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Africa, Destinations, Middle East

Moses’ Mountain and My Journey to Jordan

February 21, 2009 • By

Stuffing my face with hummus and bread as a source of carbohydrates did not prove to be the smartest choice for my climb up Mt. Sinai or Moses’ Mountain as the locals call it.  About five minutes into my climb, I was belching up garlic and wishing for once in my life I would not have over indulged.  My team of climbers included a mother and son from Sweden, an Englishman, a Frenchman and me.  We were guided by a local Beduin man who later wished he had never met me.

After making our way to St. Katherine’s Monastery, we started our climb at 3 AM.  Our guide a 24 year-old smoking fiend had us running up a pretty steady incline.  Now that I hiked with Jeri and Troy and conquered  Mt. Kili,  I consider myself an expert climber and informed him as such.  He didn’t seem to appreciate me telling him he was jeopardizing my health.  I gave him my “I know everything speech”  that went something like the following:  “It is not safe to run up any mountain and it’s especially not smart when altitude is a concern.  You said we have 3.5 hours to get to the top and we are already a 1/3 there.  You have 2 older men who would very much like to make the summit.”  He did not like me telling him what to do and basically pushed to the front of the group and ignored me.  Everyone in my group felt the climb so at the next break I told him again that slow and steady wins the race and the goal is to get to the top not die trying.  Since he seemed in no position to save me, I took it upon myself to do the climb at my pace.  While climbing in the darkness, I did find it a bit ironic that here I was telling off a local Egyptian on the very mountain that God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

The two and a half-hour climb ended at the Steps of Repentance where 750 very steep steps stand between you and the summit.  Since we hauled up the mountain, we had another hour before sunrise (please note I told you so).  My group and I warmed ourselves in a hut where the Beduin men handed out very thick wool blankets for 20 Egyptian pounds.  The wind was a killer at the top.  Most people including me purchased a blanket and hunkered down in the shack.  When it came time to climb the steps to the summit, there were about 200 tourists on the same pilgrimage.  The sun decided to pop at about 6:30 AM  and it quickly disappeared behind the clouds.  I will fully admit climbing the mountain did make me feel closer to God.  Whether or not I am religious is not the point, it made me think about spirituality and those that have gone before me.  I was standing there looking out into the horizon imagining what could have happened in ancient times…in the time of Moses.

As I was making my decent, I stopped a few times to enjoy my surroundings (and to pee at $5 Egypitan pounds a stop).  The mountains, a deep red color, have these incredible jagged edges that resemble fingers.  I laughed at one point because the scene reminded me of the planet Krypton from the Superman movies.  Some Hollywood executive likely visited Egypt and said wow this will make for a great set one day.  Being in the desert is pretty amazing.  The mountains are covered by a film of sand that creates a shadow and distorts viewing from a distance.

Back on level ground, we visited St. Katherine’s Monastery, the site people believe God appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  I have to check this out but our guide said that people have tried to remove this particular  “bush” many times but it will only live at the Monastery.  He also told us there are no other known types of this tree/bush in the world.  It gave me pause to think.  The Monastery, built around 530 AD, is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  It remains an active Monastery and is home to 200 Greek Orthodox monks.

I finally returned to Sharm el Sheikh around 2 pm and decided a bus trip to Nuweiba on the Egyptian border would have to wait until the next day.  Instead, I succumbed to my cravings and walked directly to the Hard Rock Cafe where I had a large plate of nachos with extra guacamole and a beer.  The waiter suggested I go with the small but after thinking about all the cheese I could get with the large I could not help myself.  From there, I moved on to Starbucks where I had an enormous piece of dark chocolate cake and a latte.  YUMMMMMMY!

While sipping my coffee and sending my friends pictures of my Starbucks find, I met a lovely young woman from Finland who was traveling Egypt.  We chatted about our travels and I was impressed with her spirit.  She is 38 and has been everywhere.  She is off to live in Norway next but hopes to be in Afghanistan in the near future.  I so love meeting adventurous people.  It affirms my desire to travel and see the world.

Early to bed and early to rise, I was ready to leave Egypt and discover the land of friendly in Jordan.  I caught the 9 AM bus to Nuweiba and was off to a good start.  I even met a friendly Australian, Tim and we chatted on the journey.  As nothing ever runs smoothly in my travels, I should have known something was up when I called to book my hotel in Aqaba and the reservationist said he would “see me tonight.”  When I said no I get in at 3 PM, he never responded.  Locals know best.

