Egypt’s ecolodges

The freedom of the desert is something else entirely. You live in the city, but you want your vision to stretch endlessly. To get that freedom of vision you have to go to the desert. On a personal level, it started as a retirement project, but gradually it became a connecting project, not a retirement one. By hosting them we are trying to connect people to nature. When Sayed went to see the land, he visited at all hours of the day and night until he felt the place and exactly what it needs. We have connections with the Siwan society, with those who do handcrafts and who build. The relationship between us has existed for a while. Yes, since we came here. They know us and we know them. Firstly, we’ve improved the Siwan method of building. We used their methods but with improvement and addition, and we are teaching some people how to improve Siwan construction. He taught them how to build a ladder for example, they don’t have that concept. We didn’t only teach builders to improve, we also taught the workers to be builders. We taught them carpentry, not to be professionals, but for their daily use. To improve their lives and make them a bit more beautiful. We’re the ones who think and know how to turn this project into reality. And we do turn it into reality, with our insistence. I plant vegetables. I love planting but my experience is not very good. So I try to see what grows, if it’s okra then I work with that, or molokheya. It’s all grown within the limit of trial and error. The yield is not enough to supply us or our guests yet all the time. Certain other crops need greenhouses, which are expensive so we haven’t started them. How can you develop your ecolodge without regular income from tourism? We suffer! Really, that’s the truth. In our previous ecolodge, Taziry, we didn’t do any marketing. We invited a lot of people to stay for free. They knew the place, we had good service, good food and it was clean. Our gauge was the income, not the net profit, the income we worked with the first year. It doubled the second year and grew four times the third year So we were going in the right direction. Word spread. Now it’s different, seriously it’s hard. We are resisting and spending from our savings. A personal part which helps is that we live here. Even if there is no tourism, we take care of our home. Here they call a water holding area ‘Talist’. It’s the place where water is kept for irrigating fields. So since we have a kind of talist, which is the pool, and a talist in the lake and the mountain hugging the land in a crescent shape, that’s how we named the lodge. There are there are so many different and unique places all over Egypt. We could have ecolodges all across Upper Egypt for example. Firstly, we thought about building this hotel on high land, far from the crowd, village and pollution. As you can see it’s an open area with bright sun. At night you can see the sky and stars clearly. Why? Because we are preserving the heritage of Al-Qasr, Dakhla’s old Islamic village. We built in the same style for our sons and grandsons and great-grandsons to know that this is their father’s and grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s heritage who lived in that place. All these buildings are built from local mountain stone. We cover it with mud and straw. The mud building is warm in winter and moist in summer. So you don’t need air conditioning or a fan. Part of an ecolodge is giving services back to the local village. We organize an environmental day for the village through the schools. We take the children to pick up trash, not for the cleaning itself, but for the concept to grow with the child, to not throw trash in the street. We also distributed trashcans that say ‘for a cleaner environment’ all over the village. We don’t have a supplier for this ecolodge. Any hotel normally has one supplier for his needs like fruits, vegetables and meat. We go ourselves to buy from this butcher today and another tomorrow and so on. That way the money is distributed among the people of the area. We’re the first ecolodge to have solar power. We had the idea a long time ago to raise awareness among people and investors. Also the Electricity Authority helped us install panels and gauges. And we have a contract to provide the grid with our solar power by day and to take electricity for the hotel at night. Originally, I bought the land for my camels. I didn’t have an idea to start an ecolodge here. When friends gave me the idea, I started to read about ecolodges and remember all those I’ve visited in Egypt and abroad. I started to think that I need a new concept for an ecolodge. The round huts were inspired by old buildings from Nawamees, It’s an area in Sinai about 2,500 years old. Later I discovered that these round huts provide positive energy to the person who stays inside. I started visiting the area of Wadi el-Rayan and got to know the people here. I found a community that has the motivation to work in tourism and wants to learn. And then I started to do workshops to teach them what eco-tourism is. And a new community was born. We’re almost like siblings. All the people who work with me love each other. I didn’t even know how to build when I met them. They taught me about tafla, which we bring from the desert, and we add straw and water and leave it for weeks to use instead of cement. One thing I thought about when starting the ecolodge, Zwara has six stone huts. I thought that this was best to provide quiet to my guest. I have two options for camping: you can bring you own tent free of charge because we want to encourage people, especially in Egypt, to come camp. Or we can provide tents. The camping area can accommodate up to 50 people. I also thought about renewable energy and I use solar energy on a small scale for now. We don’t have any source of light except solar lamps and candles, and fire for cooking at night. People come here to do star watching. They go sandboarding, or take camels into the desert for a day or two, or go hiking or trekking. The last three or four years I discovered many Egyptians who are starting to love the desert. They started to escape the box of Cairo, the North Coast, Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada and to explore the desert and the protected areas and Sinai. The Egyptian society gave me hope that country is still fine and the Egyptians helped us. Seriously we need to market Egypt. All due respect to everyone in the tourism sector, I know how hard they work, but this is not enough. With all its natural resources and antiquities this is not what Egypt deserves. It’s not enough to have only 14 million visitors a year.

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