Calimera Habiba Beach

4.5 out of 5 stars4.5 Stars

Marsa Shagra, Marsa Alam, Egypt
CLUB CALIMERA Habiba Beach
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89%

Satisfaction Very Good
Excellent
57%
72
Very Good
25%
32
Average
7%
9
Poor
8%
11
Terrible
1%
2

Value Score Average Value

Similarly priced and rated as other 4.5 star hotels

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  • Families71
  • Couples78
  • Solo76
  • Business100

More about Calimera Habiba Beach

birthday bliss

by TripAdvisor Member VickyS

We stayed at Calimera Habiba 29 Nov - 6 Dec. We originally booked the Tulip Resort but having then read reports Thomas Cook very kindly moved us. Calimera Habiba was fantastic - clean and well laid out. It was so empty we felt like we had the place to ourselves, there were always plenty of sunbeds and tables in the restaurant. The food was great - maybe a bit boring for two weeks but for one there was plenty of choice. The pasta station was great, as were the omlettes at breakfast. The reef was amazing, but don't bother going to see it from the beach, go to the pontoon at the next hotel and swim from there (if you are confident enough) - the fish were stunning and we saw four turtles and a baracuda. Book a three hour camel / horse ride into the dessert if you can - truly beautiful, and can recommend the trip to the National Park in the South - mind blowing pure white beaches. Hints are: 1) take your cash in US dollars / Euros - much better exchange rates 2) take warm evening clothes - I was freezing at night! 3) stay away from free Long Island Iced Tea at the Active Bar - lethal!

First Class Great Chilled Out Time

by TripAdvisor Member Love_egypt115

Me and my partner just got back from the calimera habiba after having a great time just chilling and relaxing. The hotel is extreamly clean and the food is great aswel for All Inclusive buffet lunches and dinners. Dont go expecting the full English Breakfast though as there is no bacon and the sausages are not pork, but this is due to religious reasons. Pools spotless beach spotless and staff very friendly. If thinking of going horse riding using sisters aminitys NOT FOR THE NOVICE RIDER. Had a great time will be going back.

Relaxing....

by TripAdvisor Member KJPG

My wife and I stayed at the Calimera Habiba from 3rd January for a week. We booked late and were very surprised at the price on offer for a ‘Royal Suite’. We flew with Thomas cook into Marsa Alam airport approx 45 minute transfer.

The coast line is under development however there is no work of any note close to the hotel complex of Kalimara, which we subsequently discover is a collection of three hotels. One of which being the Calimara Habiba.

The hotel is a low rise wide spread property fronted by a beautiful vista of the Red Sea, where the hotel has removed a degree of coral to create a great pool spreading 200m into the sea.

The property is very well maintained and impeccably clean for the size and expanse of the area. The communal areas are primarily all outside other than the ‘Blue Restaurant’ which is the main dining room for the all inclusive package and the reception area. This in the winter months is cold at night and there are no heat lamps or the like to take the chill away from sitting with a beer in the evening.

The all inclusive package is limited and basic in terms of the range of products on offer and the quality of such products. Tonic to go with the gin for example is not available as an all inclusive option however can be bought at the ‘Long Bar’. The wine on offer is from a box with a choice of Red, White, Rose, no self respecting hotel in the UK would serve this as house, or warm for that matter.

The food in the Blue Restaurant for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner is an eclectic mix of batch cooking that moves its way around the complex under different guises dependant upon the popularity of the dish. The hot section is at best warm and with the exception of a small cooking theatre that will make you an omelette for breakfast or a pasta dish for lunch/dinner you will certainly struggle to get a plate of hot food during your stay. The selection of cold plates however is a good mix of fresh salad items, breads, pastries, fruit and cold meats. The other restaurants within the complex but outside of the all inclusive option are great value for money. The Italian did great Pizza for £3.00 and the Lebanese Restaurant cooked up a smashing mezze of antipasti and mixed grill for under £10.00. The fish restaurant is in a great location on the rocks looking out to sea however very cold of an evening so did not encourage evening dining even with lobster for less than £10.00.

The food and beverage angle of the all inclusive package is ok for what you pay however would benefit from a more choice in terms of products and some creativity in it’s menu planning. One week was certainly enough of it for us.

The relaxation areas around the pools x 3 are great with a heated pool in winter ‘relax’ – Main Pool ‘active’ freezing in the winter and a kids pool again not applicable in winter months. A small gym and entry level Spa are ok for a visit for a couple of hours, again not included in the AI program however quite cheap.
All in all a really nice resort that needs some development in terms of it’s product offer, great value for money and very relaxing as there is nothing at al to do outside of the resort other than some organised trips with the tour operators.

Go before it gets too popular

by TripAdvisor Member bernieshaw

Bernie & Jacci aged 47 &44 stayed at the calimera habiba for 2 weeks from the 15th of november 2006.
first impressions were good the hotel reception staff were friendly and helpful.
we stayed in a basic room that had everything needed for a pleasant stay, reasonable size bedroom with a tv and fridge and air con, a bathroom with a brilliant shower better than a power shower, sink, wc shaver socket and hair drier. the room was very clean and the cleaning staff did a good job of keeping it that way. if you are thinking of upgrading, upgrade to a suite as the "superior rooms are little better than the basic and all you get for your money is a little more room and a basket of fruit.
the gardeners do a great job of turning what is basically desert into a little oasis, unfortunatelly the consequence of this is that the mossies are very active, so take some repelent with you.
the footpaths around the resort are like a maze, it took me and the wife 4 days to plan a route from our room to the restaurant, and the first night we managed to end up in the next hotel on our way back .
the food in the main restaurant is good for an AI, a self serve buffet menu usually consisting of chicken, veal and fish with rice and various veggies, there is also a very good hot station serving pasta and stirfry on an evening. the breakfast menu consisted of a good continental selection, cereal and fruit, but if like me you like a cooked breakfast it was the same everyday with egg frankfurter and tomato being the staple diet. at lunchtime there is a choice between the restaurant and the pool snack bar where there was generally chips pizza and chicken of some sort or beefburger,
there is also a choice of three pay restaurants if you fancy a change, a fish retaurant an italian and a lebaneese restaurant.
the daytime entertainment is good, the animation team are very friendly and enthusiastic, you can do as much or as little of the activities as you please, but we found that most of the brits did not want to join in the entertainment. we feel this is their loss as in getting to know the animators and the other (german) guests certainly made our holiday more enjoyable.
the evening entertainment was more limited, a couple of the dance shows were very worth watching, but other than that it was quiz,s and bingo and the like.
one not to miss although you have to pay for it is the egyptian night, the entertainment is very good and the food is excellent.
one of the complaints on previous reports was that the entertainment was all in german, we did not find this and the animators strived to improve their english all the time we were there.
there are two pools, the relax pool near the restaurant which was very warm apparently and because of this was very popular with the kids on lilo,s so not really very relaxing. the other "active" pool was freezing and so was empty most of the time, the hotel was at about 25% capacity so no fighting for sunbeds, me and the wife generally had the active pool to ourselves till about 10am and it never got crowded. sunbed matresses and towels are provided so you don,t need to pack loads of towels.
the beach is sandy but there is coral as soon as you enter the sea so swim shoes are a must, the bay itself is very shallow and you can see a few fish, there is a really good variety of fish off the pier but the water gets very deep very quick.
if you want to snorkel there is a free bus to abu dabbab a bay about 15min by bus from the hotel, the snorkelling is brill and there,s a manati (sea cow) lives there. i didnt see it though!
we have been to egypt previously and can thoroughly recommend the trips to the pyramids, valley of the kings, and the stargazing in the desert is something to behold. however the only trip we went on this time was to snorkel with the wild dolphins, its not guaranteed you will see any but we did and it was great so another one to recommend.
overall we had great time and as always the big question is would you go again, well we can answer that honestly as we have just booked to go back at the end of january.

