Saturday, November 3
Talk about a looooonnnng day. Last night we turned the lights out at 9:45 and someone was coming to wake me at midnight to start climbing Mount Sinai. Well I couldn’t sleep. Partly because of excitement about what we were about to do, partly from cats fighting outside our room, and a whole lot because of all the mosquitoes. I think I might have slept from 10:45 to 11:15. After the knock on the door at 12:00 I brushed my teeth and got dressed. I dressed as warmly as I could: jeans, t-shirt, sweat-shirt, golf jacket. But I had my doubts about how cold it would be. We met in the courtyard of the monastery guest house and it wasn’t really that cold.
Around 12:30 we started walking. Just a little ways outside the monastery the Bedouins were waiting with their camels. 10 from our group were going up on camels and 3 of us, the three youngest, were walking all the way. I figured "Moses did it, so will I." If I ever get there again I’m taking a camel.
We had a Bedouin guide lead us. I could never remember his name and had to keep asking what it was. He and Ahmed, one of our tour guides, said we should just call him Suleiman (Arabic for Solomon). He led us up the mountain. It took us about 2 hours to walk up to the base of the 750 rugged stone steps. The ones on camels did it in about 1½ hours. My thighs were already sore from climbing inside the great pyramid two days earlier. They were burning and aching by the time we reached the rest of the group. Along the way up the mountain path you periodically come across some crude shacks built of stone where Bedouins sell coffee, tea, pop, water, chocolate bars, flash lights etc. There was also a Bedouin following us for a long while with his camel trying to get one of us to ride up. All along the way, up and down the mountain, there were Bedouins with their camels offering rides. "Camel? Camel? Camel good!"
It was a long hard climb. It wasn’t as steep as it could be. It zigged and zagged with lots of switch backs. It was totally dark. When we started out the moon hadn’t risen yet and there were a zillion stars out. Then we saw the moon. It was neat because, where at home a crescent moon is like a C or a backward C, here near the equator it was like a U. I also realized that when we see mosques at home the crescent moon on top of the minaret is like a C but in Egypt they all had the crescent lying down like a U.
Anyway, we climbed in the dark by the light of our flashlights. At one of the tea huts I had a Snickers bar and a Coke. We made lots of rest stops and finally joined the rest of the group. It was still pretty early so we rested at the tea hut at the base of the stairs. Then we set out to climb the 750 steps to the top of the mountain. Those are really rough steps and hard to climb. One couple who rode the camels didn’t even attempt climbing the stairs. A short while later an older fellow from our tour (68 years old) was really struggling and panting as we climbed the steps. I said, "You’re making me a little nervous and soon I’ll be a lot nervous. Are you sure you should be climbing these steps?" He decided he better go back down so Suleiman took him back to the tea hut with the others who stayed behind. Later I found out that this guy has had bypass surgery and has a heart murmur. I don’t know why he tried the climb in the first place. Soon after that another couple was having trouble and Ahmed had to take them back. We waited for him and then continued up the steps taking numerous rests (every 50 steps or so). We reached the summit at 4:30 or so while it was still very dark.
I read Exodus 19 and 20 to our group, and whoever else up there was listening in. I said a few words about the grace of God in the delivering of the slaves and choosing to be their God, and choosing them to be his people, then I read some prayers. Before I finished praying a Muslim on the mountain with us started chanting the call to prayers. There is a Greek Orthodox chapel and a Muslim Mosque at the summit of the mountain.
I said I was skeptical about the cold. It was freezing! We had sweated from our climb so we were chilled even more. There were Bedouins walking around up there renting out blankets for $2 or $4 depending on the size. Some of the women in our group got some. One of our guys did too and after a while he saw me shivering and gave his blanket to me.
We waited for the sunrise, and waited, and waited. The sky was getting brighter and you could start to see the mountains all around us. It was absolutely, stunningly, beautiful. My pictures won’t do the views justice. God was saying good morning in the eastern sky. There was some cloud and/or haze in that direction but finally the sun broke through.
