The Sinai Peninsula
By Sandra Scott
The air is cool and crisp. The horizon cracks with a sliver of gold. Too fast, the sun rises turning the barren mountains a thousand shades of red, pinks and corals. You feel alone in the universe until you hear the grumbling of your camel and the exhaling of the others on top of Mount Moses. Watching a new daybreak on top of the very mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments is an experience not soon forgotten.
The chapel of the Burning Bush and Mt. Moses, where Moses received Ten Commandments, is a tourist destination that is increasing in popularity among the adventurous.
For those visiting Egypt, a few days in the Sinai makes for an unforgettable side trip. Improved roads have made the once inaccessible places on the Sinai only a few hours ride from Cairo. Combining climbing Mr. Moses and snorkeling at the southern tip of the peninsula add a new dimension to an Egyptian vacation.
Leaving Cairo the roads east passes through a recently constructed tunnel under the Suez Canal, one of the oldest canals in existence. The first attempts to build a canal in this area were made over four thousand years ago.
The road along the east bank of the Gulf of Suez has been improved antis generally in good condition. Though the area is barren and desolate, the developing oil industry is stimulating growth. At Abu Rude is the road turns inland toward St. Catherine's Monastery.
The road to St. Catherine's can be rough. Efforts to keep the road in good shape are occasionally thwarted by the rains. It seldom rains, but when it does rain, it rains with a vengeance, washing out the road in many places.
The stark beauty of the rocky mountains, the oasis villages, and Bedouins with their herds makes the ride fascinating. In several areas the government has built houses for the Bedouins only to have most of them refuse to move in. They prefer to live in the nomadic style to which they have been long accustomed.
If there is a "middle of nowhere" St. Catherine's might just be the place. Midway between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba, high on mountaintop, is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. At the foot of Mount Horeb, or Mount Moses, is St. Catherine's Monastery, built in 330 A.D. It was constructed as a walled fortress by the Emperor Justinian and dedicated to an Alexandrian saint, Catherine. Catherine converted to Christianity and was tortured to death for the sake of her new faith. The original monastery has been expanded over the centuries. A chapel protects the Burning Bush, portions of which grow up the outside wall. The bush contains oil, which can indeed burn.
Next to the church is a mosque, built in the 10th century by the monks as a ruse when the order was given to destroy all Christian monasteries. From a distance the monastery looked like an Islamic place of worship to those enforcing the order so that it was spared. The monastery is open a few hours several days a week with the monks giving tours. Arrangements can be made to spend the night in one of the room just outside the monastery.
A short distance from the Monastery is St. Catherine's Tourist Village with comfortable accommodations and a restaurant. Semi-detached stone cabins have rooms with a bedroom, bath, sitting room, and patio facing the monastery.
The real adventure begins in the wee hours of the morning. At 2 A.M., a Bedouin in a long flowing gallibaya arrives to escort the climber to the foot of the mountain where the camels are waiting. Riding the sure-footed camel up the narrow, twisting, rocky footpath under the star laden skies is magical. The crystal clear night skies are filled with shooting stars. The camel ride eliminates all but the last 800 steps, which must be climbed. An awe-inspiring sunrise cloaks the barren mountains in shades of red.
Others choose to climb, 3,750 stone steps in all, during the day with their sleeping bags and spend the night. The steps were built by a monk as park of his penance. The reward comes with sleeping under the star-studded sky with no secondary light to obscure the stars followed by an awe-inspiring sunrise.
From St. Catherine's the road continues eastward to the coast through picturesque mountains before turning southward to Sharm el Shiekh or RasMohamed at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The area is fast becoming a resort area, due in part, to world-renowned snorkeling and diving. Many new resorts are being built in the area.
The coral reefs are on the World Heritage List of UNESCO and were made
into a national park in 1985, thanks to persistence of Dr. Eugenia Clark,
a marine biologist from the University of Maryland. At Sharm el Shiekh,
the coral reef is just offshore in 70 feet of crystal clear water. The
barrenness of the brown, treeless rocky land is a sharp contrast with
the vibrant colors of the coral and the multitude of marine life. Even
a novice snorkeler can have hours of enjoyment diving midst the many brilliant
colored fish. The many first class resorts in can make arrangements for
snorkeling and diving.
The Sinai is an excellent place to rest and relax after marveling at the antiquities of Egypt.
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