Climbing Sacred Places and Camels

Trip Start Apr 13, 2007
Trip End Apr 28, 2007

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

There was three other people in the mini van that picked us up at 11 pm on the 23rd.  
At 1 am we were in the St. Katherine Protectorate, and could commence our hike up Mt. Sinai. We had not hired a guide before we started the hike. We both agreed that it shouldn't be necessary, and if it turned out to be, then there would be plenty of guides offering their help once we got there, and a lot of people going the same way as us for that matter. We assumed correctly. The others from the bus thought we were kind of crazy though.

Aaron had his mind set on walking up the Steps of Repentance, but I got stubborn and refused to keep looking for something in the dark we couldn't see. I'm glad we didn't find them, although we were practically right next to them when we walked back to the camel trail and continued the long walk upwards.
We hadn't gone far before we had passed everybody in front of us and were soon walking in front of the masses in the dark. I found it odd that we kept passing these huge round boulders , and there seemed to be more and more of them. To my surprise, and since it was pitch black, all the boulders I could sense surrounding me, were camels! My next scare was when a man sat quietly next to his camel and suddenly asked if I would like a camel to take me up the mountain? No thanks, I think I can far at least ;)

The camel trail (the easiest way up the mountain) is about 5 km long and winds up the mountains to meet with the Steps of Repentance for the final stretch. At first it was a piece of cake. Halfway I started to be tired and hated myself for the water bottle filled backpack. When we reached the Steps I had nothing left to give and other hikers started catching up. I was at the point of exhaustion and just wanted to give up and take a seat wherever I was and watch the sunrise from there!
Of course that was not an option at all!! Aaron was way ahead of me. At one point he even carried both of our backpacks hoping that it would help my pace, unfortunately it didn't -and it didn't slow him down either . I tried to tell him to slow down, or at least stop before I would give up and turn around! Since I had the only light closest to him I would have to give everything I had to try and catch up with him. When I made it up to him (he finally realized I had fallen behind when he couldn't see any lights around at all, so he stopped!) I was met with the attitude of "where did you go? I couldn't see anything!". I just sighed and kept on walking. That tiny bit of 300 steps was wearing me down, and I just wanted to get it over and done with!

Yet another coffee house was in sight, but this time the guy asked if we needed any blankets; We had finally reached the top! Unsure of what to answer we stared out into the darkness and the guy told us to follow him, as he grabbed a mattress and a couple of blankets. He showed us the rest of the way, and even to what he meant was the best place to see the sunrise. It was difficult at that point to tell if he was right or wrong, the mountain top was as black as its surroundings, but what I saw behind the church was a nice rock to sleep against. Taken, and a mattress and a blanket too please. Though we had a sleeping bag, I am sure glad that we still rented those, because it was close to freezing in that altitude!
  I huddled up in a ball, trying to keep warm. The hike up was harder than expected and my sweaty body was now super cold. It was roughly 3:30 am when I fell asleep, as much as it was possible anyways.  I heard a few people arrive while I was snoozing, but it was hard to tell in the dark how many.
I could feel people move around me, and it didn't sound like Aaron. I was still very cold, so didn't really want to come out of my hiding space under the thick blanket, but the foot occasionally hitting my back helped me on the way. The boulder I had been sleeping against was now filled with people. There was not room for anybody in front of me luckily, but several people did walk up to try and sit in my place, but because of my low position they couldn't see me, and had to walk away in disappointment when they saw me.

As soon as the sun peaked out from its hiding place, people started cheering and applauding, and then left!!! I was in shock. I started observing the different people for a short while. Some had obvious just made it to the top, when they out of breathe and flushed looked at the rising sun for a minute, just to turn around and start the descent. I knew how much I had suffered to make it all the way up and some of these people were three times my age! I was going to make it worth all the hard work, and at least enjoy the view for a while. It has taken us roughly two hours to hike up, so down definitely shouldn't take any longer, and since the St. Katherine Monastery didn't open until 9 am, we were in no rush what so ever.

The top of Mt. Sinai was practically empty when we started the hike down. After a few steps we ran into the people we had shared bus with. Their guide seemed to wait for us, so we hurried to follow. He was going to take them down the Steps of Repentance, and we wouldn't mind trying knees disagreed with me for a long time, but it sure was a beautiful descent. After the first few steps, I realized how much I appreciated that it was pitch black when we had walked up. There was some pretty steep mountain sides, and the "steps" weren't all completely safe. Further down I was happy that we never found the Steps the night before, because we would never had made it to the correct mountain top. At first glance the mountains below us was nothing but stones upon stones, but in the daylight you could sense a windy path all the way down in and out of the steep cliff sides.

It took no time at all to walk down, and we soon had the monastery in sight. We had made it all the way down at about 8 am, and already the sun felt burning. We joined the crowd waiting outside the monastery. It was hopeless to find a spot in the shade, and the waiting seemed endless, until they finally decided to open the door to the sacred place. Not everything in the monastery was open to public. We could walk inside the chapel, which is said to hold the remains of St. Katherine, and outside the chapel of the Burning Bush, we could touch a similar bush. The remains of the real Burning Bush that Moses saw is supposedly hidden inside.  It is just a tiny area of the monastery that tourists are allowed in, which is okay considering this is a sacred place, and the monks who still live there probably don't want nosy tourists snooping around all over.
We quickly saw what we were allowed to see, and hurried to flee the crowd. The nights and morning hike was starting to leave its marks and the burning sun didn't make it any better. At 10 am we were napping on our bus heading back to Dahab.

Back in cosy Dahab we walked the main street looking for food and souvenirs. We mostly felt like going to sleep, but knew that it would ruin the remains of our adventurous day. Back at the Oricana Hotel Shenouda called us around 3:30 pm and asked if we were ready for our camel ride, because they were kind of waiting out front.  In our confusion of being tired we apologized for being late, but it turned out that they were early, lucky we were back so soon then.

For about an hour and a half we were alone with two camels and their two herders.  It was a very surreal and awkward situation. They brought us down to Blue Lagoon Beach, where they spread out a blanket for us and prepared tea over a small fire. We didn't quite know what to do with ourselves and couldn't help but laugh at the situation.

We enjoyed our shay in between taking pictures of the camels, the windsurfers and the setting sun, until we decided maybe it was time to return. The two guys didn't exactly tell us anything so we figured it was up to us, and since the grumpy camel Aaron had ridden, was bored out of its mind and started to walk around, it must be time to leave!

When walking through city centre in the early evening, we stumbled upon a group of people holding candles. They  gave us a candle each too, and we could tell by the expression in their faces, that they were sad. Today was a year ago that the terrorist bombing happened in Dahab, and they were here to pay tribute to the innocent people who died that day. Shenouda walked past us at the same time. He told us what happened that day and how it had affected the life in Dahab. There are still marks in the street and by the bridge, where one of the bombs went off. This clearly still had an impact on the people of Dahab, and Egypt in general.

Exhaustion finally overcome us that night and I felt like I could sleep for days.

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