Saturday, August 30, 2008

Egypt:The Blog -- Day Thirteen

Yesterday never really ended … at about 1:00 this morning, we arrived at Mt. Sinai and almost immediately climbed on our camels (yes, we’re wusses but we were more interested in making it to the top on time than in winning any fitness contest) to begin the climb to the top. We reached the end of the camel road at roughly 4:00 a.m., giving us an hour to make the final climb to the top before sunrise.

Of course, we were not alone, not by any stretch of the imagination – there were hundreds making the walk with us in the dark, carrying flashlights and breakfasts. It was really quite a sight to see the long row of swinging flashlights behind us and in front of us, forming a luminescent caterpillar up the mountain. As at Karak and Petra, we were not alone. Small stands dotted the trail, offering everything from tea to cokes to snickers bars, not to mention camels for those who realized mid-climb that it was quite a hike and blankets to keep warm at the top of the mountain. Our guide was terrific, helping us up the steep steps, making sure we got good camels, keeping the touts away, and making sure we had a good climb. (Immediately, the difference between the tour company in Jordan and the one in Egypt was apparent. The Jordanian agent was very nice but definitely had cut some corners; the Egyptian agency made sure we had a good guide and paid him and the camel owners enough to make sure we were properly taken care of).

As soon as we arrived at the top we staked out our position and … Ellery fell asleep! Got to hand it to that kid, she’s adaptable. As the sky slowly brightened, a group in front of the old church started singing hymns while another group of Germans seemed intent on laughing at their piety, but for the most part,
everyone sat still and watched as the mountains around and below us revealed themselves. Because of the haze, you don’t really see the sun rise as much as the slow dawning of the day, but it was a magical experience. Ellery and I quietly sang the Sh’ma, in part in response to the hymns, in part because it just seemed right.

After a while, pictures were taken and we made the 2 hour trek down the mountain for a quick trip to St. Katherine’s Monastery at the base of Mt. Sinai.

Then it was back to the car and the long drive across the desert, under the Suez Canal to Cairo, where we quickly settled into our hotel overlooking the Nile.