Spending summer in the Arab world
Beirut - When summer temperatures soar to more than 40 degrees Celsius in the mostly arid Middle East, residents and visitors look for cool and refreshing places to spend the long summer days.
For some, it is the sea breeze and soaking in seawater that brings the desired freshness. Others prefer the coolness of high mountains and many in the Gulf states opt for air-conditioned malls and public spaces.
“For me it is the beach but my husband prefers the mountain retreat. So we divide time between the two places during July and August,” said Paula Chahine, a Lebanese fashion designer.
While beaches are crowded all summer, villages and towns in Lebanon’s mountains also come alive after winter, during which they are mostly deserted. Many flee the humidity and heat of Beirut and other coastal cities, seeking the dry freshness of summer retreats more than 900 metres above the coast.
For Samira Riachi, summer is when she quits city life. “When July starts, I just pack my things and move to my summer house in Mount Lebanon for the whole three months,” she said. “Beirut is just unliveable during that time. It is too sticky hot and crowded with all the Lebanese expats flocking back home in summer.”
Before the 1975-90 civil war, which wreaked havoc on Lebanon and its economy, many families could afford to rent or buy a pied-à-terre in mountain villages and towns to spend the summer.
“In the first week of July, immediately after the school year ends, you would see loads of trucks carrying furniture and household stuff going up the mountain roads. People used to relocate to the various villages for three months and return to the city at the end of summer,” Riachi said.
That is no longer the case. “I sweat all summer. I can’t afford to go away and the best I can do is to sit in air-conditioned rooms when there is power,” complained Beirut resident Nada Salman.
When summer comes in Egypt, people’s eyes turn to the Mediterranean and Red Sea shores. Millions of Egyptians, especially those in Cairo or the central and southern Egypt’s provinces pack up and head to the coast.
This is certainly true for Mona Mahmoud, a mother of four in her mid-40s. She has been saving all year to be able to travel in summer.
“We cannot stay in Cairo. It is always stinky hot here,” Mahmoud said.
For the equivalent of $550, Mahmoud and her family can get as far as the northern coastal city of Alexandria, a popular destination among Egyptians, where housing prices, beach entrance fees, transport and food are affordable.
As for the more fashionable Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, they constitute the summer dwellings of well-off Egyptians and foreigners. They, too, are usually teeming with people as people migrate to the beaches.
Wahid Saudi, the spokesman of the Meteorological Authority, said this “migration” has become noticeable in the past few years because of rising temperatures as part of climate change.
“There is a steady rise in temperatures pushing a large number of people to spend summer by the beach. June, July and August are becoming extremely hot months in Egypt,” Saudi said.
The average summer temperature in Cairo during August — the hottest month of the year — is 36 degrees C. For hotels, restaurants and traders in coastal cities, the heat is synonymous to good business.
With its lush green mountains, water springs, many resorts and relative security, Iraq’s Kurdistan attracts residents of Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces seeking to escape the sweltering summer heat.
“Kurdistan’s main cities of Sulaimaniya, Erbil and Dohuk have become prime summer destinations for Iraqi families due to the clement weather and competitive prices, as low as 125,000 dinars ($100) for a five-day stay, including accommodations and travel,” said Abbas Akla, a travel agent in Baghdad.
Most of Akla’s clients say they prefer to travel by land, despite the long ride and many checkpoints across devastated areas that witnessed battles against the Islamic State (ISIS), because it is cheaper than flying.
“I organise two bus trips per week. They are always full, mostly with families who want to spend time in Kurdistan’s water parks away from the suffocating heat,” he said.
Visitors and residents of Dubai meanwhile have a new way to beat the scorching heat.
For about $200 per person, they can stay overnight in tents on the city’s indoor ski slope, Ski Dubai, on Fridays. The price includes after-hours access to the slopes and refreshments, including hot chocolate, before bedding down in tents and sleeping bags to keep out the artificial chill. Overnight visitors can expect temperatures of minus-4 degrees C while temperatures outside reach 43 degrees C.