Well, I know it's been like a month and a half since my last update, but this time I have been very busy traveling.  I have been on three different trips since my last update, so get ready for lots of pictures!

My first trip was back to the Sinai in the middle of June.  The bad news is that it's really hot there in the summer.  The good news is that I finally got to climb Mt. Sinai!  (Its real name is Gebel Musa, by the way--since the location of the actual Mt. Sinai is still debated.)  Climbing this mountain is a very interesting process. 
Most people start their climbs around 1 or 2 a.m. to avoid the heat of the day.  So we arrived at the base of the mountain around 2 a.m.  You have to walk quite a ways from the parking lot to even get to St. Katherine's Monastery, and then a little ways past that to reach the beginning of the trail up the mountain.  When you get to the place where the trail begins, you have two choices.  You can either walk up the whole way, or ride a camel up 3/4 of the way and walk the rest.   (Hmmmm.....tough choice...)  So we paid for our camels and guides and started up the trail.  The trail soon forked into a camel trail and a walking trail.  (They meet up at one point farther up the mountain.)  It was very dark there at 2 a.m., since there are no electric lights along the trail to illumine your path.  The moon wasn't very big that night, but the stars were incredibly bright.  I have never seen so many, and they were all so close you felt like you could reach up and touch them!  But even with the stars, it was still pretty dark.  The walkers all had their flashlights, but our Bedouin camel guides didn't need any lights.  These guides are incredible.  They walk the whole way up, without any light, and they direct the camels with only 3 or 4 different sounds.  They didn't even use ropes except on those camels who were fairly "new" at this trail.  My camel had only been doing the trail for two years, so she had a rope.  My friend's camel had been doing it for 15 years and didn't need a rope.  Our guide, who controlled both camels, was 21 and had been doing the trail for 5 years.  He stayed nearer to my camel, guiding it with the rope and his voice.  The other camel was in front of mine and only needed to be guided by his voice.

I must say, this was a bit of a test of trust.  I had to trust that the guide knew the way well enough in the dark and that he would be able to properly guide the camel!  There are no guard rails or warning signs on this mountain (although there were plenty of concession stands on the way up...).  You can't really see the trail that well, but my camel had a tendency to keep heading toward the edge.  I could look over and see that it was a long way down!  But my guide had control of her, and thankfully she never stumbled or went over the edge. 

After about 2 or 2.5 hours, we reached the point where the camels had to stop and we had to walk the rest of the way.  So now we too had to get out our flashlights and join the rest of the walkers.  When you get off the camel, all that's left is a series of what could loosely be called "steps."  (Also, on the walking trail before that point, there is a place with 3500 steps laid by an early monk as penitence.)  We reached the top between 5:30 and 6, and saw the small chapel up there.  It's been there since the 300s AD.  It was locked so we couldn't go inside, but it was neat to see it and think about all those who must have also seen it through the years.  We then found a nice spot to sit and watch the sunrise.  It was beautiful...we all took lots of pics. 

After the sunrise, everyone started to head down.  We again passed by the 3500 steps and opted to take the winding trail down instead.  It was longer, but less steps and thus less harsh on the knees.  We got to the bottom a little after 8 a.m.  All in all, it was a good experience, but I don't think it's something that I would like to do all that often.  And I have to say, if this is the real Mt. Sinai, I have a new level of appreciation for poor old Moses who had to climb it 5 or 6 times while they were camped there--with no steps, no camels, and no Bedouin guide...and probably not any concession stands either.  ;-)

Mt. Sinai  Click on the picture if you're ready to climb Mt. Sinai!

When we returned to Cairo, we stopped in the Khan-el-Khalili bazaar.  It was one of the "tourist" things that I have been wanting to do in Cairo, so I was glad for the opportunity.  There was a bombing in the Khan in April, so most embassies were advising their citizens not to go there.  The people with whom I had traveled to the Sinai had to do some business with a few of the shops in the Khan, so I was free to wander around.  The Khan is a wonderful maze of narrow walkways and alleys with all kinds of shops.  Many of them sell the same types of things, and I discovered that the farther in you go (the farther away from the streets bordering it), the cheaper you can get stuff.

We came to one shop where my friends needed to do some business, and they ended up staying in that shop for 2 or 3 hours.  So I wandered for a while, then I came back to the shop and talked with the girl who worked there.  She and I went outside and talked with the two guys who worked at the shop across the walkway.  They had a little booth with a bunch of touristy souvenirs.  They worked that booth and a little jewelry shop next to it.  There were two stools on either side of the booth for the guys.  When one of them got up to help a customer in the jewelry shop, the girl told me I could sit there.  So I sat there and talked to the remaining guy.  I was asking him the prices on all his stuff and giving him my opinion as to whether they were too high or too low.  He loved hearing my perspective on his prices and what the foreign tourists would be willing to pay.  Everything in the Khan is priced higher than it's worth as a matter of course, so that there is room for bargaining.  Anyway, I told the guy I'd try to help him sell the stuff.

In the Khan, the shopkeepers always yell out stuff to the shoppers walking by.  They know a few English words and phrases, such as, "Hello!  Hello!" and "How can I take your money?" and "I don't know what you want, but I have what you need!"  So I told these guys that I would yell out to the foreigners who came by.  When we spotted some, I yelled, "Hello!  Hello! You can't leave Egypt without an 'I heart Egypt' glitter cup!"  When the foreigners heard this different phrase coming from a native English speaker, they were floored!  They all did a double-take because they didn't know what to make of it.  Several of them stopped to talk to me, and they all got a kick out of my being there and trying to help sell.  The worker guys loved it, because now their shop had something different...a novelty!  They told me that if I sold anything they would give me a 20% commission!  Unfortunately I didn't sell anything because there weren't many foreigners coming by right then, but I tried.  Oh, and when the tea man* came around, he offered me some tea too!  I said, "How much is it?" and he said, "What are you talking about?  It's free for you because you work here now!"  So I got me some chilled hibiscus tea...yum!  Anyway, we eventually left, but all the workers told me I was welcome to come "work" for them again anytime I wanted, with 20% commission, of course!

Khan                Al-Azhar
One of the streeets in the Khan-el-Khalili                          The Al-Azhar mosque right next to the Khan

Hmmmm....that's probably enough for one update.  It was a bit ambitious of me to think I could do all three trips in one update.  I'll try to get another one out this week with the other two trips--or at least the second one!

The tea man is a person whose sole function is to bring tea to workers since they can't leave their shops.  Most businesses here don't really have "shifts"--you're just there all day. 

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