At 22:30 (or 10:30 p.m.) a new tour guide picked us up at our hotel in Sharm El Sheikh. We left in a mini tour bus, together with 11 other people, who were from England, Italy and Russia. We were so excited to finally be going to Mount Sinai, which is the mountain that Moses ascended to receive the tablets with the Ten Commandments from God.
The bus drove through the night at such high speed, that Mrs. Menger and I were worried if we were going to make it to our destination, Mount Sinai, which was about 2 1/2 hours away from the coast. We had to stop several times at checkpoints to show our Egypt Visas in our passports. When we arrived about 1:30 a.m. we were already exhausted. The tour guide introduced us to a Bedouin guide, that would be taking us to the summit of Mount Sinai. We were surprised to see hundreds, if not thousands, of other people getting ready to climb as we were. The guide informed us that our group would have the name “Ali Baba” and told us to just start walking. We were given flash lights, since it was pitch dark. Not to worry about getting lost, since we just had to follow the human trail.
We started on the trail and when we looked up, the only thing we could see was a slowly moving, blinking, snakelike body of people ascending the mountain. At this point, it did not look to be that far up, but the longer we walked, climbed, slid, and tripped along, we realized that the lights were never ending and winding more and more around the mountain. After about 45 minutes of stumbling behind cigarette smoking people and breathing in a fine, constant dust, Mrs. Tolisano convinced Mrs. Menger to finally consent to the many Bedouins who were lining the trail with their camels and inviting us to hire them with persistent “Hello, want a camel?”
We continued on the camels for about one hour longer. It was amazing to us, that these camels were so calm and knew exactly were to step as to not fall off the edge of the trail, which plummeted down pretty steep into complete darkness. The camels also had to make their way through all the hundreds of people, who were trekking ahead of us up the mountain. The Bedouin guide was yelling constantly “Camels” or “Camellos” or the same in other languages to warn the people. So many of them were almost trampled or frightened by the sudden appearance of a camel breathing down their neck. Through all this screaming of the guide and the people, the camels remained completely calm and steady. Listen to a short sound file of our camel ride by clicking on the audio at the end of this post.
The camels came to a stop and knelt down for us to get off. We thought that we were at the end of the trail and at the summit, only to discover that the human flashlight trail was continuing up higher. We lined up and started climbing the stairs, that lay ahead. Mrs. Menger remembered reading in her guide book that there were a total of 750 rocky and uneven steps that led towards the top. Mrs. Tolisano immediately had memories of climbing the Great Wall of China. We started to feel panicky and hurried, because of the hundreds of people pushing behind us, as well as the imminent sunrise. Some people started to grow weary and hired Bedouins, who offered to assist the climbers with a friendly “Need help?” Once hired, they slung the backpack over their shoulders and grabbed the person’s hand to pull them up the stairs. By that time the entire situation looked and felt chaotic and unreal to us. We continued to be surrounded by cigarette smoke and we were amazed how much trash we were finding along the sides of the stairway path. With many pauses to rest and catch our breath, we made it up to the summit. Mrs. Menger climbed to the furthest top she could go, while Mrs. Tolisano found a small/tiny square inch of rock on which to sit at a lower level. We each wrapped ourselves in a blanket, which we had brought along, anticipating the cold temperatures on top of the mountain. The sun was rising…
Mrs. Menger was surprised to find out that the woman standing next to her at the crowded top was actually from Jacksonville, Florida. What a coincidence. The sun came up and tuned the dark, black sky into beautiful colors. The lighter it became, the more we could make out the outline of the mountain that we had climbed. It was a breathtaking view.
We had imagined this moment to be a special spiritual time for us, instead the crowds were screaming, laughing, playing music, smoking, making fire, waving flags, and eating breakfast. There was no time nor a place for quiet reflection, which we had envisioned for such a sacred place. Mount Sinai is a holy place for all three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It was incomprehensible to us, that so many people would not respect the holy ground.
The more that the sun rose, it not only revealed the colors and texture of the mountain, but also the impact humans have had by leaving behind trash and cigarette butts. Mrs. Menger and I were very sad.
It was time to begin our descend before we would be trapped again by the masses of people. it would take us another 2 1/2 hours to climb the stairs and follow the windy round back to St. Catherine’s Monastery.
Towards the end, we were not sure if we could move one more step. We were tired, since we had not slept since the day before and had been climbing up and down a 5000 meter trail since 2 a.m. By the time we arrived at the monastery to meet up with our original tour guide, it was 8:30 a.m.