Then it was time to go back down. By the way, there were hundreds of people up there and after the sunrise we all started back down. Down certainly wasn’t as tiring as up but it still hurt, and it seemed to take a really long time. On the way down we could see the mountains that were all around us but that we couldn’t see on our way up.
We eventually got back to St. Catherine, I had a shower, packed up, and went for breakfast. Then we had a short tour inside the monastery where apparently Jethro’s well where Moses met his wife, and the burning bush, a tree from a stalk of the original bush, are. Oh yeah. Then we left St. Catherine, continued east through the Sinai desert to the east coast and the up to Taba. I fell asleep on the drive.
We stayed at a gorgeous, posh resort on the Gulf of Aqaba, the Intercontinental Taba Resort. I swam in the Gulf (an arm of the Red Sea), and in the two swimming pools. We all had dinner together and had to say goodbye to Reham. She was a fabulous guide. She was intelligent, informative, had a good sense of humour, and was pretty easy on the eyes. She says she’s a descendant of the ancient Egyptians. It’s a shame we couldn’t have her for the entire trip but her expertise is Egyptology. She has a passion and love for her country and its history and culture and she was a big part of what made our trip, our tour of Egypt, so awesome.
I phoned home from Taba. It was good to hear my wife’s voice. I wish that she (they, the kids would like this too) could be here to experience all this with me.
Sunday, November 4
So, today was a day of border crossings. We left the beautiful resort in Taba, our last stop in Egypt. Ahmed took us as far as he could go. We were taken to the border by Ibrahim, our bus driver for our whole time in Egypt. We left that bus that we had been traveling in for 6 days and had to drag all our belongings through Egyptian customs and security, then about 200m down the road was Israeli customs and security. I was coming up the rear and when my backpack went through the x-ray machine they looked and looked, finally they put it through and asked me to open it. They took everything out and put it all back in again. I don’t know what in it looked suspicious.
When we were finally in Israel our bus wasn’t there to meet us. Apparently we were early. So we waited. One man in our group sat on a bench and wrote in his journal. A soldier saw him and came over and wanted to see what he was writing. I guess journaling at the Israeli border crossing is a no-no.
When our bus finally came we were driven through Eilat, Israel’s only Red Sea port and resort town. It only took about 15 minutes to get to the Jordanian border. There we got off the Israeli bus and again dragged our belongings through customs and then a much longer walk to Jordan’s customs and security. There Doug had a bit of trouble because they wanted to know the name of our tour company in Jordan. We only had the name of a company in Jerusalem that was arranging the Jordanian and Israeli parts of our tour. They finally called the company in Jerusalem who put him in touch with the guy whose name we have, who was with another tour group up in Amman. Just about then our guide, Mohammed, showed up and cleared things up.
We were brought to the Moevenpick hotel in Aqaba and most of us got 2 bedroom apartments to stay in. I didn’t go into the sea to swim today, just the pool and hot tub. We had a lovely supper under the stars on a warm but comfortable (not humid) night. During supper a man from our group became quite unwell, was taken back to his room in a wheelchair, and a doctor came to see him. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him but have a few suspicions. We’re hoping he can continue on the tour.
After supper 7 of us walked through downtown Aqaba. It’s neat to see a city with such a different culture from what we’re used to in Canada. When we got back Doug and I went to one of the hotel’s cafes on the rooftop in the open air and had Moevenpick ice cream sundaes overlooking the city lights on a beautiful warm night. Doug’s a great guy and a good friend but it would have been way better with my wife there.
I forgot to say that before we left Taba we gathered together in an empty section of the hotel bar and had a Sunday worship service using the Morning Prayer service and singing a couple of hymns. It was lovely and a lot of people really appreciated it. I led the liturgy and Doug read the story of Hagar and Ishmael being sent away by Abraham and Sarah and talked about the roots of the Jewish and Arab people and how God has cared for all of them.
While we were swimming in Aqaba we heard the call to prayer coming from the numerous mosques around the city. I though we could learn something about devotion and prayer from them. Even Christians in a Muslim land could use those 5 daily reminders to pray themselves.