Christmas in Egypt

by TripAdvisor Member Benjii

Not the longest review but I wanted to try and not repeat what other reviews have said! Myself my partner, mother, and sister stayed at the Habbiba from the 20th to 27th December 2006. The hotel does resemble something from the Flintstones and is VERY spaced out and regardless of where you are you’ll always be a bit away from either the main bars or restaurant Because of this I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with walking difficulties although the entire hotel seemed wheel chair friendly with minimal steps. The hotel itself is kept very clean and the rooms were above average size and had a huge balcony, no bath which seems to be the norm in Egyptian hotels but a very powerful shower! The food was very good in the buffet but the fact that it was never hot (warm at best) let it down plus I think the choice would become boring after a week- everything was scaled back such as opening times of bars etc with it being the winter season so perhaps this was true in term of the restaurant menu too? There are three al a carte restaurants a Lebanese on the Habbiba site and an Italian and seafood at the sister hotel. The Italian is close but the seafood is right at the other end of the sister hotel so probably a good 15 minute walk. My biggest gripe was that you only received discounts in the restaurants where in other hotels you have unlimited use or work on a system where you can use each once per week free although with the discounts the food was very cheap the drink isn’t and it was a bit disappointing paying £2 for a bottle of beer where in a bar less than a stones throw away the exact same drinks were free as part of the all inclusive! We ate at the Lebanese and Italian both were ok but the Lebanese food was again not very warm and the Italian not spectacular but cheap (£2-£3 for a pizza before discount).The beach was really nice, we stayed in Sharm in September and the beaches were much nicer. Marsa Alam is only emerging as a resort so there isn’t a great deal to do outside the hotel except for quad bikes and camel rides but trips to luxor and Cairo are available but I think you have to use Hugurda airport which is a bit away. We didn’t leave the hotel grounds for the week we stayed so can’t comment on any of the excursions or trips. As Marsa Alam is an up and coming resort the staffs English isn’t as good as in the more popular resorts but most speak broken Italian, German, & Russian which is three more languages than I can so didn’t have a problem! I never struggled to be understood when ordering drinks etc. The staff are very friendly (sometimes over friendly with the ladies as seems to be the norm in Egypt) and if it’s possible tried too hard to please at times. We spent one night in the Italian for my sisters birthday and when the waiter found out it was her birthday he stalled us while the kitchen baked her a cake and he set up candles in a near by bar he sat and chatted to us for an hour and really made the occasion special for her, his only motive being he wanted to be kind and wouldn’t except a tip. Overall the hotel and holiday were very good, very quiet but that’s what we wanted I think the hotel will improve as it’s still less than a year old. If you want to experience the real Egypt do a Nile cruise or visit Luxor if you want a quiet relaxing beach holiday Marsa Alam and The Calimera Habbiba are a safe bet.

Value for money

by TripAdvisor Member Shresbury

We visited the Calimera between 10/1 and 17/1/07.

The Hotel Complex

A large complex which incorporates 3 hotels, we chose the Calimera as it was AI. The Calimera is spread over a large area, it has two pools, one of which was not heated and a smaller one which is very warm. There is a large lobby area and reception which also has an area for internet access. Leading out from the lobby you get to the Active Pool (not heated), and also the main bar area, this has plenty of seating and lots of loungers around the pool. The hotel's animation team is also based by the bar and unfortunately they leave alot to be desired, it seemed all the activities they offered, such as, volley ball lasted for only about 15mins, we didn't involve ourselves with them and due to this they chose to virtually ignore us. Also at this site is the hotel spa and gym, we didn't visit the spa, but the gym has all the usual machines and weights.

From the Active Pool there is a short walk through the gardens and accommodation you reach Relax Pool (heated), again this has a small bar and plenty of loungers, this is next to the Blue Restaurant, and close to the beach.

You can walk along the beach to the other complex the Kahramana and on the way there are a few shops to have a look in.

The complex is very clean, there seem to be staff cleaning the complex all the time, and the gardeners are permanently watering the gardens which are becoming established.

The Accommodation

We had a large single storey room with a large terrace and bathroom. The room was very clean and had a fridge and safe - there is no charge for the use of the safe, the room also had a TV. The housekeeping put 2 1/2 litre bottles in your fridge every day. The beds were comfortable and there was an air conditioning/heating unit which was useful in the evening as it did become cold. There was also a double wardrobe with hangers.

The bathroom was great, well lit and very clean. The shower was hot and powerful, although the water was a bit brown now and again. There is the option of having clean towels everyday. There were also soap dispensers at the hand basin and in the shower, there was also a hairdryer which was was fine.

We were also lucky in getting our towels turned into swans and flowers, very clever.

