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,
"Um...do 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
and a favorite
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.
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
(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
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 town...you 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!
Click the arrow for previous updates.