16.11.2011 - 16.11.2011 13 °C
Another super early start as we were driving from Cairo over to the East to Mt Sinai! We left the hotel at 4am with a plan to get to St Katherine’s Monastery (at the base of Mt Sinai) by mid morning. The drive out to Sinai was very uneventful until we got passed the Suez Canal. (There is a tunnel under the canal that we drove through). This part of Egypt is very heavily armed by both Egyptian forces as well as the UN. This is probably the most important shipping lane in the world and there is always a risk of terrorism in the canal so we constantly had to pass armed check points (heavily armed cars as well as full fledged tanks!!)
The landscape in this part of Egypt is just breathtaking.. yellowy grey rocky soil, occasional grey/ green shrubs, large granite and sandstone mountains… Really, really beautiful.. I think I said it the other day, but I absolutely love the Arabian Deserts! We finally arrived in the town of St Katherine about 11am. St Katherine is one of the earliest Christian communities in the world and is dominated by a Greek Orthodox Monastery that has been in use since the early 3rd century! The monastery is built at the base of Mt Sinai and more importantly is the place where Moses spoke to God via the Burning Bush! In fact, we saw the descendent of the Burning Bush… amusingly, at the base of the bush is a fire extinguisher!!!! (I think the monks are concerned that either the bush is going to self-combust again or that one of the crazed tourists is going to set fire to the bush just to see whether they too can talk to God!). I was disappointed to hear that the monks don’t allow people to steal a cutting from the bush. However, the legend of the bush says that it won’t grow anywhere but in this monastery??? (It’s a bit hard to test if you can’t have a cutting but…..) There is also one of Moses’ wells as well as a Greek Orthodox Church on the site of the Monastery, and believe it or not, the monastery is still in working use! Pilgrims from all over the world (from many faiths) visit the Monastery for instruction as well as for pilgrimage!
We went back into the town of St Katherine and went to our hotel for some lunch and a rest, as this afternoon we are going to climb the 3000 steps of Redemption to the top of Mt Sinai to see God! The 3000 steps is the route that supposedly Moses took to the summit of Mt Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God for the Jews. The hike up the hill definitely goes down for me as the toughest hike I’ve ever done! The 3000 steps are almost straight up the mountain from the Monastery at the base to the summit (2.5km above sea level). The hike took us just over two hours to complete and I’ve got to say that it is not for the faint hearted (or in fact anyone with less than an average level of fitness)… Holy smokes, I discovered that I am not fit!!!!! Here I was thinking that I can now walk all day without feeling anything and then I tackled the hill!!
The steps are not as they are described… there are no steps! It is actually a track that is boulder strewn that you need to climb in order to reach the summit! There are three ways you can reach the summit of Mt Sinai… 1 Ride a camel up three quarters of the track (easiest method), 2 Walk up the track that the camels use to get to the summit (moderately hard), 3 Climb the stairs (ridiculously hard)… Most of us on the tour made a pact that we would attempt the stairs… All of us took the mountain at our own pace and I’m happy to say that we all made the summit (although I’ve got to say that my legs were shaking something chronic by the time I made the top!!)
The last part of the trek (750 or so steps) was the toughest part of the walk and I actually thought that we wouldn’t make the summit in time to see the sun set.. The last bit is a case of climb 5 steps, have a breather, climb another 5, have another breather… Holy dooley it is hard work! I can tell you that I reckon I nearly had a religious experience just for the fact that I was so exhausted.. and COLD… Again, at the summit it must have been not much above zero… COLD and TIRED not a great combination!!
Although I was exhausted and cold I have to say that I’m super glad I climbed the mountain and I was pretty excited at the pickies I managed to snap up on the top with the sun setting! You really do feel like you’re on top of the world when you are on Sinai (even though there are plenty of mountains in the world higher).. There is a tiny monastery built on the summit of the mountain and the sun setting on the church.. breathtaking..
We returned down the mountain with the sun completely set, so the descent was interesting to say the least… One of the guys on the tour took pity on me and lent me his torch (thx Tom) which I was forever grateful for because I’m not sure I would have made it down the hill without the torch! Half way down the hill I fell behind the main group and discovered I was walking totally by myself… The stars in the sky on Sinai were so bright… there was even a constellation above one of the mountains that almost looked like a cross (was this my sign from God???) After walking by myself for at least 15mins I started to feel quite apprehensive… the path isn’t really that easy to see by the light of a small torch and each rock looks the same as the last rock so…. I finally ran into four torches (what I thought was my group) only to discover it was a group of English tourists who were just as equally lost as myself!! Talk about the blind leading the blind!!! Anyway it was nice to have some company again so I tagged along with the guys from Manchester for a while before I finally discovered my group waiting quietly at a cross roads for me!! Thank goodness someone waited for me!!
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful because I stayed with Tom (my torch saviour) and Koreena and walked the rest of the way with company!!! Much nicer to have company than to continually think that you had missed the turn off!!
We all gratefully sank onto the bus at the bottom of the hill and we were quickly transferred back to our hotel. Dinner was a small but tasty affair but you know we are tired when we all declined desert in favour of a very early night into bed!!