The Beach

You can enter the sea from the beach, the hotel has had a section of coral cut out of the reef, and it is very safe for swimming although there is not much to see when snorkelling. There are plenty of lounger and windbreaks, if you like to sunbathe, give the towel man on the beach a tip and he'll put your towels out in the spot you want in the morning. There is a bar on the beach serving hot and cold drinks and situated around the corner from the beach there are horses and camels which you can take for rides into the desert.

There is a bus which goes from outside the reception about four times a day to a beach nearby, the snorkelling here is much better. There are toilet facilities, a bar, somewhere to get lunch, loungers and windbreaks - the loungers do not have pads on them though. There is also a dive school where you can hire wetsuits, snorkelling gear or obviously go diving. At this beach there is a dugong (sea cow), sadly we didn't see it. If you do visit this beach the snorkelling is best at the left hand side of the bay.

The Food

Buffet style breakfast lunch and dinner. As in other reviews I agree that the food isn't hot and can be very similar, but you won't starve, the pastries at breakfast are fantastic and the desserts at dinner are also good. There is always soup and rolls on the go at the Active Pool and they also offer a small choice at lunch time. There are other resaurants on the site, we didn't try them as we were happy with the AI option, the other restaurants are extra but as an AI customer you do get discounts.

Excursions

We travelled with Thomas Cook who offered lots of trips out, we decided to go to Cairo. The trip was fantastic, but be warned it was a 2am start! We travelled to Hurghada where we caught a flight to Cairo and got there at about 8am, the trip included a famous mosque, the pyramids, the egyptian museum and a bazar. The guide was very informative, not only talking about ancien egypt but also the social aspects of Egypt today. We got back to Marsa Alam at midnight - a 22 hour day, but it was worth it. The cost was around £150, it included all transport, most of the entry fees to the attractions - you have to pay to get in the Mummy room in the museum and also there is an entrance fee to go inside the pyramids. Lunch was at the Hard Rock Cafe situated next to the Nile.

The Weather

The weather was fantastic, it was windy but if you manovere your windbreaks you can be sheltered. It is very cold at night and therefore you need to take fleeces, jumpers etc. We also felt that the heat went out of the sun at about 3.30pm, it was very warm in the mornings.

The Staff

The Staff are fantastic, they are very friendly and unlike a hotel we have previous stayed in they are not overfriendly to the females!! Nothing is too much trouble and they all have a great sense of humour.

Top Tips

Don't take beach towels these are provided and you can take them off site to the small beach which reached by bus.

Tipping gets you everywhere!!

Take warm clothing for the evening, don't underestimate how cold its going to be.

go here before it gets too busy

by TripAdvisor Member jules1959

What can I say, this hotel is beautiful, we stayed here from 10th Jan to 24th Jan. The staff cannot be more helpful and friendly.

We went here to relax as my husband had a terrible year with new knee surgery.
We met lovely people, Peter, Linda Su, Bill, Stan Di. The animation team were excellent,and we have stayed all over the world. Della, Gus, Ronnie, Ash, Tina, they were all wonderfull and felt very tearful as we left.
If you want to get involved you can, but you can also just relax.
The hotel complex is very pretty although the paths could be more lit and even.
The food is very good although not very hot. There is a microwave if you want it hotter.
If you want a place to relax, where the beach is lovely and the pool is clean and for once we did not get a bad stomach in egypt, go here.

great flinstone house

by TripAdvisor Member tgary

i went to this great place with my wife we wanted to rest by jo we did this place is 1 of the best iv been to i would go back the rooms are clean looked well after the staff are great cant do more for you food i never went hugury the onley thing i can mone about is the few shops outside very dear but can not mone about holiday be there soon again

Total Relaxation, Fantastic (Somerset)

by TripAdvisor Member SOLLE'S

after having a terrible xmas, we both needed to unwind and relax our agent sara at (-) did us proud, on the 17-01-07 we went to the complex and it was spot on, there was some building work going on there but i only noticed it the day before we came home, the complex was only about 20% full and there was no problems getting any thing you wanted, however the early to rise towel brigade were there as any holiday maker would exspect, the food was great the local drinks were plentifull, the entertainment was very good but appeared to cater for the germans & italians more, the staff couldnt do enought for you and they did not want tipping all the time, Amr (barman) at the relax pool is a star and loves making cocktails, try one of his hot hots there wicked, the resturant was spotless and the food was lovely however 30 seconds in the microwave made it more apeeling to me, we stayed in room 2408 which had fantastic views of the complex and a great room cleaner who's name i have forgotten (sorry) every day our beding was changed and the room was cleaned spotless, all week the red flag was raised on the beach because the sea was to chopy, but the bay has an area where the coral has been cut out to give the bay a sea pool the size of a football pitch, sun beds on the beach were plentifull and there's a beach bar which serves drinks and snacks during the day, if you want to go snorkling do the quarlarm trip on sunday or wednesday were mustaff will be your guide for the day, "what a nice guy" , every day you can get the shuttle bus to another beach only 10 mins down the road which we called it the yaba daba do beach because the complex reminded us of the flintstones and bedrock, there you can dive if you wish, relax on sunbeds or snorkell, the bays fish and corals are breath taking you might see turtles, guitar sharks and even a sea cow if you are lucky, we met lots of lovely people there who appeared to enjoy their stay at the complex also the shops tend to be a little on the dear side we bought items from the perfum shop only to find what we paid was 50% cheaper at the airport, (but then we didn't barter and we were happy with what we bought any way)

we will be looking to return to the complex again some time this year if we can because it was fantastic

Hi
Mike, Heather, Rob, Sam, Tony, & Jakie,
Thanks for your company

love
Carl & Sue

EGYPT

by swesn

modified from http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/cia00/egypt_sm00.jpg -- shukran!

...from JORDAN

The Route : Nuweiba - Cairo - Aswan - Abu Simbel - Edfu - Luxor - Alexandria - Siwa Oasis - White Desert - Bahariyya Oasis - Cairo

< Abu Simbel, chopped up into blocks and transported to another location because of the building of the High Dam. The pieces broken off were lain at the approximate positions in the original site. >

< Bustling Aswan souq >

The money changer sleazed on Jackie, the shoe-shine boy wanted to marry us, the old man sitting next to the bus-ticket office tried to be cheeky with me... Endless...

The girl whom I met in Amman, Jordan, Wendy, had asked me to look for an Ahmad in the Aswan souq (market). She used to work as a tour guide here in Egypt so she knew some of the locals well and had wanted me to pass a note. She gave me directions like "Go to the souq in front of Isis Hotel... I think there is a Sphinx Bazaar on the left side and ask around for Ahmad. Tell them Wendy sent you..."

