Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Climbing Mount Sinai

Before I came to Egypt, I did some research as to the local trips available while in Sharm el Sheikh. I chose the excursion to Mount Sinai, to be followed by a day trip to Jerusalem.
The bus picked me at 9:45 PM, then it went on to collect the other pilgrims: a Polish man, several Russian youngsters, two Coptic Egyptian couples (Egypt being home to a large number of indigenous Christians), and an American couple. The young American lady, married to a Microsoft accountant, has Romanian roots (her maternal grandparents being from Marghita and Alibunar, in the Serbian Banat) and understands Romanian – despite being born in the USA. After more than three hours of driving and security stops (we even had our passports checked twice at road blocks, and we stopped for five minutes at … Café Buddha), we arrived at the foot of the mountain. That Bedouin café, in the middle of the desert, has a very odd name for its location – Mount Sinai is sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, yet I do not know about it being sacred to Buddhism.

Should this very mountain (and not another one) be sacred at all? Many scholars, cited by Wikipedia, do not think so: “According to Bedouin tradition, this is the mountain where God gave laws to the Israelites. However, the earliest Christian traditions place this event at the nearby Mount Serbal, and a monastery was founded at its base in the 4th century; it was only in the 6th century that the monastery moved to the foot of Mount Catherine, following the guidance of Josephus's earlier claim that Sinai was the highest mountain in the area. Jebel Musa, which is adjacent to Mount Catherine, was only equated with Sinai, by Christians, after the 15th century. Also, for Muslims, there is a chapter named after this mountain in the Quran, entitled, Surah-Tin; surah/chapter 95 in which God promises by the fig, the olive, by the Mount Sinai and the city of Makkah”.
When we arrived, it was quite late, due to the roadblocks, so we had to climb in haste. The foot of the mountain lies at 1200 meters above sea level, and the summit at 2285 meters – higher than the highest peak in Romania – that is, one kilometer straight up. When we got down from the bus, we felt the temperature difference between Sharm el Sheikh and the desert – it will get even colder on the peak – so we put some warm clothes on, and I swapped my sandals for closed hoes – a wise idea. The guide gave us flashlights, named our group “Zizu”, and off we went into the night.
As somebody working in the space research field, I have to confess – I have NEVER seen such a wonderful night sky. We were literally in the middle of the desert, with no light pollution around – so the sky we saw cannot be described – it has to be experienced first hand.
On the road up, there were plenty of Bedouins offering us to take us up on camel – for 10 euros. At first, I was brave and I passed; then, I decided it may be a good idea, as I never rode a camel. While in Giza a week ago, I did not think that riding a camel for a 10-minutes photo-op was a good idea, at 12 euros. Now, I would use a camel for actual transportation, for a longer time and at a lower price. Climbing the mountain on camel back, looking up to the star-pointed sky and listening to the silence proved to be an amazing experience.

At 4:30 am, we arrived at a place where one would have to go up on foot, as the road was too steep and narrow for camels. So I paid the Bedouin the 10 euros (one hundredth of the price of an actual camel) and off I went on foot for the reminder of the distance. I arrived at the summit half an hour later. The sun was preparing to rise.

The sun rose at 5:30, and, as promised, it proved to be the most beautiful sunrise I ever saw.

The summit of the mountain has a Greek Orthodox chapel (which was constructed in 1934 on the ruins of a 16th century church) and a mosque neither of which are open to the public. The chapel supposedly encloses the rock from which God made the Tablets of the Law. At the summit also is "Moses' cave" where Moses is supposed to have waited to receive the Ten Commandments.

The summit was swarming with pilgrims – including Romanians from other groups, Russians, Poles and many others. A Pole priest administered the Holy Communion to his flock.

Speaking of Romanians, many have arrived here before. I knew this in an unfortunate way – they left their mark.

At 6 we headed down, and for a moment I though I was in Machu Pichu, as I bumped into two Inca girls.

On the road back, I felt once again on planet Mars – though there are no camels there (yet).

We finally arrived at the foot of the mountain at 7:50 AM – the hike down lasted for almost two hours.


the dude said...

Please..PLEASE do not quote the ´´wikipedia´´...there is a better choice...the holly is called THE BIBLE!!!