The sun was sinking behind the mountains which had taken on a lovely pink tinge. I stood outside savouring the peace and quiet and gazing at my surroundings. The call to prayer started in the distance, echoing around the mountains.
Sunrise over Mt Sinai
The Sinai region was starkly beautiful, no green to be seen but for the few bushes in the grounds of our hostel. I found it mesmerising and calming, and so stayed a while, thinking over the rush of the last couple of weeks. Our Egyptian adventure was nearly at an end.
It was early to bed as we were getting up at 3am to climb Mount Sinai. Our tour leader was not coming but she left us instructions on how to get there. Unfortunately there was disagreement in our group as to which way she had said to turn; we went with the majority who turned out to be wrong.
We only realised our mistake when we entered the nearby town. Luckily we were able to hitch-hike the couple of miles back down the road. Following a barely recognisable track we stumbled along in the pitch black, our torches not making much of a difference. We grumbled along as we wondered if we were on the right track or just wandering off, randomly, into the middle of the desert. Presently we encountered a group of men with camels sitting there in the dark and bartered for a ride.
It wasn’t the most relaxing ride. Our camels seemed to like walking along the edge of the precipice, and it being so dark, we couldn’t see how far the drop was. My sister’s camel charged to the front and blocked the others from overtaking it. Mine nipped at it in frustration. We hoped that they wouldn’t start some sort of camel fight and send us all plunging off the cliff. Plus, the seat was quite uncomfortable.
It was a relief when we reached the steps to the summit and we scrambled up them as the sun was beginning to rise. We hadn’t seen anyone else on the way up but it turned out that everyone was ahead of us as there were quite a few people sat up on the top waiting for dawn. I imagine that many of them were there for religious reasons. The area is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims and people of all three faiths appeared to be there.
St Catherine’s Monastery
After the sunrise we joined everyone else in making the return trip on foot to St Catherine’s Monastery. As we descended we were treated to some stupendous views over the valley. We were also able to confirm that those drops that our camels had been so keen to walk next to were, indeed, very steep.
The monastery is a very special site. Parts of it, including the original wooden door, are still there despite the monastery dating from the 6th Century. The Biblical burning bush which burst into flame in front of Moses is there and doing rather well for itself. Unfortunately the situation in Egypt is such that the FCO advises against all but essential travel to South Sinai region which includes the monastery and the town of Dahab.
Hopping on a public bus later that day we slept our way to the small seaside town of Dahab. The town is geared towards tourism and I do hope that those people, who were amongst the friendliest we encountered in our time in Egypt, are not all out of work and their town all but deserted now. Dahab was my favourite place in Egypt for atmosphere and relaxation.
At the time, there were bustling shops, markets and bars. We found a lovely cafe at the edge of the town with coloured throws, colonial chairs and tables, and resident kittens. They made a mean smoothie. We whiled away some peaceful hours there looking over the Red Sea, and enjoying the last days of our holiday.
I will always remember Dahab for one of my favourite travel experiences. We went to the Blue Hole, a dive site a short drive away. We arrived on a bone-jarring Jeep ride across the sand, the driver speeding up as we giggled and slid around in the back. There wasn’t much there on the surface, a cafe and a plank walkway leading out over the reef. All that changed when we jumped in the water.
The Blue Hole was just that; the coral suddenly fell away into a blue abyss from which rose, intermittently, the bubbles of scuba divers who swam too far below us to be seen. The coral was vividly beautiful and varied, with countless species and all of it seemed very healthy. Huge shoals of angelfish, parrotfish, triggerfish, lionfish, pufferfish and many others swam amongst and above the corals, totally unafraid of the snorkelers swimming with them. I could have spent hours there just floating and watching them. I did spend too long as I gave myself a rather nasty sunburn on my back. But that couldn’t spoil the wonder of the day and I promptly took an introductory scuba dive the next day.
Farewell to Egypt
Our time in Egypt drew to a close and we said our goodbyes to our group. We boarded a public bus back to Cairo which took all day. The bus bumped along and my sunburn rubbed on the seats, and the incomprehensible Egyptian TV blared out so sleep was impossible. Police stopped the bus periodically and checked everyone’s passports. At one point we were told to stand by our bags which the police searched. One chap was promptly hauled off by the police.
Finally, we made it to the airport and reflected on our trip. It was certainly an adventure. Not always comfortable or fun but full of wonder and surprises. I hope to return one day to a stable country which once again enjoys buoyant tourism.