Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nuweiba, Mt. Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery


This past weekend, I took a much needed break from the busy city of Cairo to travel on a group trip to the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. The tourist town of Nuweiba is about 9 hours from Cairo via the bus. I made sure to bring my passport because there are several checkpoints on the way to Sinai. Many Sudanese refugees have been trying to enter Israel through the Sinai to seek asylum. Under pressure from the U.S. and Israel, Egypt has tried to tighten up security on the border by implementing a 'Shoot to Kill' policy regarding African refugees trying to cross the border. (Human Rights Watch and other articles discussing this: herehere, and here). Thus, I nervously held my breath at each checkpoint and kept my American passport on hand. The African-American man and I sat towards the back of the bus. Armed guards boarded the bus twice to demand I.D. only from the Nigerian man sitting in the front. I guess he didn't get the memo...

After a long bus ride, the beach was calling my name! We stayed at the Regina Hotel (★ 1/2) which had a private beach. Palin enthusiasts would love to know that across the clear blue sea, I had a perfect view of Saudi Arabia! No matter how deep I went, the water never rose above my waist. Schools of little fish swam around, undisturbed by my presence. The beach and hotel were filled with Russian tourists with the reddest tans I've ever seen lol. The sand on the beach was a nice caffe con leche brown.

That night, we drove to Mt. Sinai to climb the mountain and see the sunrise.One of the local guides helped lead our group to the top. I tried my best to keep my feelings  about hiking to myself and be a team player but if I'd known beforehand that it would be a 4 hour climb up a steep rock in the dark, I would've taken myself and my Coach sneakers back to the bus! After reading the Old Testament, I used to wonder why the ancient Hebrews whined as they were led out of Egypt to the Promise Land. God was supplying them with an endless supply of manna and had promised them the best of everything, what could they possibly have to whine about to the point that they even got on God's nerves?! After climbing Sinai for 4 hours, now I understand where they were coming from!  Even for people who do hike, Mt. Sinai is a rigorous climb! Because I have the sickle-cell anemia trait, I found myself painfully gasping for air as we approached the higher altitude peak around 4 am. I had to continuously stop to take deep breaths. I've never climbed before (and I will never do so again!) and I've never been that high up unless I was in an airplane. I was completely unprepared for how my body reacted to the climb. It's now a day later, and my lungs, calve muscles, and thighs still hurt!

Regardless of my breathing problems, I was determined to finish the hike and see the sunrise for myself. When we finally arrived at the top of Mt. Sinai, the view was breathtaking! The stars were so close that they seemed to be in arms reach. As the sun rose, the sky turned beautiful shades of dark blue, pink, and finally orange! Without any provocation, cries of Hallelujah and Amen broke out amongst the dozens of people gathered atop the mountain as the sun finally took its rightful place int he sky. 

Afterwards, tired and hungry, we dashed down the mountain in 2 and 1/2 hours. St. Catherine's Monastery waited quietly at the bottom. The monastery and it's garden were both underwhelming. Although the small church holds countless ancient Christian artwork and treasures, the staff quickly herds visitors through the corridors and back out, giving me little time to admire the treasures inside. Once outside again, I followed the crowd to view what is believed to be Moses' burning bush  (Exodus 3). I don't know what I expected it to look like but the burning bush is like no bush or tree I've ever seen. it looked more like hanging foliage with leaves and branches  floating clear above our heads. Many visitors touched a branch or left a note in the adjacent wall. I, too, stopped and touched a branch so that I can tell my mom I did so and ease any fears that she may have of me becoming a heathen :)

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