<% pageTitle="2004 Dahshur Dawdle - Abu Sir Egypt" homeDirectory="/2004dahshurdawdle/" eventSponsor="belesemo" leftBanner="kerrit" rightBanner="ridecamp" %>

Sunrise over the Red Sea :)

Our drivers were coming at 6:45 AM; Hortense said "I called our donkey and he is on the way." As we left at 7 AM we decided to drive up the east coast of Sinai to get to St Katherine's - a little shorter, and wow - what spectacular scenery.

Think Death Valley times a hundred - a hundred times more rugged and 100 times more mountains crammed in. We followed a rather narrow flat sand valley with the bare rugged mountains rising straight up from it. Sometimes a lone acacia -like tree would be sticking up, bright green in the layers of sand and brown/tan/gray/red mountains.

At one spot several camels with cute babies were trotting along the road by themselves. Shoki was either driven by Nabeel's urgent time schedule; or he is a male driver with an excuse to see how fast his car will go; or an Egyptian man - because he was roaring down some of those roads 140 km/hr. The only thing he slowed down for was the uphills which thankfully the Pugeot had trouble getting up with its load.

He liked especially to straddle the road, and really especially liked to pass on blind corners. He also spent more time looking in his 2 car mirrors at all of us rather than at the road.

At one checkpoint, where we turned west inland to St K, they didn't care about us but Shoki had to get out of the car, and once opened our trunk. Perhaps he has a driving reputation here!

Not much traffic on the road coming our way(whew!),mostly tourist vans headed our way for St K. When one of these passed us or he spotted one ahead, he was like your endurance horse on a ride - it got his competitive blood running hot and he had to catch up and pass him. Once we were alone, no others in sight, he cruised along at a moderate pace.

Driving west into the middle of Sinai we saw more Bedouin and the landscape became more fantastic. I could spend years photographing this place (but not in summer!) and never touch the surface. Maybe it's cuz it's new to me and a place I've always wanted to come,but it's one of the most amazing places I've ever been.

There were bedouins riding on camels, herding their goats, a woman wearing all black but a bright red cloth around her waist following the black and brown goats in the brown and tan desert - a Bedouin on her camel in the blowing white sand with fantastically wind-carved rocks and layers of mountains in the background. Bedouin shacks and lean-tos and tents with their sheep and goats scattered about - and their toyota land cruiser.

Camels off grazing at green bushes scattered all over in the desert - do the camels come when they are called or whistled for, or do they have to be gathered and herded like cows?

About 1/2 hour short of St K, a Bedouin was sitting on a hill on the side of the road; Shoki slowed the car down and stuck out his arm and waved. The Bedouin got up and started walking toward us, and Shoki, we know how he is, drove on.

We turned into the canyon where St K's monastery lay about 10 AM. We passed an old tiny Mosque and graves and Nabeel said this is where Moses' brother Arun (sp) was buried... he was Muslim too? Is Moses in the Koran? We were stopped at the checkpoint and they wanted Shoki's papers - and there was a problem again.

Nabeel spoke Arabic to Hortense, and I understood "If we can't go..." I thought - not go up Mt Sinai when we are here?? Oh well, what happens will happen. We moved on in 5 minutes. The parking lot was jammed with tour busses and people like the pyramids. The entrance to the monastery was narrow - either you go in or out but not at the same time, and you had to wait on 30 people pouring out before you could slip in.

Inside there were hoards of tour groups, mostly French. Nabeel ushered us in to the chapel. The monastery has been a place of pilgrimage since the 4th century when the Roman empress Helena had a small chapel built, by what was believed to be the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses.

It's called St Katherine after the legendary martyr of Alexandria who was tortured on a spiked wheel then beheaded for her Christianity. Her body was transported by angels away from the torture device, which spun out of control and killed the pagan onlookers, and onto the slopes of Gebel Katarina, the highest mountain in Egypt, south of Mt Sinai. The body was 'found' 300 years later by monks from the monastery. (All note: all my info for this trip is coming out of th Lonely Planet unless I say who told me things.) Her remains are in the alabaster coffin in the nave that we walked by.

After that there was a museum to see, but I really don't like museums, so I headed outside, which took a good 5 minutes, and I sat outside watching the hoards going in. I bet St K's is a very special place after it closes at noon, or staying in the monastery guesthouse, but with all the mobs I really got nothing out of it.

We did see the Burning Bush, still growing (it's huge) as Nabeel said but the Lonely Planet says it's "thought to be a descendant of the Burning Bush," and it doesn't matter, because aren't all these stories, from the pyramids to Christianity, wonderful?

Nabeel then showed us another little building with lots of bones & skulls - as I understood from Nabeel it was Christians persecuted and killed over the years and they felt the need to preserve those heads.

It smelled a bit like dirty socks.

Then Nabeel said "You go back to car, get your things, you climb the mountain if you like, it will take you 5-6 hours I think, maybe not want to climb, better comeback before dark, 6 hours to Cairo, I want to show you Moses' hot spring and --" (something else).

Hmm - we will do what we want, thank you, because we are paying you to drive us. Besides, the book said it would take 2 hours up, so I expected it should take us ~3 hours round trip. I said we'd be down by 3. Nabeel didn't think we could do it in 3 hours, I couldn't carry my heavy pack, (it wasn't heavy), we might need to ride camels, etc, but I tried to tell him this is part of what I do for a living.

Tracy and I bargained down a few Bedouin scarves, then we packed our things at the car, and Jackie, Tracy & I started up the trail to Mt Sinai to noon. Hortense followed us to the cafeteria and stayed there.

