Actually, it is 1100 pm on day 11. We are getting ready for our journey to climb to the top of Mt. Sinai in order to be there for the sunrise!
Mount Sinai is also known in Arabic as Jabal Musa meaning Moses’ Mountain. According to Jewish, Christian and Islamic tradition this is the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Many thousands of people have made the pilgrimage to its summit and I want to be one of them.
Mount Sinai is 7507 feet. Pilgrims usually begin at St. Catherine’s Monastery which is at an elevation of about 5084 feet. Then they can choose between two of the main approaches to the summit. The most direct route is the 3,750 “Steps of Penitence”. This steep path consists of steps that were literally carved out of the rock by monks. You don’t need mountain climbing equipment just strong thighs! This route can take 45 minutes to three hours depending upon your pace. Much as I would love to take it, I know there is no way I will be doing this route!.
The other route is a wide winding path that can take the average hiker maybe 2.5 hours. This path does not take you to the summit though, you will still have to climb up the last 750 stairs to get to the top. This is the route I am planning to take. I have been training for it by using the treadmill at level 15 and, also, doing the Stairmaster.
On the summit of the mountain there is a mosque which is still prayed in by Muslims today. There is also a Greek Orthodox chapel that was built upon the ruins of a 16th century church. The chapel, which is not open to the public, is said to enclose the rock from which God made the Tablets of the Law. Also at the top is “Moses’ Cave” where Moses waited to receive the Ten Commandments.
We met our van in Dahab then drove around to pick up other pilgrims. Our van was filled with maybe ten people as we began our two hour drive to St. Catherine’s Monastery. When we arrived I saw a lot of people, but, as it was nighttime, I couldn’t tell how many. I think at least 75 maybe over 100. This is a picture of us waiting to go.
It is already cold and we still have to get to the top. We were warned to dress in layers because the walk would warm us up and perspiration would wet our clothes which would then get cold at the top when we were resting. I have lots of layers on but I am already cold.
We were divided into groups that would be led by local guides. Our guide’s name was Sala. And we are off!
I see there are camels and I am really happy. I know I said I had been training for this hike, but, after the climb from St. George’s Monastery and the hiking done in Petra, I am not sure I can make it to the top of this mountain. It has never been important to me to make it to the exact top; I just want to make it up Moses’ Mountain.
Okay, yeah; about ¼ of a mile into the hike, I am already breathless. We haven’t even begun to climb yet. Sala can hear my breathing and asks me if I want to take a camel. There is no getting my ego around it; yeah I need one. He contracted with a handler and got me a camel whose name is Michael Jackson!
It turns out Noelle is having a difficult time with the hike too and Sala recommends she take a camel, but, Noelle is afraid of horses and is having a really hard time saying yes. Alexei, who has taken a vow of silence for this pilgrimage, is gesturing to Noelle to take the camel ride. My brave friend finally agrees, cuz dude, she really has no choice. Her camel’s name is Whiskey.
We took off with me in front, then Noelle, and then our awesome Alexei walking silently behind her. Noelle was really afraid and trying hard to cope. I could hear her talking behind me and her voice had changed; it sounded like a little girl’s voice as she asked, “Does it mean he is happy when he wags his tail?” Both of the camel handlers were soothing and reassuring her all was okay.
I said, “Noelle, you are very brave. You’re doing really well.”
Still in that little voice she said, “Alexei, if you’re okay just clap your hands.” He clapped.
In a few more minutes she asked, “Is Whiskey tired, does he need a nap?” The handlers just kept a steady reassuring patter with her. They were great.
As we rode, I tuned out everything behind me because I was awestruck and wanted to be immersed in the Ansel Adam’s picture I found myself in.
The night was crystal clear. The moon and stars above me were so close I literally reached out my hand towards them. I did feel I could almost tickle them. They were so white and so bright as they shone upon the mountain creating a grey scale from white to black that was so sharp every crag, nook and cranny was defined in the mountain’s face and in the rocks around me. My heart seemed to expand inside of my chest as it reached out to the scene surrounding me. I let go of my saddle’s pommel and spread my arms out wide to embrace the whole scenario. How immensely beautiful! I am so happy that I rode the camel up Moses’ Mountain because it allowed me to be aware of this incredible experience instead of being only aware of the struggle to climb. I know that there can be value in the struggle I take in the challenging paths of my life; but now, I am also aware of the awesome value in allowing myself to be carried and supported on the paths of my life. I wonder how much can I allow Love/God to carry and support me? Is that a wrong thing to allow? I have always felt I was supposed to do life on my own, take responsibility, take control, be self determining, be a self made successful person. Cool, I don’t see anything wrong with that, but now, I wonder what wonders and beauty would I experience in life if I let go of all that and let myself float in Love’s flow. Is that okay? Is that what’s best? Is that what God would want for me, if I allowed myself to hear the answer? In the glory of this spectacularly beautiful, glorious ride, I am thinking maybe the answer is, “yes”!
