Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Sunrise on Mount Sinai (Day 10)

A beeping sound from my cell phone woke me up at 2:15 AM. I only had time to freshen up and grab my backpack. Jeeps took us a bit closer to the mountain. From there we continued on foot.

The plan was to get to the top of Mt. Sinai (aka. Mountain of Moses) and enjoy a beautiful sunrise at 2288 meters above sea level. On the way up we tried to ignore many Bedouins offering a camel ride to the top. There was a camel on almost every turn to the top. And let me point out that the winding path had countless turns. We made it to the top in time to have a cup of tea and to sit around for a while in the peaceful atmosphere before the night started turning into a new day. There are a whole bunch of teahouses at the top, so it wasn't too difficult to find a cup of tea.

The sunrise was was just magnificent. I think there was nobody around that could resist taking photos... Many photos.

There is also a cute little chapel on the top (Mount Moses Chapel). As our guide told us we were lucky to find it unlocked.

On the way down we stopped at the St. Catherine Monastery. It was built by order of Emperor Justinian in 6th century A.D. to enclose a chapel standing at the site where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush. The bush (supposedly the original one) is still there today. It is a unique kind of blackberry bush that can be found nowhere else in Sinai.

The monastery's library keeps the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. In addition to that it also houses many mosaics, the best collection of early icons in the world, a bunch of chalices and reliquaries and so much more.
Because it is a Greek Orthodox monastery the majority of inscriptions are in Greek.

The tour of the Monastery of St. Catherine was followed by a breakfast at our hotel. After that we were off to the desert. The Bedouins provided a couple of Toyota jeeps together with two drivers, a cook and supplies for three days. The original plan was to stay in the desert for three days, but once again Allah disagreed. Malesh.

The official explanation was that the government was having troubles with some of the Bedouin clans. All tourists were forbidden to spend the night in the desert until the disagreement was resolved.
We tried to make the best of the situation and decided to spend the two nights on the edge of the desert in a small town of Nuweiba.

On our first day in the Sinai desert we went exploring an interesting little canyon, visited a Bedouin desert settlement and stopped at a desert well, still in use today.

But more about all of that in my next post...


Monday, 29 October 2007

First contact with the Bedouins (Day 9)

I think the majority of our group were glad to leave Hurghada behind. Around noon we boarded a catamaran which took us across the Red sea to Sharm el Sheikh.

The ride was a bit rough due to strong winds, which are quite usual for this area. The captain didn't seem to bother and waves were splashing way over window height all the time. Some of the other passengers had quite a hard time. There was even some puking going on but I tried hard to ignore that. However, we made it to Sinai peninsula in one peace.

From Sharm el Sheikh we headed inland to the town of St.Katherine. After settling in a cute little hotel, we had lunch and were afterwards amused by a group of Japanese cyclists preparing for training. They were obviously some big-time cycling enthusiasts. Who else would go cycling in the desert?

A short walk around the town followed. We met Abdullah - our Bedouin guide for the next few days. At a Bedouin-run tourist camping site he offered us some black tea with fresh mint and then took us around. We tried some freshly picked almonds from a tree at Fox camp. There were many local herbs growing in the gardens. Since recently they even have a computer with internet connection.

Our walk continued with a climb to a nearby hill overlooking the town of St.Katherine. Near the top there were these two local girls. They were quite shy, yet very beautiful.

And it wasn't just us guys who had thoughts like that. Since our girlfriends were standing around, we admired them quietly. The female part of our group also noticed their beauty and commented loudly about the need to watch us guys a bit closer around these parts.

I made a gesture suggesting that I would like to take a photo. Almost instantly both of the girls covered their faces. Regardless of that one of them stood up and nodded. The other one did not seem seem to like it and they exchanged a few words on the subject.
There was just something very special about her, but unfortunately you can't capture that with a photo camera. You can take a look for yourself.

On our way back to town we were told they served beer in a hotel next to ours. Of course we took the chance. After a quick beer (really, it was just one beer!) we went to the hotel to get some sleep.

No, we weren't that sleepy but our adventure was once again scheduled to continue in the middle of the night...


Wednesday, 24 October 2007

A pyramid or a mountain? (Day 8)

As I have already mentioned in my previous post, all those temples were slowly beginning to bore us. I knew that later on I would be sorry for leaving out any one of them. It would be ideal if we could get to taste as much of genuine Egypt and at the same time see all the spectacular old buildings. In reality it is quite hard to squeeze all that into two weeks.

We started Day 8 with a tour of the Valley of the kings. It is situated under this pyramid-like hill. Historians suggest that when the old kingdoms didn't do all that well anymore, their pharaohs couldn't afford huge man made final resting places like the pyramids.

This place with a natural pyramid was obviously just a perfect substitution. Many pharaohs chose this valley as their final resting place.

We visited some of the more interesting underground burial chambers in the valley and moved on. We went to the Valley of the queens on foot. When we told Osama (our Egyptian guide) of our intentions, he was just shaking his head in disbelief and announced:

Nori Slovenci! Matjaz and his group of nori Slovenci!

That literally means "crazy Slovenians". In Slovene obviously.
Supposedly not many visitors choose to walk up that hill in midday heat. Strange isn't it?

We just had to laugh at his jokes - he knew a few words of Slovenian and used them repetitively in English sentences. He also understood quite a lot of Slovenian. You don't see that too often even when traveling around Europe.

So we went to the top of the hill where we could enjoy a beautiful view of the Valley of the kings on one side and the Valley of the queens on the other. From there we descended to the other side of the hill to the Temple of queen Hatchepsut in the Valley of the queens.

We had a gorgeous view of the Queen Hot-chicken-soup Temple (as our local guide Osama renamed the Queen Hatchepsut temple). On the way down we went by a couple more recent tombs. They were supposedly used by people living nearby.
Osama, as a true Egyptian didn't accompany us but instead took an air-conditioned bus to the temple.

The temple is very well preserved. There is still original paint on some of the walls and statues. It was scorching hot, so we didn't hang around for too long.

When we got on our bus we thanked God (Allah in this case) for the air-conditioning. The bus took us to the town of Hurghada (Al-Ghardaqah).

It stretches for many kilometers along the sea. Once a Russian airbase stood there, but now the only types of buildings are hotels, look-alike shops and ugly residential buildings for the hotel and shop personnel. In my opinion Hurghada has no soul whatsoever.

We ran into many groups of Russian tourists. We were told that many of the shops were owned by Russians. In some of them even fur caps and coats were on display.
I guess I don't need to stress the temperature outside was around 45 degrees Celsius at that time.

With my girlfriend M. we both agreed that this was the most unpleasant place on our trip and would not want to see it again. That is quite unfortunate, because beside Sharm el Sheikh it is the destination most frequently offered in Slovenian travel catalogs.

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