Mount Sinai, Egypt: in the footsteps of Moses

Posted by Claire Hearn on 1 August 2013

Having left the Coptic churches, mosques and synagogue back in Cairo, i recently traveled to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Here the battle of religions from the Israelites to Palestinians and more currently the Egyptian revolution was set aside as Christianity, Judaism and Islam converged into one story – the story of Moses.

I was at the foot of what is believed to be Mount Sinai (read: 5 unmissable things to see in Egypt), known by the locals as the God-trodden Mount, about to walk up in Moses’ footsteps. Or rather on a path with 3750 steps built by the pious monk, though there is also an easier meandering level road built in the nineteenth century by Abashed Pasha I, the Viceroy of Egypt. It was around two in the morning and I had been warned of the cold but somehow I had forgotten to pack gloves. I needn’t have worried as hawkers eagerly awaited us with gloves, scarves and beanies. I thought that Moses too would have been presented with gifts before his journey.

I ascended with the light of my headlight, showing my next footstep, as well as the bright, shining stars as a guide. Unlike Moses I was not alone but in a group of thirteen tourists,  keen to experience the sunrise and spiritual walk. My favourite part of the walk was on rest points when the group of varying fitness levels gathered and turned off their torches and headlights, too tired after the steady incline in the cold wind to talk. It was then that the silence allowed the experience to be fully absorbed.

We found shelter en route up the 2,240-meter mountain in small homesteads built for commercial business. They offered mostly tea, coffee and hot chocolate to weary travelers and camels for the sick, lame and lazy. These belonged to the handful of Bedouin who inhabited Sinai with small flocks and who grow vegetables. This basic agriculture can be attributed to the monks who had encouraged the independence of the Bedouin.

I imagined it would be hard to farm in this dry area. It seemed that there were not even wild animals in the harsh terrain but I believe Sinai is home to wolf, hyena, wild goat, gazelle and eagle. Though none were visible on my walk.

The walk itself was not difficult but the elements played a significant role. Each footstep seemed to be reduced by the slippery sand and loose stone surface along with the limited vision of the night. The cold also penetrated the body uncontrollably releasing the sinuses, making sniffs a common sound. I thought back to Moses pioneering the way, without the technology of k-way jackets and even more exposed to the elements.

Our group met up with other groups in the last shelter before the imminent summit. Here we took power naps and were offered Basotho-like blankets, at a cost – ‘nothing is free in Egypt’ as I had been told by Peter, my tour coordinator.

 

I was excited when the guide called us to the top as I would receive the sunrise, rather than the tablets of the Law with The Decalogue, or more commonly known today as the Ten Commandments, as Moses had. I picked a spot before the other groups crept up, and under my blankets I sat and awaited the sunrise.

The sky was a pretty pink over the brown desert mountainous landscape and I spotted the round yellow ball of sun peeping through until fully exposed. It came so quickly and with my focus on capturing every second of the sunrise, I missed the hawkers appearing with their goods.

Chapel on Mount Sinai

Chapel on Mount Sinai

On the top was a chapel dedicated to The Holy Trinity, built with stone. It faced east allowing the sun’s rays to shine through the archetypal church bell as it sounded at sunrise as if clapping to our achievement and in appreciation of the new day.

St Catherine's Monastery

St Catherine's Monastery

It was a quick descent to the bottom since each rock and step was now visible. Below was the oldest known continually inhabited monastery in the world,St Catherine’s. Damianos, the Archbishop of Sinai, described the holy monastery of Sinai as ‘a Christian Greek (Rhum-orthodox) Monastic centre with an uninterrupted spiritual life of seventeen centuries’.

Tired but elated I wandered through the monastery, viewing the burning bush of Moses and feeling the sacred energy in the chapel.  I had traced the footsteps of Moses up the highest mountain in Sinai and was back to tell the story.

 Mount Sinai travel information

How to get there

Mount Sinai is in Egypt. The easiest way from Cairo is to fly to Sharm El Sheikh and then take a taxi about one hour to Dahab (3 of the best snorkeling spots in Dahab). It is cheaper to go by train or bus from Cairo to Dahab with daily departures. From Dahab you will need to take a taxi or bus tour to Saint Katherine which is a two hour drive.

When to go

Even in summer temperatures can plummet to zero degrees at night on Mount Sinai, despite the coastal 40 degree heights. The best time to go is spring (April/May) and autumn (September/October).

Where to stay

The closest town to stay is Dahab on the Red Sea. Accommodation varies from back packers to bed and breakfast hotels and more luxury hotels on the Blue Lagoon such as The Hilton, Dahab.

What it costs

Tour operators such as King Safari Dahab and New Sphinx Safari charge from 110 to 120 LE per person (about R132- R144). This includes transport from and to Dahab, entrance fee and guide for the mountain.

Looking for affordable accomodation in Egypt? Check out Getaway Accomodation, or have a look at this great package deal.

This blog post can be viewed on http://journeysclaire.wordpress.com/






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