Ivanhoe

Turning up the heat in Egypt’s Sinai

The 150 beautifully composed photographs spread across 192 pages in Omar Attum’s Sinai shape this desert into a picturesque, enchanting landscape. Through this book you can stay in your own home, while enjoying Egypt’s Sinai Desert without the harsh elements! 

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It wasn’t until I read the fine print that I realised that the images were nothing more than a mirage and that the Sinai was actually an inhospitable furnace that could make Hades cry. But you couldn’t cry there even if you wanted to – according to Attum, your tear ducts would be so clogged with sand that you couldn’t shed a single tear!

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I enjoyed the book’s metaphorical descriptions of the region and Attum’s stories of what he went through to get each photograph: hidden lesser sand vipers, flash floods on Faresh Romana (Parmogrante Escarpement), surprise snow storms on Mount Sinai and the sweat-crystallising temperatures on the Qaa Plains. The Sinai is no picnic, nor a place for a family holiday; it’s for the tough, adventurous spirits out there.

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What was most striking about the book was the relationships that the fluid elements had with the landscapes: the artwork of the wind is ever present through the moving dunes. The ancient rocks are scarred by running waters that ran long before Moses parted the Red Sea. In the words of Attum: “It is ironic that a landscape shaped and defined by running water is so arid.” Clouds are pushed away and when the thirsty land does get water, it rejects it in the form of flash floods, which Attum himself had to brave.

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What I also appreciated was how the animals have made this inhospitable place home, and they aren’t just surviving but have flourished in the Sinai. The nubic ibex had to inhabit the almost vertical 8,625 feet cliffs of Mount Katherine in order to escape extinction from humans. Dorca gazelles are extremely fast and can outrun plenty of natural enemies, but not fast cars – these delicate antelope that once grazed around the pyramids of Egypt have been shot to extinction, with the last few living on the Qaa Plains.

The desert life has formed some interesting and unique relationships – for example the acacia trees on the Qaa Plains in South Sinai provide shade for herds of gazelles that urinate and defecate under the tree, providing it with vital nutrients. The animals also engage in a continual game of one-upmanship. The snakes chase the chameleons and the chameleons hide from the snakes by moving more slowly – this is the relationship between the viper and the Mediterranean chameleon – the “slowest slowpoke” in the desert.

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Certain desert creatures are abundant, but nevertheless vulnerable, in such a harsh climate and, if man steps into the equation, the balance is broken. Fennec foxes, weighing in at barely a hair more than a kilogramme, have mastered the art of surviving in the desert due to their concentrated urine. However, they were popular in the illegal pet trade and are now endangered.

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After exploring the South Sinai up until page 121, the book explores the northern regions of the Sinai and the Zaranik Protected Area. The book ends with a mini tribute to the Egyptian tortoise, which is not only cute but was also thought to have been extinct until it was rediscovered in the Sinai in 2010. These little shelled creatures where once abundant in the Sinai, hiding in rodent holes waiting to graze on Zara’s wild flowers.

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The Sinai might actually be a place you want to admire from the comfort of you own sofa through Omar Attum’s beautiful book, Sinai Landscape and Nature in Egypt’s Wilderness. Unless of course you love adventure – then pack your snowboats, foul weather gear, hiking shoes, sun block, eye drops and Bear Grylls attitude, beause you will need it all in Sinai!!

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Georgina Lockwood

I grew up escaping Johannesburg city to go horse-back riding in the Magaliesberg mountains or Land Rovering in the Madikwe sand veld. Accustomed to the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, I then embarked as a trainee sailor on a three-masted barque to travel the world beyond my beloved Southern Africa. Ship life steered me to remote destinations and ecological treasure houses like the Galapagos, Pitcairn Island and Polynesia. Once grounded, my love of the outdoors developed into a deep respect for the environment and a desire to preserve it which led to a full time career at Africa Geographic.

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