Monday, July 17, 2006

Egypt

One of the best trips I took while I was going to school in Jerusalem was a weekend jaunt to Egypt. I didn't go see the pyramids or the Nile or other typical Egyptian sites. We went to the Sinai peninsula.

There were 12 of us. Ten guys and myself with my roommate. We took the bus from Jerusalem to Eilat (the southernmost point in Israel, a good 8 hours south) crossed over into Egypt (where you weren't supposed to take pictures) and picked up a taxi down to Dahab (another four or five hour drive in sweltering heat in a taxi with no air conditioning, but plenty of arabian music).

Dahab is an amazing, beautiful town right on the Red Sea. We got in early evening and found huts/rooms/mats to sleep. My roommate and I (plus a boy for security) got the 'best' setup. A room plus a bed plus a bathroom plus a fan. All that luxury for five dollars. The bathroom was so big you could go while washing your hands and taking a shower.

That night we walked down the restaurant road together looking for a place we could all agree upon to eat. Everyone was offering something different. "Please come eat here, we will give you free drinks!" "My friend, my friend, eat here, we will give you free dessert!" We ended up choosing the only place where they cooked the food right in front of you plus had free dessert. It was delicious. I felt so exotic and was had such a great night hanging out, chatting and enjoying the whole atmosphere.

The next day, a bunch of us decided to go scuba diving. In America (and most countries) you have to go through a lengthy and expensive training process to be a certified diver. In Dahab, you watch a fifteen minute video, promise to go slow and they hand you a tank.

We dove at the Blue Hole, so named for it's coral reef and how from above its arial view looks like a hole in the deep blue sea. It was so beautiful. Words cannot describe. I had been snorkling before, but this was unbelievable.

After a long, fun busy day exploring, shopping, swimming and diving, we headed back to the town to pack up and get ready for another long trek. We got a couple taxis and headed for Mount Sinai. We wanted to be there to start climbing the mountain about midnight so we could camp out for the night and then wake up on the top.

It was one of the most terrifying and bizarre experiences of my life. Again, like I said, there were ten guys and two of us girls so we felt safe most of the time. We assumed that once we reached the base of the mountain, we would find 12 camels to ride up. We were told to barter for a good price and we'd do just fine. There was no such thing. Bartering, yes. One guy with twelve camels, no.

We arrive at midnight. We arrive in pitch blackness. There is no electricity in the middle of the Sinai desert. There are no lights at the base of the mountain. There are however, many individual men with many individual camels all wanting you to rent their camel. Pulled and prodded from each side. Flashlights in my face.
"You need camel?"
"I have camel for you!"
"You! You need camel?"
I found the nearest hand of a friend and hung on for dear life.

We made sure we were all together and all ok and got our individual camels and guides to lead them and us up the mountain. It was a long, spectacular ride. We saw nuns on foot who make the tortuous climb every Saturday night to sing a Sunday morning mass at the peak. Pilgrims seeking solitude, tourists looking for adventure.

At one point in the trail, we had to dismount our camels and start climbing the stairs carved into the rocks. We had ridden for a couple hours until we were all sore and now had to climb at least another hour up into the dark sky to reach the summit.

Once we finally made it, we rolled out our sleeping bags, tucked our backpacks under our heads for a pillow and slept. On a cliffside. In the black. The sleep of the dead.

And then all too soon, it was morning. And the morning brought the light. And we all sat in awe of the beauty of the earth. Of the realization of where we were. Perhaps this wasn't exactly where Moses stood when the LORD spoke to him. But the reverency was not lost on us. We listened to the worship of the nuns. We journaled. We talked. We prayed.





And we just sat and watched the sun rise over the horizon.










I and a friend chose to ride camels back down the mountain also. We got down much faster than those who took the stairs down the whole way. And our calves thanked us.






I climbed Mount Sinai. And then I descended back to earth.

6 comments:

Jean said...

What an awesome memory to carry with you for the rest of your life. Thanks for sharing. oh...and do camels spit?

anne said...

Not that I ever saw. But they can be very surly. And they are not comfortable to ride on. You have to sit cross-legged on the saddle and the boys still all complained!

kerri anne said...

That is one awesome story, Anne.

And I am hereby extremely jealous (in a very happy for you sort of way)that you have visited a destination on my Top Five Countries I Would Very Much Like To See For Myself Before I Leave This Earth list. :)

Jean said...

I wondered how comfy they were. Probably not a lot of fat on those beasts, so I can see how sitting on something's back bone could get old really fast. Those boys!

Carbon said...

That is an awesome memory! My brother in law visited Egypt and loved it. I could not even begin to imagine being on a camel! But I've never been on a horse either so it's all mysteriously good to me.

defiant goddess said...

Breathtaking. As I was reading this I was thinking about biblical times and then you mentioned Moses. :)

I would have been very afraid in a lightless Sinai desert, camel or no camel. :)

I've thought about doing a Club Med trip to Egypt. Still may one of these days.