The Mt Sinai Fiasco

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 15, 2008

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Where I stayed
The top of Mt Sinai

Flag of Egypt  ,
Monday, September 8, 2008

It looked for a while like we might not even bother with climbing the mountain. The original plan was to do a DIY trip there and back, taking the local bus there, wandering around the monastery to kill time for a while, then  climbing up in the early evening to catch sunset. We'd sleep on top of the mountain, catch the sunrise and head back down, grap some breakfast maybe, then back to Dahab. Seemed reasonable until we found out from some guy at the hostel (we weren't even sure if he was actally part of the staff or just someone who hangs around there a lot) and then from the guy at the ticket booth (after a half hour wait while he leisurely served customers whilst chatting on the phone) that there is no local bus service to St Catherine for the foreseeable future. This left us pretty pissed off and more than a little paranoid - our hostel offers Mt Sinai tours by minibus, and we were half wondering whether the guy from the hostel called ahead to tell the guy at the ticket booth not to let us get on a bus to Sinai so we could be roped into a tour with the hostel...

As it turned out, if there was a plot it worked, since we did end up paying for a tour from our hostel (only because it was the cheapest, same reason we do anything at our hostel...). These tours follow a very rigid, slightly stupid itinerary, involving climbing the mountain in the middle of the night, getting effectively no sleep, then, as soon as you see the sunrise, rushing down, doing a whistle-stop tour of the monastery then getting back on the bus by 10am. I really don't see much point in climbing a bloody mountain at 3 in the morning - you don't see anything and it means you get no sleep at the top. As it turned out, sleep was pretty much out of the question, since about 500 Russians plus assorted Brits, Germans, French etc had been bussed in (mainly from Sharm) and all planned on cramming themselves onto the summit to catch those first rays of sunlight. The Russians were the funniest - most of the women were hilariously inappropriately dressed (a) for climbing the mountain (plenty of them were wearing basically high heels) and (b) for touring round a monastery (plenty of slightly overweight Slavic women in sequined boob tubes and tight leopardskin-effect miniskirts).

The whole thing was a total circus - the whole path up the mountain was a procession of sweaty-faced package tourists puffing their way up and waving their bloody torches in my eyes whenever I tried to overtake them. Every few hundred metres there was a 'rest stop' which seemed to be mainly another excuse to concentrate masses of tourists, camel-rental guys and military-grate halogen lights. There isn't really anywhere to sleep at the top, so we had to scrape away some gravel, broken glass and cigarette butts to set up our sleeping bags, which was pretty pointless anyway, because the slow-moving masses we had overtaken on the way up were just arriving shining their torches in my face and kicking dust into my eyes!

The sunrise itself was crazy too - everyone was jostling to get as close as possible to the edge of the stone walls around the chapel at the summit, holding their cameras in the air trying to get a shot of the sun just as it was rising. I found it was much more interesting to take pictures of the crowd, which included a lot of orthodox Russians, some nuns who sang as the sun came up and one guy who everybody was muttering about - he had short bleached-blonde hair, a long black leather trenchcoat with a black shirt underneath, round purple sunglasses and an iron cross round his neck. He was universally referred to as 'the Nazi', though I don't think he was that bothered by the looks he was getting, since he mostly just stood nonchelantly listening to his iPod and nodding his head.

As the sun came out more fully, most of the crowd actually started to head down, whilst at the same time the view got a lot better. As we started to descend ourselves the side-lighting from the low sun made the whole landscape look incredible. The inside of the monastery at the bottom wasn't really worth that much of a look, which was just as well, since all 500 Russians plus extras all wanted to go in at once through a tiny door. To be honest, if we'd got the local bus to St Catherine at 9:30am we'd have run out of stuff to do pretty quickly before we climbed the mountain. I suppose we did get to see (even touch!) the 'genuine' burning bush...

The bus ride back was stupid hot - opening the window actually made things worse since the air coming off the scorched desert was like a hairdryer. The desert landscape that we'd missed on the night drive up was pretty spectacular though.

Well, now I'm shattered - I've had no sleep last night and we're about to take the night bus to Cairo, then on to Alexandria if I can make it through.
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ali_m on

Re: Crazy tourists
I have a picture of The Nazi, but it doesn't really capture him in his full glory (he isn't wearing his round purple shades or his Iron Cross). I maybe have a few of the Russians, but I'll have to take a look. I'll upload the pictures when I get back.

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