Well, after a recent trip to the Sinai, let me just say I have a whole new appreciation for the Exodus and why the people grumbled and wanted to go back to Egypt.  I don't know about you, but I always pictured the "desert" and the "wilderness" as being relatively flat.  Boy was I wrong!  There is nothing but mountain after mountain after mountain as far as the eye can see!  There is some flat land along the coast, but the mountains start pretty quickly, especially in the south.  There are some clearings here and there that might have been big enough for a group that size to camp, but mostly it's just mountains.  So imagine going through the Red Sea crossing, watching the water close in over the enemy and thinking, "We sure showed them!" Then you turn around and there in front of you are these big huge mountains! I would have said, " we really have to go through THERE?"  And when you're walking around in there, it's not easy.  The ground is a mixture of dirt and sand and stones that makes it hard to walk.

That said, it was incredibly beautiful.  The mountains have a reddish hue to them and look like they would be fun to explore.  In fact, we saw many hiker/backpacker-types who were there to do just that.

We left Alex on April 9 and drove down to Cairo, and then over to the Gulf of Suez.  We drove through a tunnel under the Suez Canal, and then we were in the Sinai, and thus, Asia!  We drove south on the west coast of the peninsula along the Gulf of Suez, then around the tip (where the resort city of Sharm-el-Sheikh is) and then north on the east coast along the Gulf of Aqaba.  We reached the town of Dahab some 13 hours after we left.  Dahab is a laid-back beach town, popular with divers.  There are a few nice resorts there, and more are coming, but the main "strip" along the boardwalk is basically stores, restaurants and smaller hotels.  I also found a favorite hotel and a favorite supermarket.  =)

We met some friends for dinner and then went to our hotel to sleep.  We stayed at the Bedouin Lodge, which was a nice place.  There was no air-conditioning, but they did give us a fan.  The shower head was on the wall in the bathroom, just like the hotel I stayed at when I went to Bahariyya in the Western Desert.  We had breakfast in the dining area, which consisted of several low tables surrounded by cushioned couches on the floor.  The boardwalk passed right in front of us, with the beach just across it. From the dining area, we could see the water of the Red Sea/Gulf of Aqaba, and across it, the mountainsof Saudi Arabia!  (I think Saudi is only about 14 kilometers across the Gulf from Dahab.) 

After breakfast, we left Dahab and drove west along the mountain road to get to St. Katherine, which is the town where Mt. Sinai is.  Our hotel (bottom right building in pic) there was not as nice as the one in Dahab, but big, great-tasting meals were included, the staff was very friendly, and the view was incredible.  We had an outdoor dining area and community bathrooms that were in a separate building from our room.  The mosquitoes were starting to come out, and there were usually about 5-10 in the bathroom/shower rooms.  I wasn't too happy about this, but I survived. Especially when my friend said that the last time she stayed there, it was in the summer and there were about 25 mosquitoes in there.  I got bitten up alright, but I guess it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

We were not able to climb Mt. Sinai, because the first night I was sick, and then the second night my friend was sick!  I hope to have another opportunity to do this before I leave Egypt.  However, we did get to see St. Katherine's Monastery, where the "Burning Bush" is housed.  I don't really believe that it's the REAL burning bush, but it's still cool.  And the monastery in itself is worth a visit, just because it's so old.  I think it has been there since the 300s AD.  There are many fine examples of early Christian art there. 

As you're walking up to the monastery, you pass a row of camels just sitting there waiting to take people up the mountain.  It was kind of funny just to see them all sitting there like taxis.  =)  You can either hike the mountain all the way, or take a camel halfway up.  Taking the camel cuts the time down to 3 or 4 hours for the way up.  Then you walk all the way back down, which I think takes about 2 hours.  Most people start at about 2 in the morning, so they can see the sunrise on the mountain and then make it back down before it gets too hot.

