Browsing Tag

Sinai Peninsula

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

The Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea

February 17, 2009 • By

Everyone has a different definition of paradise.  I found mine in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt on the Red Sea.  It’s funny since everyone told me to skip the Sinai Peninsula and head straight to Jordan.  When I heard it was warmer than Alexandria there was nothing to keep me away.  Sorry to say this but you see my body now finds 65 degrees FREEZING.

Where I last left you, I settled in Alexandria eating street food for $0.50.  The night before heading to Sharm I had a very sleepless night.  It’s clear the hotels in Egypt do not care if their customers die.  I smelled fire and called the manager on duty to report it (that is after I first talked to an operator and then a front desk person).  Instead of telling me someone would be right there, the manager asked me if I wanted to change rooms.  No (you idiot)!  I would like someone to come and figure out if the hotel is on fire because I prefer not to die.  Initially, he didn’t respond.  Then he said, “Yes, Mrs.Glynn (everyone calls me Mrs. here) we send someone right away.”  After 4 of us were sniffing the corridor and all agreed something was on fire, the manager suggested the maintenance people spray air freshener.  Again, I had to wonder how these people survive.  My blank face produced some results as the manager then said he would call the engineer.  Back in my room, I checked my windows for my exit plan and I tried to get some sleep.

The fun didn’t stop there since I forgot to set my alarm during the hoopla and therefore missed the 8 am train back to Cairo.  My travels never run smoothly but I figured I would still make my flight.  You see the hotel told me (and I listened) that the bus ride would only be 3 hours with buses leaving every 30 minutes.  Of course, Egyptians have an entirely different sense of time than I do. My 3 hour bus ride turned into 4 1/2 and I was within 45 minutes of take off and at the wrong terminal(courtesy of another local).  Having already yelled FUCK on the bus (when an Egyptian businessman told me I had another hour to go and that I should always add at least 2 hours traveling in Egypt), I now started getting huffy.  The security police didn’t seem to care and were not inclined to tell me which terminal my flight actually would be leaving from.  A crazy –and I do mean crazy– taxi driver who spoke English said he could get me to terminal 4 and assured me that after 20 years in this business I would not miss my flight.  He was right but it cost me.  He charged me $15 USD to go from one terminal to the next and let’s just say we defied all traffic laws.  What could I do?  I arrived to the check in counter sweating and completely deranged and ready to tell my story to anyone who would listen.  Apparently, it’s common knowledge that Egypt Airlines runs notoriously late so I wasn’t even the last to show.  There were several locals who strolled in right when the flight was due to depart.

Sharm el Sheikh is in a word beautiful.  It’s the French Riviera of Africa and home to deep red sand and red mountains.  At the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula, Sharmsits on the Red Sea parallel to Saudi Arabia and Hurghada on the Egyptian mainland.  A part of the mainland until the construction of the Suez Canal, it separates Africa from Asia.  It’s also home to Mt. Sinai where it’s believed Moses received the 10 Commandments from God.  I must admit the locals in Sharm are definitely less conservative than all of mainland Egypt.  It’s likely because there are an abundance of Russian, Italian and French tourists gambling and frolicking about wearing very little clothing.  There are bright lights and discotheques; malls and restaurants galore and the resorts are high-end including the Ritz and the Four Seasons.  People come here to relax on the beaches but mostly they come for the diving.  Off the coast, there are incredible coral reefs that even snorkelers will find worthwhile.

I tried snorkeling today but I only lasted about 20 minutes.  We were pretty far offshore where the waters are a bit colder.  After diving in the water, I really thought I might have a heart attack so I aborted my snorkeling mission and retreated to the warmth of the boat.  The few Egyptian men on board made me play figurehead of the Titanic with them.  Here I am freezing in my bikini – already feeling self-conscious as I’ve gained some thunder thighs- and these guys all want to take a picture with me spreading out my arms like Kate Winslet.  It was a bit insane but seeing that figurehead and Titanic were the only words they knew in English I had to go with it.  Yes I have pictures* to prove it.

I’m hiking Mt. Sinai tomorrow night and expect Moses will be guiding me to the top.  Should you wonder about my foot….Yes it is still injured but I must see the the burning bush and talk to God and all that jazz.

Oh and the belly dancing classes I’ve been taking prove one thing.  I won’t be a professional anytime soon and my hips move to the left much more than they move to the right.  In the event that I do master the moves, I have a very cute belly dancing outfit for my performance.

***You will never see these photos.