It was our friend Jeff who had the idea for the weekend in Sinai. He is leaving at the end of this year and Mt. Sinai had been on his must-see list since arriving in Egypt three years ago. Jeff is interested in Bible history, and this is a place where some significant Old Testament events are believed to have happened. So on Saturday morning we all got into a van and headed into the desert.
Mt. Sinai is a sacred site for Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Great numbers of them were there at the entrance to the trail. It looked liked it was going to be a very crowded hike.
We walked up a short trail to St. Catherine’s Greek Orthodox monastery, where the hordes of people were gathered. We had been unaware that the monastery is only open from 9 to 12, and it was now 5 minutes to noon. We got inside the gate with just enough time to view its main attraction, and the reason the 6th-century monastery was built in the first place:
According to monastic tradition, this Rubus sanctus plant is the actual, original Burning Bush featured in Exodus 3:2. At some point the monks of the monastery transplanted it from a few yards away to this courtyard corner, but there is a chapel on the grounds (which we didn’t get to visit) marking the original location.
We were quite sorry not to be able to see the rest of the monastery. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses the second biggest collection (after the Vatican) of codices and manuscripts in many different languages, as well as a tremendous collection of early Christian art. I don’t know how much of this stuff is on display, but I suppose we will have to return another time to find out.
As we left the monastery we realized that all the people were heading back down the hill to the parking lot. Out of the hundreds there, our party of seven was the only one continuing up to the top of the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments.
Dedicated walkers Andreas and Ger struck out ahead, much to the consternation of our Bedouin guide. The five of us remaining chose to take camels as far as we could go.
I have ridden camels before, but only in the sandy desert. This camel experience was rather different, and not in a good way. I think that camels are not really designed for hard, rocky paths. Nevertheless it was a beautiful clear day and the scenery was spectacular.
After a couple of hours we finally made it to the camel station. The camels can’t go beyond this point because the last bit is a steep slope ending with a long staircase, which camels can’t manage. I decided I couldn’t manage it either, at least not in the time frame required (we would have to move quickly to be able to make it back down the mountain in time to catch our plane). Another slowpoke friend and I kept the camels company while our faster friends carried on up the mountain.
I saw the photos Jeff took on the top and it truly was a gorgeous view. One of the others said it felt as if you could touch the sky. That would work with the Commandments thing for sure. Maybe sometime I will get up there myself. But as it was, we rode our camels back down the mountain (surprisingly even less comfortable on the downhill). We got back late and had to get special security permission to travel on the roads as we had missed the 5 pm convoy and the next one would have made us miss our plane. But we made to Sharm and the airport, and back to work on Sunday morning.