Sinai desert, peninsula.
Enter Sinai (wiki), enter Egypt (wiki), I remain in Asia. A serene coastline sets itself off from the blue waters of the Gulf of Aqabah; the white desert mountains glister bright bleached during the hot of the day later though they shine so yellow and red in the late of evening light, its slopes reach the sea without ever giving chance to even sparse vegetation. This is Sinai, peninsula and desert.
It is the coast of one hundred resorts, many half finished, many finished and given up again, with layers of desert dust settling on stone and marble and concrete, some windows missing, some newly planted palm trees fallen over when irrigation was stopped. Only a few places are going, many ghostly abandoned with barriers down, no guardians sit near it. Just not the season?
Sharm el-Sheikh (wiki) though is going, fully, and the uselessness of mankind reveals itself; I cannot find anything I like, cheap glitter one thousand fold cannot attract, is not the Egypt I am looking for. I buy a can of beer, I am tired, is the 19th, happy birthday and good night, I am 45.
Past Sharm there is Ras (head) Mohamed, a road sign indicates Cairo 500km. The sun burns in by my western side window like fire while I drive north. At the end of the day I turn land inwards and up mountain for 100 kilometers till an altitude of nearly 1600m. This is the centre of Sinai.
Saint Catherine's monastery, Mount Sinai.
I am up at 1 a.m., trot along the base of a moon lit mountain range find a path and enter the valley to the portals of Saint Catherine monastery, past the busses and scores of tourists, at 1.30 I refuse successfully a guide the police wants to sell me as obligatory, at 2 I start my ascend. I follow a group of Russians and guide, they flicker nervously with their torches. 2 camels with tourists and guide overtake; I follow those, slowly up, quiet, the torches fall behind, I keep the ass of the camel in front. More camels make up on us. So have 2 in front 3 behind. And then when one step starts following the other, the routine has set in and I nearly have fallen asleep disaster strikes. At 1800m I bump into the ass of the camel in front. Second disaster strikes at 1900m when the camel behind runs over me after I slip on camel dung.
Just kidding, nothing like this happens. I go all the way up to 2280m or so. This is Mount Sinai; this is where according to tradition Moses received the Ten Commandments, though rather disputed by scholars today. It is 4 in the morning, pitch dark, two hours till sunrise, freezing cold. The camels stopped somewhere, there were several hundreds of steps to climb in the end, I had left the groups of Russians/English/Japanese behind. Is nice nearly all alone at least for a little while on the top of the world, freezing cold; the waiting game while the top fills up with 500 or more of all Christian nationalities of this globe. All wait for the holy sunrise. A group of Ghanaians reaches the top, some lay down, throughout elderly folk, men and women, they start praising the Lord, scream out Jesus and Hey Man and Hallelujah. I know them well from the Ghana trip earlier this year (thisfabtrek).
Soon someone somewhere intones the allah hu-akbar (God is greatest). For Muslims this is the time for Fajr, the dawn prayer, the most essential of the 5 prayers; the first light of a new day. Still a long time till sunrise, still freezing, the Ghanaians continue their ritual, holding hands, in a circle, screaming the occasional ecstatic prayer phrase. It is getting more crowded on the roof of the world while the shimmer on the horizon becomes more yellow. A group of Asian Christians have a couple of baptisms or/and confirmations staged a bit below. A full bearded priest blesses one after the other.
Thanks to God sun rises finally; many clap hands, a new day, a new dawning for all of us. The light engulfs us, unveils the charming desert around and all take pictures. It takes a while till it’ll be warmer, the stiff limps get some blood through joy; the heart is warm at least.
The space at the top of the world empties surprisingly quickly. There is a chapel I can make out now, over boarded with tourists in the dark it was earlier. When I descend I have them all in front now, need to overtake some groups of Japanese by just climbing over the rocks, but even the Japanese will make it down for sunset.
Down, Saint Catherine’s monastery (wiki) opens its gates at 9, is Greek Orthodox, oldest working Christian monastery in the world, or 2nd oldest, who cares. The library preserves an important collection of early codices of the bible, also a large collection of precious icons. The old Justinian (Byzantine) church from the 4th or 5th c. is probably the most moving I have ever seen. Red painted and over decorated with candelabras and icons. But I am shoved out quickly, too quickly, more tourists press in by the door, there are too many treasures inside, many guards are watching over a small fenced off space where tourists are being pumped through. Monastic life of quiet and solitude certainly suffers considerably with on thousand or so coming through every day.
At 10 I am back in Fox camp, have my first shower since Morocco 2 weeks ago. Sun warms and I have a whisky with my Coke, while I write down this. I think I have another one.
Suez to Cairo.
North to Suez (wiki), and I am back in Africa now. Is laid back, just run down, Port Tawfiq is entrance to the canal, on way to the Red Sea huge cargo ships go by. Morning goes in one direction, evening in the other. Why did I come here? The Muezzin’s call sounds rusty, old speakers. I am used to melody from Jordan and Syria. Also Egyptian Arab dialect is harsher.