2 Ahmads later, I believed I found the right one. He's alright, offered me shaay and I had a good chat with him.

Later, when I was with Jackie, we passed by the souq again but this time, seeing that there were 2 of us, they sent another guy over to slither up to Jackie. Ahmad was generally alright but this other guy, I could tell, was not. It didn't feel right after a while and Jackie was uncomfortable. I felt bad having 'dragged' her into this potential 'sleazemaroo' and we made some excuses and fled.

*trust no one*

< Selling spices >

Down by the souq another day, Jackie decided to have her hand henna-painted. We asked around and were brought to a dodgy shop with a fat pr*ck. He asked for E-120. WHAT!!!?!!!?????

We balked, rolled our eyeballs and got up to leave. He quickly asked us how much we were willing to pay then. "I don't know... E-10?" J suggested. "OK!"

*slap forehead* Gosh...

He went on to fondle her hand, clasp it and rest it on his lap.... He then made the most god-awful doodle on her hand. E-10 'well-spent'.

-----------------------------

Leaving the souq to catch our departing cruise-liner, I heard yet another, "Hello...... where you from?" Alright, one more for the road, just to see the effects... "I'm Egyptian." I smiled. It was followed by hoots of laughter and yelps of joy as my fellow countrymen appraised me in delight. Several came round to shake my hand as congratulations - I finally got the RIGHT answer.

< Nubian Village in Elephantine Island >

< It was great meandering around this island, getting lost.... A much-needed escape from the harrassments in Aswan. >

< Laundry by the Nile >

"NILE CRUISE"

< Business as usual even if tourists are out-of-reach. Money can be thrown down, goods can be flung up. >

Everyone had to go through this... My diarrhoea sentence was finally served on the cruise-liner. Well, if you have to have diarrhoea in Egypt, what better place than on a cruise down the Nile, in style?

You have a clean toilet to scurry into everytime you need to, there is a bed to lie down to sleep away your illness and you're confined to one place but yet you're 'on the move' to Luxor... and there is that 'doctor-on-call' thing, isn't there?

At 9am, I spoke to the reception about seeing the doctor and they told me my guide had already informed him about my condition and they would send down the doctor soon. "10 mins" Okie...

At 10am, I went back to the reception and inquired about the doctor. "The doctor coming... He knows. He's sleeping. 10 mins." The doctor was sleeping??

At 10.30am, he knocked on the door and dah-dee-dah... Instruction was to take the medicine 1/2 hour before meal-time. Lunch was at 1pm.

It was 12.35pm when I reached for the medicine. Hang on, it said 'JAN 2000'. That looked EXPIRED to me. I checked with the reception and they told me they would inform the doctor.

At 12.50pm, the doctor, after insisting that the 'JAN 2000' was the manufacture date, finally agreed to open another box. This box was printed with a future date so he clammed up. But he threw a last word in, "Miss! I told you to take medicine 1/2 hour before lunch. But it's now 10 mins to lunch!!"

Yeah, like it's MY fault??

"LUXOR"

< Ballooning over the West Bank >

You may read from other people's pages about Temple of Karnak, Valley of the Kings, etc... Don't get me wrong. They were wonderful in their own rights but I do not want to repeat them here.

I guess my enjoyment of the temples was heavily marred by the guide from the cruise-ship, Mohsen whats-his-face. I mean, of all the randomly gross Egyptian men (involved in tourism, if I may add), you would think you could at least try and trust your guide. Well, he tried to sleaze on Jackie too.

*Together now: H-U-R-L*

"You look tired but you still look beautiful when you're tired. Would you like to go lie down? Or you can come to my room to chat with me... My room is 212......"

It was always a case of "You have 20 mins at the [huge] Temple!" and he was always rushing us along.

I inquired about the strange jigsaw-puzzle shaped blocks on the slopes in the Temple of Hatshepsut... He glanced down impatiently, "Err... I don't know, I never notice."

Our ticket in the Valley of the Kings was good for 3 tombs. After visiting 2, he explained that they all looked the same and there was no need to see the third one. "Why don't we rest in the shade? Those who insist on seeing another one, the Ramses whatever tomb is down that way..."

Of course, when he brought us to a shop, we were told to "take your time, take your time..."

I hate organised tours.

< One of the shops making vases and souvenirs from alabaster or other materials that we 'took our time' at. >

< Road-tarring in the streets of Luxor. >

I intended to flee Luxor as soon as possible. I was sick of all touristy places and suffering from major Pharoah fatigue. But first, a quick walk-around...

Had no choice but to cross the roads with the wet tar and gosh, the amount of gunk I picked up - donkey's sh*t, horses' tail-hair, rubbish... all glued to the base of my boots.

"NUWEIBA"

< Down by my beach-camp >

Avoid the Habiba beach-camp. While staying in a beach-hut was not meant to be comfortable, I really hated the mozzies which were buzzing around my ears the whole night and had a field day with my arms.

I couldn't organise any trips around Sinai here in Nuweiba. It seemed I had to book the jeep myself, paying like US$100 or something. Checked with about 3 tour agencies (there were only about 3 I saw around town) and none organised anything for an individual. I asked Habiba beach-camp if they could check with other beach-camps whether there was anyone heading out to Mount Sinai or other places and didn't mind someone sharing the cost... After reminding them several times, in the end, they told me, no luck. *grumble* I doubted they checked for me.

Besides the sleazeball's slimey moves mentioned in my intro, he tried to fleece me of my money by charging me more than agreed. I disagreed with the 'new' price and he smoothly added, hoping to trick me about the 'extra charges', "With breakfast...". "I DIDN'T HAVE ANY BREAKFAST!!!" I hissed. Silenced, he reverted to the original price, still keeping that cunning smile.

As I was leaving at around 6am the next morning, I wanted to pay him then but he declined and told me I could pay him just before I left. I would be able to find him on the beach. He would be awake, waiting for me.

The next morning, he was snoring noisily on the beach and calling him from a distance couldn't wake him. I was too disgusted to go within 2m of him to wake him and simply stuck the money in the pad-lock of my hut and fled.

