Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Moon, My Mountain

As part of my extended break from work, I went with a ragtag bunch of awesome individuals to the Sinai peninsula from Friday to Monday. Below is a map of our trip:

The trip: Cairo to Mount Sinai to Nuweiba to Cairo. A big loop. Sorry you were out of the circle, Sharm.

I'm not sure when climbing Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments, in the middle of the night to see the sunrise became hugely popular but it is now a top tourist attraction. We decided to do it and left Cairo at 8 PM on Friday night, heading straight for St. Catherine's Monastery which is at the base of Mount Sinai. To get there, we rented a microbus and a driver for 650 LE. Throughout our trip there, we had to stop at checkpoints where Egyptians police, trying to be all intimidating with their big guns, would ask the driver things like, "Where are you going?" and "Who's in the car?" Our driver would say, "All I got are 6 Americans, that's it, just let me go." And after they would look into our car and at our passports, we would be on our way until the next checkpoint.

We made it to St. Catherine's Monastery (Greek Orthodox) at 2 AM and entrusted a store-owner to hold onto our bags while we climbed the mountain. There are two ways to go up the mountain. One is called the Camel Path. It's a more gentle incline, circling up the mountain and is wider. All along the way are little rest areas run by Bedouins selling tea and candy bars. There are also many camels sitting in the path waiting to take you up if you pay a Bedouin. The other path is not so nice but is more direct. It is called the Steps of Repentance. It consists 3,750 steps going up the side of the mountain. You'll get there quicker. If you can get there.

The one flashlight we had ran out of batteries on our way to the mountain and we were left lightless. In the car, we had decided to take the Steps but without a light, we could not find them. Somehow we made it onto the Camel Path. Imagine six of us stumbling around in the dark at 3 AM in the morning trying to climb up a mountain. For a while, we only said things like "Rock!" or "Step!" or "CAMEL" or "CAMEL POOP" to alert each other. At times we walked with other groups who did have flashlights and that helped a lot. Midway through, we decided to buy a flashlight off a Bedouin for 20 LE which was a light saver. The trek up took about three hours and I alternated from being freezing to hot and sweaty to freezing because my sweat had dried and the wind had picked up. To reach the summit of the mountian, you have to go up the last 750 steps as the Camel Path ends. My only consolation was that some other wannabes recently climbed a much larger mountain, and if they could do that, I could totally do this.

We made it just before sunrise and got a good seat on one of the cliffs to witness some beauty. Below is some beauty.

Come on, sun, you can do it.

People getting ready for the show.

BAM! Here comes the sun.



Not so pretty. Eric and Brendan were cold. Bedouins rented out blankets at the top.

Back to pretty.

On our way down, we took lots and lots of pictures (I will spare you). We also took the Steps of Repentance. I quickly realized that steps was a very loose term. It was more like slightly flattened rocks sometimes. At certain points, the only way getting down meant going on your hands and knees and gently lowering yourself. In other words, thank God we missed the entrance to the Steps. We probably would have died in the dark.

When we finally made it to the bottom, we got some warm drinks from the monastery and waited for the church to open. We took a quick tour (it was beautiful and filled with icons but no pictures allowed) and then saw a descendant of the Burning Bush. I'm sure what that means but I took its blessings as did other travellers.

The burning bush seen by Moses, (finish the rest)

A view of St. Catherine's as we descended Mt. Sinai.

After we toured the monastery and I looked at the exorbitantly priced gift shop (I only realized everything was in Euros when I was about to pay for the book I wanted. I didn't get the book.), we headed towards the Nuweiba (see the map above) for some much needed beach time. We were all very very sleeply from our all nighter and passed out until our next destination.


  1. absolutely awesome! I dunno why, but one of my favorite posts.

  2. to finish...
    the prophet in the wilderness
    the fire inside it was aflame
    but never consumed or injured it

    (don't you love how it rhymes :)