Morning the 23rd of Dec., early morning Suez to Cairo (wiki), smog is thick, I can hardly see further than 2 pylons ahead. The wiring runs parallel to the highway. There is always this strategy with a new big city to go in as early as possible. Cairo (wiki), they say 20 million, a mega metropolis and agglomeration, bent over bill boards and light poles greet me when I get stuck in the early morning congestions. My impression is how can it be that a whole nation does not know how to drive?
On 4 lanes 6 lanes squeeze in and then the 6 go down to 2 before we merge onto another flyover, magically it moves, it works off congestions a quiet its speed. Also for the way they drive the cars don’t look quit as battered and beaten up apart from maybe some old Lada/Fiat black taxi. 6 hours touring after entering, 7 to 1 p.m., it has given me an overview, there is simply no parking for me, but I fit in with their way of driving, tune in to the sound of the city traffic and I realise there is no other way to manoeuvre about than honking and pressing my way forward, as ruthless as everyone else, as if it is also my daily struggle. In the van it is even worse as I am in competition with all the pros, the minibuses.
Luck strikes finally and I park, near-by is a lounge bar, there is wifi connection, beers and burger, the Nile below. Life is wonderful. I love Cairo already.
Alexandria to Siva.
A little time to get organised, I buy a 320 GB Passport Hard Disk Drive (cheap), have my watch repaired (cheap), buy new socks (cheap), an Arabic course book (expensive?). During the day I make sure not to overpay my falafel or foul (beans) sandwich, 1, 1.50, even 2 E£ is ok (less than 30 Euro cents, so cheap) and orange juice (2 or 3 E£, small or large). Evenings I get drunk in the posh places in town, 3 times, 23rd, 24th, 25th, is the season, Jonny’s Pub and Eatery is a favourite on El-Pasha boat. Music is a mix of Middle Eastern, Jazz, Pop, Latin, gets really loud and lively after midnight. The rich and famous have an obligatory Black Label bottle on the table. On the 25th Friend Daniel arrives from Austria and we have to have some Black Label, dry, no ice ourselves; is expensive but is the season.
We set out together for a little journey. Alexandria is boring, the road along the Med coast west bleak and boring, it is the road of 1001 resort cities, the new, the old, the in the making, the already fallen into ruins, the ghostly, all are there; is not the season. The sea is always several miles away. Hey man there must be room for holiday resorts, so boring.
Mersa Matrou is windy and overcast, most is closed, is not the season, beer is avail in Beau Site hotel. Welcome to a blue dusky ocean and two parasols, so boring.
Turn south, harmattan heavy skies, what will Siva bring?
Siva/Siwa/Siwah سيوة oasis.
Siva (wiki) sees harmattan heavy skies, this western desert oasis town with its olive plantations and date palm orchards, in a depression where the lakes of water appear on the surface, it stretches for some 30 kms. But the morning after we see some blue skies and clear weather.
Police does not allow us a passage via Bahariya oasis; we need back track to Cairo and the smog via the Med-coast. An 800km drive, thanks diesel is cheap in Egypt (1.10 E£/liter, 15 Euro cents, 22 USD cents), we have a new plan.
On way to the Red Sea, we reach Saint Antony monastery (wiki), is Coptic Christian, Father Ruis guides us through the holy treasures. The cave where Saint Anthony the Great (wiki) lived, 1000 stairs up mountain, makes a profound spiritual impression. The hermit lived here 4th c. What a view on the surrounding desert away from it all. What a heavenly feeling must it have been to the Saint to step out early morning; a room with a view.
Hurghada, good bye 2009.
Dan and I, we are in search for the action, hope to find in Hurghada (wiki) on the Red Sea coast. Not so sure what we are searching. Not so sure what we can find here either, but it is cheap. Large beer often for a Euro or less; is all catering to a cheap clientele, which we are.
31st we sign up for a meal and party, but we are suffering both from a severe diarrhea, must have been the spring water from the monastery which we both heroically drank, it had a taste of sorts, but who wanted to offend a monk.
So, Daniel does not eat at all, I just a little, we are hanging in the ropes, the music is horrible, this is not what we were looking for, we call it a day just before midnight.
This is how not so glorious the glorious 2009 year ends, a busy year. Christina, Africa, Middle East, still managed to see my children. Where will I go from here? Down to Ethiopia, to India finally? back to West Africa? The stars know, maybe.
1st of Jan sees a full moon; what mystical omen is that? 2nd of Jan we sit on the beach, there is a quiet one. We taste a first beer after another day on herbal teas and Cokes; watch the game as we call it, of Russian, English and German females of all ages, all with an Egyptian lover. Hurghada is the place, but then maybe not for us.