But not too far... The bus to Cairo was stipulated to come by the beach-camps at around 6+am to pick up any waiting tourists. A couple and I waited until 8:30am and still no bus. The lady had gone to her camp several times to check and the receptionist insisted the bus would come. Finally, the receptionist admitted that the bus was probably gone. Everyday, the bus would turn to this road, but maybe not today, he shrugged.

The next bus was at 10am. To be safe, for I really want to get out of this town, I headed right into town and checked with several other residents on where to wait.

The bus tried to entertain us with B-grade English movies & *actually, rather funny* Arabian flicks, blasting them at top volume. After 9, 10 hours of these, interspersed with repetitive shampoo & detergent commercials, a Zen master would find it a tad annoying too...

At a stop, the driver announced, "15 mins". The tourists scrambled off to quickly use the toilets but the Egyptians settled down for some slow-puffing of 'sheeshas' (water-pipes) & hot cups of 'shaay' (tea). The bus then disappeared with our loot. As the worried tourists stared earnestly outside, wondering if they would ever see their luggages again and contemplating contacting their travel insurance companies... the Egyptians continued to puff their sheeshas and sip their shaay nonchalantly.

The bus swung back into view after 1/2 hour's disappearance. Oh, he meant '15 EGYPTIAN minutes'...

< Luxor souq, a distant cousin of Aswan souq >

Meandering around Luxor, I happened upon the souq by accident. This was a delightful little local souq which sold veggies, fish, etc... and there was absolutely no tourist around except me.

Saw some 'fishes' on the ground-sheet for sale. They seemed to have some blackish colouring around them.

Ooooo.... Flies! Flies! Flies! W-A-Y too many flies buzzing around the cat-fishes!

----------

Passed by some tourist shops and one guy started chatting with me, as usual on the pretense of learning more about my culture and the Chinese language (Rrrright!). He then asked me to help him with a letter. OK, I know about this stunt... they just want to lure you to their shop and hopefully, you will buy something. But, I was curious about the content of such a letter, if it really existed.

I agreed to follow him. He and his friend offered shaay, as usual, and even some pastries. They explained they could read type-written English but hand-writings were difficult. Fair enough, I felt the same way. I could just about make out the alphabets of type-written Arabic, but hand-written Arabic were chicken scratches.

And I read the letter for them... Something to the tune of "I can't wait to come visit you in June and feel your body against mine..."

"ALEXANDRIA"

< Sipping shaay by the Mediterranean >

I bought the 2nd-class train ticket out of Luxor to Cairo that night. My train car was already crowded with locals and everywhere was over-flowing with their sacks of luggages. Some even placed their babies on the floor-area right in front of the seats. On the floor!!! I thought I found my seat and sat down. A middle-aged Egyptian giant returned and was not amused. He barked, "You. Get out!!" I showed him my ticket and made humble inquiring noises and he pointed sharply to the next car.

I crossed into the next car. It was like stepping into another world. This compartment was filled with backpackers only. OK, no babies would be stepped on here tonight.

-------------------------

When I reached Cairo, I made an on-the-spot decision to go to Alexandria to escape from it all. I needed cool breeze!

Outside the train station, I heard a guy shouting "Iskandariyya!". Hmmm... that sounded like 'Alexandria' so I nodded to him and he bundled me into a van with 14 other Egyptians and off we went, naturally with throbbing Arab music.

*post-note : I've since acquired quite a taste for Arab music... ;-) "Habibi... Habibi [echo]... Habibi... Habibi [echo]... (Darling)"

Alex is a city of 8 million. I had no idea where exactly I would end up. And no one in the van could really speak English.

At some bustling traffic stop, 2 young guys in the van, who spoke miniscule English, told me that I should get off there. The van assistant took my backpack and bundled it and me into a 2nd van. Still no clue where I was heading... Oh, sorry, bus-fare? I just took out some E-pounds and a guy picked off a small amount and passed it to the driver who then, multi-tasked by driving recklessly and multiplying the estimated number of passengers in the van by the bus-fare and made more mental calculation to work out the change to pass back to us.

At another bustling market-area, they told me the route was finished. Get off here. Great, one question... where was I again? The only guy who spoke English, looked at my LP map, helped me with my bag, bundled me into a _THIRD_ van, paid for my fare and brought me to where I wanted to go (thereabouts). He refused my money.

My first thought was, "Oh-oh... He doesn't want my money. And he knows my hotel. That will mean he wants... *gulp*" But, he just said, "Do you know where you are? The corniche is over there. Welcome to Alexandria." and left.

Gosh, it was such a relief to meet someone in Egypt (so far) who didn't want money or s*x or a kiss after they helped you. I stood there, stunned. Egypt can be surprising.

Later, I stopped a police to ask for directions and he waved me away, "No English." A van (in quite heavy traffic) screeched to a halt. The guy at the passenger seat had seen me and actually, made the driver stop! He shouted from his seat, asking me if I needed help. And he pointed me to my hotel. This was unbelievable, esp after what I experienced in Nuweiba, Cairo, Aswan & Luxor.

< Poorer section of Alexandria - Anfushi >

In Alex, no one harrassed me. It was great! Some teens, seeing that I'm Chinese, did some kung-fu moves and yelped "Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan!" That was it. :)

-----------------

But my problem was now, every restaurant menu was in pure Arabic. No transliteration for tourists' benefits, like kushari, etc... I stared at the boards showing the food items and I simply didn't know what to pick. Sadly, I had my dinner at McDonald's.

The next day, I kept a look-out for restaurants with non-Arabic menu. I was delighted to find a French restaurant. Well, 'Je ne parle pas français' but I know 'champignon' is 'mushroom', 'bonbons' are 'sweets' and 'blanc' is 'white'... So there!

< Curious boys in Alexandria >

Many men go swimming in their underwears by the beach. Normally, I supposed, this should be alright, except that the underwears are almost always white and had large gaping holes where the legs go through. Very gross...

I was sitting by the Corniche chatting with a teenage boy, Mohammed when these two boys came over to stare. They asked if I was Muslim, they invited me to join them in a swim in the ocean, they asked if they could drink my water - I handed over the bottle to them, they came right up to my face to examine my er... pores and then, they smilingly asked for a photo. Thought they'd never asked...

"SIWA"

< Lovely Siwa oasis >

< Shali fortress >

In Siwa, I made some friends at the hotel who were planning on a 3D/2N traverse through the Western Desert to Bahariyya. They were 2 Danes (Raz, Ida), 2 Canadians (Kathleen, Patrice) & 1 American (Tom, travelling around the world). They had been at the hotel for 2 days honing their card skills & flies-swapping skills.

