Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Snapshots of Egypt - Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai

Following Alexandria, I flew to Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where I landed at nine in the evening. There I was picked up by a tour company and transported to Mount Sinai, the mountain in which Moses received the ten commandments, through the town of Dahab.

After a two hour car ride, I arrived at Saint Catherine's Monastery, the gateway to Mount Sinai. I began my hike with a local Bedouin guide, Musa. The Bedouin people have inhabited the region since at least the fourteenth century, and serve as mountain guides for the region, similar to the Sherpas of the Himalayan Mountains.

I began my hike just after midnight, with a bright moon and thousands of stars guiding my way. The trek was seven kilometers of switchbacks up the mountain path, followed by 750 steps that I lovingly call the "Stairs of Death." The hike was challenging but not overly demanding (and I hiked the mountain with a chest infection). And while the trek typically takes the average hiker about two and a half hours, I completed the hike to the submit camp (right before the last sixty stairs to the summit) in one hour and forty-five minutes, which impressed Musa, my Bedouin guide.

Camels used by the Bedouin tribes

The hike itself was quite eerie. I climbed entirely by moonlight and the mountain was so quiet that my ears were buzzing with silence. And I have to say, the shadow of a man riding a camel at night up the mountain could easily be mistaken as God, especially on little sleep and decreasing oxygen levels.

Cats at the Summit Camp
Once I reached the summit camp, I slept and played with the cats for three hours while we waited for dawn to approach. Egypt doesn't have day-light savings, so the sun began to rise around 5 am. At 4:45 am I began to climb the last sixty steps up to the summit of the mountain, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments. From the summit, which has an Orthodox church and a Mosque, I was able to watch the sun rise over the Sinai, while eating a breakfast of dates.

Climbing Mount Sinai and watching the sunrise is one of the most incredible things I have done in my entire life. Not only was it a sort of religious pilgrimage, but it also served as a spiritual pilgrimage as well. Sitting on top of the mountain alone watching the sunrise, reminded me just how small I am, and just how big the world is. But it also served to remind me of the importance of a single person, the immortal legacy of Moses only emphasizes the potential for each and every one of us. 

Sinai Mountain Range

Climbing down the mountain, Musa took me through the Steps of Repentance (different from the "Steps of Death"), which is an alternate route that is made up of 3,750 steps. This path took me past the Basin of Prophet Elijah and puppies!

We ended our hike at Saint Catherine's Monastery, which is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, my patron saint. Saint Catherine's Monastery is projected under all of the Abrahamic religions, and as a result, is a bastion for Byzantine icons and other artistic productions. I really wanted to tour the monastery and get a saint's medallion, however the monastery was closed in preparation for the Holy Week. 

Monastery of Saint Catherine
 But that just means that I will have to return to Egypt in the future!

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