Tim and I purchased our “fast ferry” tickets and grabbed lunch.  We had 2 hours to kill.  (I will from this point on refer to the roasted chicken I ate as the last supper because I was fairly certain the fast ferry would never reach Jordan.)  After passport control, Tim and I were directed to stand in a very long line.  I glanced around and realized there were about 3 women in a room full of 1,000.  We waited there for a few minutes before we started to move.  All of a sudden 3 police officers started screaming at people to get out of line (all in Arabic mind you) and everyone was pushing–some throwing punches.   We stood there like ignorant tourists until a nice police officer escorted us to another section.  He spoke in Arabic to a younger police officer and we decided this guy was going to take care of us.  Having no understanding of what was being said, we decided it was Friday(the weekend), these people likely migrant workers wanted to go home and their slow ferry was cancelled.  The police needed to take care of the tourists so we were placed in this secure section.  It got to be ridiculous when no less than 25 locals tried to sit in area and police officers would start screaming for them to move.  Tim and I sat on this bench in this semi-guarded  section alone with locals starring at us for hours.  In one instance, a fight broke out right in front of my feet.  My bag even got involved in the action.  It took everything in my power not to laugh until I saw another man crying.  This ferry terminal and everything that it entailed could be a blockbuster drama.  Just imagine if this was your only day off and you had to spend it with 1,000 other men at a ferry terminal trying to get home.  It made me feel sad for them.

Eventually, the fast ferry with the 2 pm departure boarded at 5:30 pm and departed at 7:30.  On the ferry, there were about 15 tourists.  We completely stood out as we were all Caucasian from Australia and Europe and me the lone American.   We were even escorted up to first-class by the smiling porter.  People call Jordan the land of smiles.  So far it’s true.  The people are full of smiles and there doesn’t even seem to be an ulterior motive like in Egypt.  We arrived at 8:30 and after some time received our passports back (they were collected on the boat and we were all confident that would be the last time we saw them).  Jordanians are very hospitable.  From the time we got on the boat, we were rushed to the front of the lines, treated like royalty and given welcoming smiles at every turn.

Alas, we arrived in Aqaba.  I shared a cab with 2 Aussie girls who were traveling the world for a year.  Three strangers at first, we were bound by a ferry and a journey that we thought would never end.  After the longest day, we split a triple room in a budget hotel and I was so tired I didn’t even dream about the dirt!!!!!

Africa, Destinations, Middle East, Travel Tips

Egypt 101

February 18, 2009 • By

Just a few helpful hints for those of you planning your Egyptian getaway:

  • Fuul: it’s not fuel and only foul to some and you’ll most definitely be full after you eat it.  An Egyptian specialty consisting of porridge looking bean grub, you simply must try adding your favorite veggies or Egyptian spices.
  • No Smoking: forget about it and enjoy the second hand smoke.
  • Being blonde is one thing; being uncovered and blonde means earth girls are easy.  Use your imagination.
  • The English language: Egyptians know it and they speak it but it’s like most married men–They only hear what they want to hear.
  • The Nile Cruise and all that it entails: it’s magic, natural beauty and cheese all wrapped in 3-5 days. Keep your fingers crossed they don’t play bingo or board games on your cruise.
    Noise:  if you are sensitive to sound or value your hearing, bring ear plugs to Cairo.
  • Females: if you are single, this is the place to find a soul mate/husband.  If you are married (and unhappy), it’s a great place to leave your husband.
  • No Tipsy?  You better hope you don’t hear these words. They will be uttered when you “forget” to tip on top of the 12% service tax that apparently doesn’t really include service. (All lies.)
  • Baksheesh:  another scary word. Beside the marriage proposals, you will hear this more than anything in Egypt. Remember toilets and directions are NEVER free.
  • PSSST:  my personal favorite. This is what happens to single, uncovered women whenever they walk passed a Egyptian man.  It is done very quietly but loud enough for the intended victim to hear. I call it the Muslim sexual innuendo and find it quite annoying.
  • This is not Black Africa.
  • When you ask the taxi driver the fare and he says, “as you like.”  He really means, “hey sucker you pay what I want.”
  • Wake up calls:  they are not necessary. You have big brother on the megaphone calling you to prayer at 5 am.
  • “You’re Welcome:” this is used at will.  They think it means you are welcome (to Egypt). Ie.  “Is this your first time to Egypt?”  Yes, it is.  “Your welcome.”  Did you like your dinner?  Yes, it was good. “Your welcome.”  I didn’t say thank you. Oh well.
  • When single and trying to enjoy your meal don’t do anything but eat. Otherwise, every male service person will say to you without fail, “I should like to escort you.”  I never stayed long enough to figure out where my escort would lead but my advice is make friends fast.
  • “You come to my shop?  No buy!” This means you can come to my store and I will show you 80 rugs, 50 perfume fragrances and lie to you about the price. When you don’t buy, I’ll stomp up and down and give you dirty looks.
  • Originating from Ancient Egypt we have modern words and phrases like: Keep one eye opened, Nemesis, key to life.
  • Egyptian men are sly dogs and Egyptian women don’t think anyone knows they are wearing tight jeans and lingerie under those conservative dresses.
  • When all else fails and you can’t cross the street, either take a cab or hold on to an old lady.
  • Lastly, the Chinese tourists have replaced the Japanese; the Russian’s have replaced the French and Italian. The English are hanging on and the rest are naively afraid to visit an amazing country rich with history, beauty and culture.