They were trying to form a group of 8 to share the cost. It would be quite an adventure, they promoted... I was a little worried about the heat, though. I was toasted in Aswan and it was 'only' 45C.

Raz teased me, "Are you chicken???" I'm in.

< Siwan shaay? Anyone? >

We passed by a Siwan house and this elderly man invited us in to take a look inside. He showed us his grind (to squash the olives), the various grades of olive oil and offered cups of Siwan shaay. The usual shaay we had in Egypt was sweet but Siwan shaay was really strong... with a bitter after-taste.

------------

Gisela (from Sweden) and Marika (from Italy) had been studying Arabic in Alexandria for a few months. We were lunching together at Abdu's Restaurant when Marika complained that she was sick of doing double-translation : She had to read in Arabic, think in Italian and speak in English. She longed to be able to speak Italian again.

Then, Abdu (of the self-titled restaurant we were at) sauntered by and chatted with us. On learning Marika was Italian, he broke into what-appeared-to-be-fluent Italian... Hmmm... here in Siwa?

< Fatnas Spring >

Raz who was a Dane, jokingly complained that now he couldn't speak Danish, his secret language, with his girl-friend, as Gisela who was a Swede would be able to understand him.

I wondered aloud whom I could speak my secret language (Chinese, or Mandarin) to, here in the middle of an oasis??!?! The others looked up and said that they had seen a Taiwanese middle-aged guy lurking around our hotel the past few days. I would be able to speak to him in our secret language. He was this rich manager-sort who was staying at the E-150-a-night hotel. He seemed to be distributing an Egyptian pound here, another Egyptian pound there for the slightest service offered to him. Woah....

True enough, I ran into him the next day. The hotel he was staying at had one guest - him. So, he was bored stiff and frequently came by our hotel for social interaction. When he learnt our hotel cost a mere E-7.50 (20 times cheaper), he nearly pissed himself and checked in here pronto. We did attempt to speak in our secret language for a while but soon, I could not keep up. Mandarin was his first language and my second. He kindly resorted to his bad English for my sake. Hahaaa...

Then, later, it turned out the last character of his Chinese name was the same as the last character of my Chinese name!! This is beyond coincidence as this character was rare, complicated to write, and almost entirely used for girls. Hmmm... here in Siwa again!

"WESTERN DESERT - SIWA TO BAHARIYYA"

< One of the police posts along the Siwa-Bahariyya route in the Western Desert. >

The rest of the guys at the hotel managed to rope in French-Canadian couple David & Francoise and we were finally 8. Off we went on a questionable truck with a driver who spoke only Arabic.

1.5 HOURS into the trip, we got our 1st puncture!

Excellent. We had talked about this, "If we're stuck in the desert, there are probably only 4 or 5 vehicles passing by per day... hmmm..." and we paused to ponder our possible fate.

But when we got to a police post (they were there to check our permits and made sure we complete the journey), the policeman, half pulling up his pants, came running out and greeting us with elation, "Hello!! Welcome! I am SO HAPPY to see you. You're the FIRST car we see in 2 days..."

W-H-A-T?????

"Er... may I take a photo of you all?"

< Oh yeah.... >

At a natural spring, the guys started stripping down to their boxers and jumped right in. I was contemplating whether to jump in with my clothes on when Suleiman, our driver, shoved me in... money belt and all!!

Later, on the truck, I distributed my E-pounds, US$ notes, travellers' cheques, air-ticket around for everyone to clasp between their fingers and dry in the wind. "Money laundering..." Raz quipped.

--------

We stopped to watch the sunset over the horizon. I cracked my brain trying to recall if I've personally ever seen that elsewhere before. Sunsets seemed to be always behind some mountains, or in Singapore's case, behind some buildings. Over the ocean, perhaps but I'm not sure if it would work there. You see, Tom asked us to watch out for the 'green flash'. It is supposed to happen right at the moment when the sun dips beyond the horizon.

Well, at that brief point, I saw a light, like a torch-light, shining anti-clockwise. "Did anyone see the green flash?" I queried. "Nope, not today..." Tom concluded. Puzzled, I kept this to myself until that night, over camp-fire, and I described what I saw to Tom. "Yep! That's the green flash!!"

Wow...

"CAIRO - PYRAMIDS & MUSEUM"

< Sharing the roads of Cairo with donkey & horse carts >

< Sleeping at the top of the dunes. >

< We spotted sea-shells at the bottom of the dunes... Hmmm.... in the middle of the Western Desert, this must be from millions of years ago! >

< Had a nap in Abdul's house... necessary to sleep away the heat. >

Abdul on the left hosted lunch for us in Bahariyya. We took a dip in a small spring in Bahariyya. A few other locals also bathed in the same spring clad only in their usual white, loose, disgusting underwears and they brought the works here, shampoo & soap. So, it was really a public bath-tub for them.

Later, we took a nap in Abdul's house to sleep away the afternoon heat. Mohammed, the other guy, joined us for the rest of the trip to assist Suleiman.

< Crystal Mountain. Interesting arch, formed from crystallisation. >

< White Desert >

< Many interesting shapes found in the White Desert, all up to your imagination - a camel. >

This unplanned trip became my favourite bit in Egypt. We slept on the sand dunes on the first night, so soft and comfy... and in White Desert, near Farafra, the second night.

White Desert was magical... The white wind-eroded chalk structures in the moon-lit night were like ice-bergs floating in the ocean. :)

And Suleiman cooked the best meals I had in Egypt, all with those lovely Egyptian spices...

"CAIRO"

< Street vendors in Cairo >

Because of the recent terrorist attacks, there were metal-detectors at major shopping malls and hotels. The detectors were at the Entrances but not the Exits.

When we arrived in Cairo from Bahariyya, we headed to a mall for some internet access. All of us entered by the Exit by mistake and the security guard yelled at us to use the Entrance. OK, we walked over to the Entrance and entered again. This time, it was 'beep beep beep' for each of us. Yet, he ignored the beepings and let us through.

Wait... wasn't he interested in the assorted terrorist weapons we had in our bags?