The town of St. Katherine is interesting.  The EU came in a few years ago to help the development of the town and its people.  I think they tried this with a number of towns, and this is one where it actually seems to have worked.  The city center is planned out and landscaped very nicely.  There are several Bedouin villages around the town as well.  We visited a friend in one of them.  She is a Bedouin lady who has a business (the seed money for which came from the EU) wherein she makes beaded purses.  She and the girls she employs sew the bags there, and then she takes the bags around to the villages to get the Bedouin ladies there to put the beadwork on them.  That way those women that are not able to leave their houses are able to make a little money as well.  The bags are beautiful--in fact I bought a little purse for myself!  (It only cost $14.50!)  So anyway, we dropped in and visited her and the girls there. They not only served us the requisite tea, but lunch with freshly grilled chicken as well! (Followed by more tea, of course.)

After a few days in St. Katherine, we went back to Dahab.  There we saw our friends again.  They live in a small house in the Bedouin village on the beach just north of the tourist area.  We met some of the villagers...they were all very friendly.  By now I think you can guess what they all served us to drink.  =)  One of them also made us some bread (don't worry-the goat pellets in the pic never actually touched the dough), and we got to watch her throughout the whole process.  It was interesting to watch.  The next day she made us mahshi, which is a mixture of rice and vegetables and spices wrapped in cabbage leaves and then boiled.  It was very good--and I even helped!

There were goats and camels everywhere in this village.  My friends can look out their back windows and see camels!  I had my picture taken with one.  I also got a pic of him while he was eating, and later I got him to smile for me!  I still haven't gotten to ride a camel yet, though.  =(  The goats are funny too. They just wander around everywhere chatting up a storm.  While we were watching the girl make bread that one night, one goat climbed up on the roof of their house!  I walked over to look, and saw that another one had climbed up on their car!  Too funny.  Also, one day when we were walking along the paved road before we reached the village, some goats just walked across the street in front of us!  There were three of them and they walked in single file.  (Later on the trip, when we were on the highway, some camels ran across the road in front of us!  They had no riders and had "escaped" from their master, who was with the rest of the herd on the other side of the road.  At first he was yelling for them to come back, but when he saw that they had made it across safely, he just started laughing.)

Also, one day we drove down to Sharm-el-Sheikh with our friends who live in Dahab.  We thought it might be a nice break for them.  We all decided to be like "tourists" for the day and wear short sleeves or tank tops!  We felt so strange after wearing long sleeves all the time.  But we were probably wearing more than the rest of the foreigners in that town!  Sharm is a beach resort town, with many tourists from all over the world.  We were overcome with all the skin.  Some women even went topless on the beach! (No, I didn't get any pictures--sorry!)  Sharm is a very clean, modern, cosmopolitan resort can almost forget you're in Egypt!  There are many nice malls, so many that they aren't even named--they're just known by their numbers!  I think the highest one I saw was 17.  In one of the malls, there was a "bazaar" of sorts down in the atrium area.  Looking down at it from one of the upper floors, I saw this guy napping in the carpet section--not a bad idea!  After walking along the beach, having some ice cream, and doing some shopping, we ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe there...what a treat!

Well, after that nice break, we returned to reality and went back to Dahab. We went back to the village and had a nice dinner with some of the local women there.  After dinner, we sat around and talked (over our tea, of course).  Guess what they started talking about?  Shoes!  They were showing us the new shoes they had just bought, modeling them for us, asking us if we thought they were pretty, and bragging about the deal they had gotten on them.  It struck me as so funny, because for all the differences in these women's lives, this same conversation could just as easily have been taking place in Atlanta, Georgia!

The next day (April 16) we made it home without event.  But I hope to return to Dahab and stay for a week or two this summer.  I really enjoyed meeting the local villagers there, and I know they will remember me (since they remember everyone new, especially foreigners!). 

P.S.--Zoo update still to come!  The pics are have now actually been dropped off to be developed--a significant step!

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