wake.

Another observation we made on this walk is the obvious decision by Orascom,  and/or the developers to whom it has leased this part of El Gouna, to disregard the impact on wildlife of the overbuilding that is taking place.

el gouna egypt

Lamenting the speculative buildout around the Blue Lagoon

Frankly it is disheartening to see all these ugly, squat buildings rise in the desert — far too many for this area to sustain: my wife and I are fortunate to have been able to see this part of the Red Sea Riviera in a relatively pristine state, compared to the ecological disasters that are Hurghada, Sharm El Sheikh, Dahab and elsewhere along the “Red Sea Riviera.”

El Gouna Egypt

Blue Lagoon eco destruction, October 26th, 2017

However, last time I was here in October, I saw massive amounts of trash, including food, plastic water bottles, nets, rope, various  plastic cans, tar, and of course the ubiquitous plastic bags that cause sea turtles to drown through asphyxiation. This despite the seemingly positive results of a recent study to determine the level of plastic fragments floating in this sea.

It was a relief to see that something was being done about the beach debris, as a small group of workmen in blue green uniforms, and carrying rakes, were cleaning up what they could of the enormous amount of beach garbage, although I was saddened when we came upon a large, dead parrot fish on the shore, and also pieces of bleached out dead coral, that had either been killed by the warming of the Red Sea, or perhaps broken off by a snorkeler or one of the many cattle diveboats that make scant use of floating anchors.

Gouna Egypt

Dead coral from the Blue Lagoon

As we approached the Blue Lagoon, with a handful of narrow-billed sandpipers trotting along in front us on their Energizer Bunny feet, I saw the sea bird colony.  I decided to wade into the lagoon slowly, and approach them cautiously in order to get a closeup in the spit of beach where they like to congregate.

Unfortunately I did not have a DSLR with telephoto lens, so I had to contend with the S8+ camera, which is fairly useless for capturing details of fauna in the wild at distance.

samsung s8 telephoto lenses

I need one of these

My biggest fear was that quads would appear suddenly and ruin my opportunity for some great shots, ones where I could get close enough to provide the kind of clarity and detail that would later enable me to identify these seagulls.

Almost on queue, as I waded closer to the birds sunning themselves as they eyeballed my treading gingerly on the slushy bottom, which I was doing to make sure I did not slip and fall into the water with my smartphone in hand, I heard the unmistakable droning sound of quads approaching.

I looked backed and counted four of them, each being driven at maximum speed by young German men who were hooting and hollering at the joy of the ride.

They circled around the lagoon area, and then seemed to head up north, away from the birds in their sanctuary. But suddenly they made a U-turn, and came barreling down the spit of land where the seagulls congregate for safety.

A quad-riding tourist succeeds in terrorizing the seagulls away, as an Egyptian workman pick up beach garbage

Oh what fun

They headed straight at the birds and did little figure 8s, as if reveling in the alarm they were causing in these creatures, and one of them remained stationary, gunning his engine, before released his brakes, and zipping loudly past the workmen picking up the trash.

El Gouna Egypt

Quad tracks tearing up the Blue Lagoon’s fragile ecosystem

The fragile spit of sand was riddled with tracks by the time these young German vacationers left; no doubt on Monday, they will be back in Deutschland, and I doubt any will give a thought to the minor devastation they inflicted on the Blue Lagoon yesterday, devastation that is compounded daily by the willingness of El Gouna to allow this sort of thing to take place without any restrictions.

Of course the birds were long gone, having flown out to sea, were they floated on the calm blue-green shallows, which extend out quite a bit, before the demarc line where the sea turns deep blue.

El Gouna Egypt

Erin surveying the damage

If Orascom is serious about protecting its sliver of the Red Sea environment, it must do more than put out feel-good PR about being carbon neutral, recycling sewage to water the golf courses, and exploring solar and wind power options.

At the risk of over editorializing, it’s our opinion that Orascom can do far more to conserve El Gouna’s natural beauty and protect its remaining wildlife.

It should designate areas where seagulls nest in spits of beach, such as you see in the Blue Lagoon, as off-limits to humans (do not forget that these pelagic birds also have to contend with the wild dogs who roam the area, largely unimpeded) — especially to humans on loud, destructive machines that play havoc with the beach ecosystem: quads, but also inflatable boats with noisy outboard motors, or tiny single-engine aircraft and drones.

It should also attempt to control the throngs that pass through here when they hold events such as the upcoming Sandbox music festival, which will do its part in ruining this once edenic part of the Red Sea.

El Gouna Egypt

It’s a start

Finally, there needs to be a concerted effort — other than the limited attempts thus far attempted — to re-establish mangrove stands along El Gouna’s shoreline — both to protect the beaches from erosion and encourage biodiversity, as has been accomplished in Saudi Arabia. No doubt kite surfers and possibly others will complain, but there is plenty of room to reserve a kiting area around Element for such activities.

Will Orascom be willing protect El Gouna, given that the resort is running at a large deficit, with expenses exceeding the revenues derived from property taxes and commercial space rentals?

Will it (or the for-profit developers leasing this area from Orascom) have the eco-aware willingness to put up signs prohibiting such activities around areas such as the Blue Lagoon?

Will it also install sturdy chain link stands that would block quads from entering this spit of beach, and others like it along the shoreline?

Or is the fox — which in Egypt in general, and El Gouna in particular, is the pressure to maximize tourist foreign currency earnings, irrespective of the harm done to the environment — already in the chicken coop?

I fear that is the case.

With the vast number of ugly concrete living structures nearing completion, the day is not far off when the Blue Lagoon shall be completely overrun by holiday people, and the birds who presently live there depart forever.

Pity, that.

But then again, there’s still Marsa Alam… for now.

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