< Traffic in Cairo, check out the guy transporting bread >

Walking to Islamic Cairo was a heart-stopping experience. On Sharia Al-Ashar, there were 2 roads + 2 highways up above. So, the honkings were like 4 times the possible volume & frequency. And, believe me, Egyptian motorists would max the volume and frequency. Of course, some joker had to be playing Arab music at full volume as well.

The pavement was very narrow, just enough for 1 person or so. Many times, there would be a sheesha-smoking old man sitting on a chair outside his shop, or some boy would be splashing water to keep the dust down, or a family would be out shopping for baby-strollers and stopping to examine every possible purchase or a man would be carrying a rolled-up carpet & marching right at you... you have no choice but to jump onto the road, side-stepping the rubbish, and walk. Then, an urgent blast of horn with your name on it would prompt you to jump right back on the pavement just in time.

The 2-lane road could, at times, miraculously fit 3 vehicles if some speeding taxi so chose to squeeze by. You sometimes wonder if this was THE vehicle that will snuff out your insignificant existence on earth.

< Juice-bars >

I'm positive these juice-bars saved my life in Cairo. After about 1.5h - 2h of walking, my throat would be really sore and dry, thanks to the pollution... and I would track down these juice bars to down some juices. I think I visited 6 or 7 one day.

< Habibi!! Muah... >

< What else... one of the Pyramids >

"ISLAMIC CAIRO"

< Tourist trap: Khan al-Khalili bazaar >

It was my last few days in Egypt and at the Khan al-Khalili bazaar in Islamic Cairo, I was intent on buying those lovely little perfume bottles to give to my girl-friends. Every shop I went to, I was told, "I give you good price because you're my first customer today..."

At yet another shop, the guy made the same remark. I looked incredulous and muttered, "Right... It's 1pm already, you sure have poor business." He changed, "I give you good price because you're so nice." "Why wouldn't I be nice? I'm nice in every shop, I'm told. :-)" He looked at me sheepishly and I suggested he try something more imaginative next time. He agreed.

Despite this friendly sparring, he seemed less yucky than the others and when he suggested that his massage oil was good for relaxation, I agreed to let him massage my face & head for a trial to get rid of my pounding headache.

Boy, it was really good. A lot of gunk acquired from the Cairo traffic was removed clean from my face during the process and my skin glowed. I love this massage oil.

< Sufi-dancing in Islamic Cairo. >

As I travelled alone, I was always a little concerned about returning to my hotel late at night. As the Sufi-dancing show was to end at around 10pm, I originally thought the streets and the metro trains would be quiet and they might be dangerous. Who was I kidding? This was Cairo. The city that never sleeps. Walking back to the metro station, I was bombarded by the same hectic noises, insane crowd and throbbing traffic. In fact, this made me feel safe. I did take a wrong turn and ended up near some quiet dark alleys but what's wrong with stopping by yet another juice-bar down that road to drink some more OJ and chat with the bar-owner and ask for direction. At 11pm, in the train, I was eyeball-to-eye-ball, butt-to-butt with the locals all the way back. Cairo was alright...

"OUTSKIRTS OF CAIRO"

< Benha market >

One morning in Sun Hotel, I woke up late together with one of my roomies, Sue, who surprised me by telling me her story.

She was 56 and engaged to an Egyptian man who was 23. They met earlier in the year during the Millenium Party down by the Pyramids and fell in love.

She returned from the States in April and stayed with his sister in a little village near Cairo. But because she had been to Israel 3 times, the police were suspicious that she might be a spy. And this, in turn, might affect the promotion of her fiance's brother who was a police-man. It's all a bit complicated but basically, in the middle of one night, she was told to pack up and leave the village quickly. That's how she ended up in the bed next to mine.

Now, she had nothing to do all day, except wait until 6pm when her fiance was off work so that they could go out. But, here in Cairo, unless you're married, you cannot be caught holding hands, arms across shoulders, kissing, whatever. The tourist police everywhere were watching out for these as well.

When she learnt that I had nothing planned that day 'except to get more pollution on my face', she asked if I wanted to toss the guidebook and go check out the village she stayed at.

"Getting there is half the adventure." she said. She proceeded to draw a little map, with careful placement of the donkeys and the Nile and stuff.

Annette, another roomie, had nothing to do too and both of us decided to, why not, just go. At the end of the North Metro Station, we were supposed to shout 'Benha Benha' and someone would bundle us into the right van. Then, after about 30 mins, we would come to a market area and we were to just shove our way out of the van.

So far so good... we wandered around Benha for a while. The villagers were not quite used to seeing tourists around so we were quite a curiosity there. They were amused, friendly and polite.

Then, according to Sue's direction, we were supposed to go by the Nile where some vans were and shout "Teshera, Teshera". Now, no one understood us. Soon, I realised we were surrounded by a crowd of curious on-lookers 8-people deep!! Our little map was passed around and studied. We stood there sheepishly. Finally, a man fought his way through, claiming, "I can speak English! I can speak English!!"

And we were off again, finally to Sue's village. There was nothing here to see. Just the country-side & farms where the fellaheen famers lived. But the fellaheen children who had seen few tourists, swarmed around us and started following us and tugging our stuffs.

Annette told them she was from Hollanda and the kids went nuts, chanting "HOLLANDA! HOLLANDA!!" Annette whispered, "Oh my god... Why are they chanting like that? Have they been watching Dutch porns too?"

It became a tad unfriendly when they started fighting off a teenage boy Mohammed who could speak English to us, as they were jealous of him. Mohammed fought back with a stick!! In the end, Mohammed flagged down a passing vehicle and we jumped right in to flee those shoving kids.

"BIRQASH"

< Birqash Camel Market >

< So disgusting I have to share this... >

Not for the faint-hearted. Thousands of camels had trekked for days to be sold here every Friday in Birqash. One of their legs was tied to prevent them from running off and those which did hobble away were beaten relentlessly.

I observed a hanging placenta from one of the camels. It was gross... It burst open and blood poured out. Then, it started flapping around the camel's legs. It was REALLY gross... One of the herders tied a rock to it. Argh, the poor camel! Soon, it fell out and just lay on the ground, bloody mess and all. Another passing guy picked it up with a stick and tossed it. It was EXTREMELY gross...

< Family picnics in the shade... >

It was Labour Day holiday when I visited the Pyramids. On top of the hundreds of tourists who came from all over the world to see this great ancient wonder, there were tonnes of Egyptians on family-outings as well. They picnicked in the shade of the Pyramids, played foot-balls, blasted their radios, etc... It was really busy.

