Guest post by Carolyn Roberts
About the Author: Carolyn is a worldwide traveler and creative soul currently residing in quaint seaside town in Australia. She is inspired by the many places she has been and remains committed to exploring all this beautiful world has to offer. Follow her @_carriescorner_
I am in the rugged interior of the Peninsula, bearing the same name, the Egyptian desert surrounds me, a majestic, spiritual, biblical, well-documented place on planet Earth.
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At its base is St Catherine’s Monastery – an outpost where you walk past the apparent same bush (the Burning bush), as documented in the Christian bible, before entering its gates.
We arrived at this place the previous evening, after the sun had already set behind the beckoning mountain ranges. Our tour group is small, Peregrine, an adventure tour, budget. Upon dismount from our bus, the valley floor is already very cold but our welcoming abode (Green Lodge) is quite cosy upon first glance – mud floors, stone walls, a thatched roof. As advised, we slept with full winter gear on beside an open fire in the courtyard, desert stars shining down through the opening directly above. We felt akin with the Bedouins serving us the traditional meal.
An early start of 3am is what we are quite used to, being an adventure tour (most days start before sunrise).
The desert in January delivers a new meaning to the word “cold”!! I carried a woollen blanket around my shoulders as a makeshift, albeit rather large scarf. Layers are the key, long johns, stockings, 2 pair of socks, beanie or cap on your head, a proper Kathmandu style outer jacket is essential for winter desert hikes, waterproof, like your boots, Colorado is recommended.
On this morning, the moon is shining bright, so full that the track is perfectly clear, well-lit, and every sound/smell fills your nostrils, such as a camel or donkey approaching which means “move aside”.
Along the journey are locals selling hot coffee – sweet, thick & remarkable strong, desert coffee, true Arabic-style, it tastes sensational. The vendors are friendly and encouraging with missing teeth in their smile (too much coffee perhaps?). It is a long way to go each day to earn an income to support their families, seems meagre, yet they seem so happy, hospitality we would call it.
The summit of Mt Sinai reaches 2285 metres and means, in Arabic, Mountain of Moses. It is a gradual, winding ascent which I would assume requires a medium level of fitness. There is always the option to ride a donkey or camel as many do to make it achievable.
We walked, below the moon, and the promise of the sunrise leading us to the top.
Incredibly, to my surprise, I encounter a blanket of snow and the temperature plummets! Those layers of clothing are quickly reapplied.
The pace quickens, legs feel heavy, my teeth begin to chatter loudly. (I don’t cope well with “freezing”!). As a diversion, we suddenly encounter many other trekkers ahead of us and I am left wondering “where did they all come from?”. From all over the world of course, to this remote wilderness, on a pilgrimage, to witness a place of biblical propertions, from which to see the beginning of a brand new day.
At this stage I am eternally grateful for the blanket I chose to carry.
As we reach the top there are some huts in which to escape the elements – mosque, temple, stone buildings, so I yearn to be inside, whilst not wishing to lose my spot to witness the reason for my journey. It is essential that you position yourself for the photographic opportunity and jostle the now unexpected crowd of people.
As the sun begins to rise a small choir of voices begin to sing, and they sound amazing.
“How Great Thou Art” is the song yet the language is not English. This simply adds to the grandeur of this experience as more voices join in a rendition which by now is an overload of many versions. Although the accent and words are German, there was something very “African” about this moment. It was so spiritual and by now my soul is surely warmed. I gladly sang along…..
The contours of those mountains, extending for miles, changing colour like Ayers Rock. The moment lengthens and then, many photos later we start our descent over the ridge and down the other side. This track seems steeper, we seem alone from all those other tourist buses. St Catherine`s Monastery immediately visible, our next stop. Within those confines we meet a man with an obvious Australia accent, from Sydney, a monk.
Egypt certainly is a diverse destination leaving others quite pale in its wake. A bag of souvenirs and 23 rolls of film were later stolen from our hire car making me wish I had sent the undeveloped rolls home.
Thankfully when you travel in a small group of like-minded individuals (my favourite way to travel, strangers at first, life-long friends in 2 weeks) many others send you their pictures, some with you in them! It always helps when you have on tour those carrying fancy cameras!
There would be many more desert adventures hereafter of Egypt, Jordan & Israel…..many more deserts to be sure! Bus breakdowns, Wadi Rum, Petra, temples, ruins, pyramids, desert by the sea, history & culture melting pot.
I would surely rate Mount Sinai and this days` hike as one of my all time favourite days whilst on tour.
I have recommended it and talked about it to many people who have gone on to oblige (even though I had no photographic evidence!).
I can never guarantee the snow or choir to enhance your own experience, but how you choose to travel is up to you.
I have never stayed 5 star simply because I love camping and roughing it and mixing with local culture. I consider bus break downs part of the experience and travelling with money will never guarantee your luggage arriving.
The time of year and position of the moon does matter on trips such as this, factors worth noting particularly if you are planning your own, almost impossible in Egypt. When trekking in the dark, perhaps we were lucky, but tour guides and companies do consider all this.
Safe travels, go see those places you have always dreamed about…..