I'm not sure what altitude we started at, but the camel trail was a nice wide 10% grade for ~1 1/2 hours, plus, at the top, 20 minutes of 3750 Steps of Repentance laid by one monk as a form of penance, to a height of ~7500' on top. As we wound up the canyon it was getting prettier - and windier. I see why the Bedouins wear their layers of clothing - but man their eyeballs must be made of sandpaper when they're on the desert.

We trudged upward ~1 hour. We passed 3 older people resting on their way down who said it was still 2 hours to the top - no way! A little after this, Tracy decided to turn back, then Jackie did. No! Oh well - I wasn't turning back but I said I'd hurry. So I hoofed it on up.

There were several tea/snack stalls but they weren't open. I still had ice water from my frozen bottle this morning :). It wasn't too hot, and though the wind took alot out of you, it sure felt good. A bit of trash on the trail - water bottles and cookie wrappers and juice boxes. I picked up a couple and threw them in the trash cans that line the trail. I reached the staircase and started up. Had to stop several times to rest, and every time I turned back around to look,it was just stunningly beautiful.

Each time I said "S**t!" or "D**n!" then I remembered this was a holy place and not appropriate so I kept my mouth shut. Very near the top were more tea stalls, 1 with a Bedouin who said to me "Welcome" and "Coffee? coke?" I said and motioned I'd have tea on the way down. He said "2 minutes."

The last few steps, and up top, were lined with maybe 2 dozen covered rock tables of Bedouin things for sale... but there was NOBODY up top. I had the summit of Mt Sinai to myself!

On the summit is a Greek Orthodox chapel which was locked. The views were just spectacular - soaring jagged peaks, layer after layer of them. And just think, maybe Moses was up here and got the 10 Commandments. I mean - I'm on Mt Sinai!!

And I was really kicking myself on the way up that I didn't bring my Raven with me - my Raven who does endurance rides (he has over 1300 miles!), bags peaks (he's been up Mt Whitney and even signed the register) and visits national parks. Darn! But who knew I'd be coming to the Sinai and getting to climb Mt Sinai!?

Well, I compromised and took a picture of my Raven Dancer tattoo on the summit. Not the same as The Raven, but the spirit's there. It was dry and windy, but oh so peaceful with nobody (!) up there. I spent 20 minutes, then figured I'd better head back so as not to keep everyone waiting too long.

Good timing, as 2 guys were coming up the last few steps. Back down at the Bedouin hut they still weren't really open, but I stuck my head in, and they said "Come in, come in." I took my shoes off and I sat with Achmed and Selim and had a cuppa shai. The hut was made of stone and cement on the sides, to keep the always-blowing wind out, and lined with many thick blankets. The top was made I think with bamboo(of if this one wasn't, another was later).Bamboo comes from the Nile Valley. The camel hair blankets are woven and thick and warm and waterproof and fireproof.

Achmed said most people hike up to the summit at night, to see the sunrise. If they sleep up there it's at Elijah's Basin a little below, a plateau where a 500 yr old cypress tree marks the spot where the prophet Elijah heard God's voice. I looked down on that pretty spot as I hiked up and down.

Achmed also had 2 camels with his brother in his village, and he said I could comeback and he could take me everywhere out in the desert. I can bring all my friends too. "Can I bring my new husband?" He'd asked if I was married and I'd said No, maybe 10 years from now. "Yes, OK, yes, bring new husband, it is OK." I spent 15 minutes with them - had 35 minutes left to reach the bottom by 3 PM, so I ran down Mt Sinai - over half of it anyway.

There were plenty of people on the way up now. I pretended I could speak French (Tracy and Hortense were speaking French in the back seat - Tracy knows a bit of French because her husband Laurent if French, and I think Jackie knows a little French & German, and hey - I can speak English!) and told everyone "Bon jour," guessing most of them were French, or at least spoke it, which they did, and they said k"Bon jour" back.

My legs were shaking when I got down at 3:15, and I rounded the corner to see... not 5 impatient people but Jackie and Tracy waiting - for over an hour, everyone else gone but a few Bedouins and one open shop. Hortense and drivers gone.

The drivers showed up at 3:30; Nabeel said "Now we go to St K city, then on way home we stop at - some other monastery and Moses' spring..l." Tracy said "No, no more, we're ready to go home." We asked several times where is Hortense? N "Who is this Hortence?" Uh - the other girl who's been in the car with us the past 2 days." "Amina," I said. "Oh yes, Amina. She is waiting for us in SK city."

So we pile in the car and drive to the town,and we keep asking where Hortense is, and N says "Maybe in this white pickup coming I think." We slowed down but Hortense wasn't in the truck, and he still wouldn't tell us where she was. T "Can I call her?" N "Yes yes. I think maybe she is in this white pickup." We pass the pickup, Shoki slows down but keeps driving happily forward, nobody in the pickup. T "Can I have the phone?" N "Yes yes" and he doesn't hand it to her, and Tracy is about to KILL him, "I think maybe she is here soon." Finally he calls Hortense, and speaks to her in Arabic; I hear "pharmacia." So we drive to the pharmacy, and Hortense is there with a man Ali.

As Shoki puts some of Hortense's things in the car, plus 3 more boxes of food (she'd left us 2 already), Ali says to me "I could shoot that man."

Remember the Bedouin man on the side of the road that Shoki slowed down for? That was Ali. Shoki was supposed to stop - he had gotten a phone call from Ali just before we got to him, and Ali told him to stop. Ali knew we were coming because his Bedouin friends 30 miles down the road had spotted oru car and called Ali. And drive-happy Shoki just drove right on by.

This will be continued whenever I can... I have to go to a party tonite.