A boy placed a bookmark in my hand. I thought he wanted me to buy it and I tried to return it. He smiled, "No money! It's for you to remember me..."

A teenage girl came up to me, professing, "Yabani!! Yabani!! (Japanese!!) I LOVE YABANI!!!" Oops, if only she knew...

A group of youths wanted to take a picture with me. After one snap, the photographer practically begged for another shot, taken by someone else of course, so that he could be in the picture this time round. Yes, they are sweet boys but still, I felt strange... In a country crawling with tourists, it seemed funny they found me a novelty.

< Some tourists arrange for camel-rides to the Pyramids. The prices are exorbitant and yet, some still fall for the traps. >

< Egyptology students mugging away in the Egyptian Museum... Exam was next week! >

It's interesting to see some university students kneeling in front of the displays in the Egyptian Museum and reading the hieroglyphs aloud (and arguing about it). Some were copying and painting the beautiful inscriptions on their sketch-books.

----------------------

I had been on email contact with an Ozzie girl, Jackie, who was also travelling to Egypt alone during the same period as I. We decided to take the Nile Cruise trip together as it would obviously be cheaper to share a double-room. We didn't know how the other looked like. I just booked a room in Pension Roma for a particular night and we were to just show up. As she was in Cairo a week ago, she bought the train tickets to Aswan for us in advance.

My first night in Cairo was at the Sun Hotel, right in downtown. I checked out and made my way to Pension Roma by metro during the rush-hour. Had some difficulty locating the hotel and after climbing the 4 flights of spiral stairs, I found a message from her on arrival.

She had taken ill (vomitting and diarrhoea, of course) and was now checked into a 5-star hotel right in downtown. Yeah, right about where I came from... So, I had to make my way back to downtown, without my backpack, of course, to meet her.

Well, she had the Pharoah's curse early. She had been staying at a 3-star hotel opposite when she fell ill at around 3am last night. She picked up her bag, crossed the road and started crying at the 5-star hotel's reception until someone helped settle her into a sumptous room and contacted a doctor. She called her travel insurance company and bullied them into agreeing to pay for 90% of the hotel bills.

Oh-oh... warning bells rang in my ears. She sounded a tad pampered. Well, it's alright. I 'pride' myself at my level of tolerance and my ability to see the *good* in every human. Heh....
I paid her for my share of the train ticket and wished her a 'Get well soon'. It was decided that she would recuperate a couple more days in Cairo and take a plane out to Aswan to meet me later for the Nile Cruise.

------------------------------

On the way back to Pension Roma, I passed by Peking Restaurant. I stared at the Chinese words greedily. It was just a week and a half since I left home and I was already craving for Chinese food. While this might bring SHAME to the rest of the 'travellers-not-tourists', I was shameless and entered the restaurant shamelessly.

I soon found myself the only guest in the huge restaurant (decorated with Oriental red lanterns, no less) with 5 waiters standing by the bar-counter ever-ready to serve me. With such high hopes pinned on me, I might have disappointed them a little by choosing the cheaper selections.

From the corner of my eyes, I noticed a couple of them staring at me unwaveringly as I dipped the dumplings in the sauce and gobbled them up one by one ungraciously. Finally, one came up to me awkwardly and asked, "Hello. Where you from?... Is the food the same? Same from your home?"

I considered for a while and I have to admit, Chinese restaurants overseas are usually crap but for the dumplings and expensive fried rice I had just consumed, they were rather agreeable, "Yeah, the same."

"The SAME?!?? Really???" He was incredulous. It was as if he had made some sort of bet that the food served here was really not _Chinese_ at all!

Once done, I got up immediately and they were sorry to see me - the only company they had for a while - leave. They pleaded, "Oh, why you eat so fast and leave so fast? Stay a while..."

"ASWAN"

< Kids bathing in the Nile. They bathe in the Nile, they drink from the Nile, they toss rubbish into the Nile... >

Being such a small town, yet with such a HUGE number of tourists because of the hundreds of cruise-liners docked by the corniche, proportionately, A LOT OF locals were involved in the tourism industry. On a scale of 1-10 of harrassments, I would say, Aswan scored a 9.

I walked up and down the corniche so many times that I was soon recognised by the felucca captains... "HEY!! SANGAFURA!! (which is 'Singapore'... I had replied previously to their "Hello! Where you from??!") Remember me? I'm Abdullah. You promise me to take the felucca today [blahblah]"

------------------

A reply to their query : "HARLOWWW.... WHERE YOU FROM?" may warrant :
1) an innocent "Welcome" (rare);
2) "Do you want to be my girlfriend? / I want to marry you. (likely)";
3) "Just a moment. ExCOOSE me. Stop here one minute. Just look. No hassle. You looking for feluccaride-taxiride-camelride-carriageride-papyrus-spices-perfume-alabastar. Just lookie. No hassle. Look here, what's your NAM?" (very likely)

To be fair, after some exchanges of stories with Caucasian girls, I found that, as an Asian, I got the less disgusting stuffs. Once I'm with a buxomy blonde, I would be edged out while the men zeroed down to her breasts and spoke to the wobbly ones, "Hellooo.... where you from? / You want to come to my room? / Ooo... beeeaautiful! How many camels?"

If you say you're from 'Hollanda', they will have an uncle / brother / father in Amsterdam. With the link and familiarity established, they would offer to bring you to a place to pass you his name card. Of course, they naturally will be selling papyrus, perfumes, etc...

2 poor Dutch girls I met actually fell for this - twice in Cairo - and brought to the same shop too!

Same old trick, everywhere, everytime.

After a bikini-wax and a couple of days of cocktail-swilling by the roof-top pool of the Cairo 5-star hotel where she had been sun-bathing, sorry... recuperating (90% sponsored by her travel insurance company), Jackie had rejoined me in Aswan. And when we were asked that question AGAIN, instead of replying 'Australia' (which will mean their assorted male relative was in Sydney), we replied, "Iceland!"

....silence.... "Iceland????"

*heh* *heh* *heh*

< Friendly locals >

I have to correct a point... Those involved in tourism were quite annoying to deal with. But the regular locals were so so so friendly.

I sat in the shade to rest and this little girl next to me immediately offered me her mashed banana in her hand. Such a sweet gesture...

Photos

Habiba RestaurantHabiba Restaurant

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