Even riding the camel, it was a long, yet immensely satisfying ride up to the rest stop before the last 750 steps. It could have been almost three hours. How interesting that I never did check my watch. Truly, time seemed to have lost importance to me. We got to the rest stop before the hikers.
Alexei had taken a vow of silence which by now you know is a very big challenge for him. His mouth may have been silent but his mind was not:
That’s me, meditating in the corner.
Soon the hiker’s caught up with us. The couple from Japan told us we had been smart to take the camels. But now, it was time to say goodbye to Michael Jackson and Whiskey because we were about to climb the stairs. I don’t know what time it was, just that it was still dark. I climbed about 10 steps and had to sit down. OH MY GOD, I can hardly breathe! How in the heck am I gonna make it up? Suddenly, Sala was there with me. He took me by the hand and began pulling me up the stairs. I still had to stop every 10 to 15 steps, but he was there to give me his hand. Noelle had to stop at the same time and she had her own person helping her. I think it may have been, Omar, another pilgrim. I noticed other people resting along the way too, but, it was me who was really having problems. At one point, I found my legs shaking and almost unable to stand. That is when Sala folded my arm into his arm and using his body he helped me to stand. He held my body against his as he literally lifted and pushed me up the steps a few at a time. Thank God for Sala; truly, thank you God.
Finally we reached the last rest stop.
I was wiped. I knew I had pushed my body over a line.
There were only 100 steps left, but, I wasn’t going to do them. I had always known I wouldn’t make it to the top and it was never important to me to do it. I just wanted to be up on Moses’ Mountain and here I was; I was content.
The others continued on without me. Here are pictures from the top!
Noelle and Omar:
Prior to the revolution, Omar had never really felt connected to his country. But, he had been directly involved with protecting his family and protesting during the revolution. Now, he says he feels he is a part of every grain of sand. “Now, this land belongs to me, to my people. Now, I have a home and I have freedom!”
Alexei and the flag:
Meanwhile, I had been resting, but, I wanted to see the sunrise too. I stepped out of the hut to see what I could see which was not much because it was still dark. Next thing I knew, Sala was there.
“Are you going to go to the top?” He asked me
“No, I’m good here.”
He pointed to the top of a very large rock outcropping and asked, “Will you climb up there with me?”
I stared at him a moment and replied, “Sure.”
He bounded up this “rock” while I slowly crawled up on all fours. When I got to the top, I crawled to the edge and looked out. I could see the valley below me and the peaks of the other mountain tops around and below me. When I leaned out far enough I could see south, but, it was kind of scary to be leaning out that far so I came back in a foot and sat down with my back against the face of the mountain. If I turned my head to the right, I would see the sunrise. Straight ahead, my view was north over the mountain peaks. Turning left, I could look down onto the rest stop.
I was freezing despite all of my layers and Sala went back down to get me a camel blanket which he then tucked under and around me. Mmmm, it was nice and warm. Then he left me there all by myself.
Ahhh this was great, this was perfect. Here I am on Moses’ Mountain sitting all by myself in a place of peace. I started meditating. Every now and then I opened my eyes, turning my head to the right to see if the sunrise was happening. Then I went back to meditating. I was trying to experience the love I had expected to feel up there, but, I couldn’t feel it. It felt like there was a clamp on my heart or a stone on my chest. I can’t explain it. I could tell the energy was not flowing. I used all of my tools, but, I couldn’t seem to get it going. I opened my eyes one more time, turned my head, and I saw the sunrise. It was cool and I was happy to see it, but I wanted to feel the love. I closed my eyes again. Nope, not feeling it.
Okay, that’s okay Linda because you can create the love instead. In my mind I whispered, “I love you Love/God” and I sent love into the heavens. Then I whispered, “I love you planet.” and I sent an energy ray of love to the north and imagined it circling the Earth and coming back. I sent a ray to the east, then south, then west. Then I felt and imagined myself as a bright ball of Love and sent rays in all directions at the same time, seeing it surrounding and infusing all of life on the planet with love. Now, I was totally feeling the love. I opened my eyes and this is what I saw in front of me:
Ahhhh, how awesome! Thank you, Love.
I continued to meditate and bask in Love. Then, I heard footsteps and Sala was there to collect me. I asked to take his picture and he did different poses to show me his best side. 🙂
I could see people were coming down from the summit, so I got up and went down my rock with Sala. He asked me if I wanted to take a Camel down and I said no. Dang, I had to ride up; there was no way I wasn’t walking down!
I met Alexei, Noelle and the rest of our group and we all started down the steps. Going down the steps was no picnic for me and, yikes, in the daylight I could see that some of these steps were a little scary. Pretty soon, I was one of the last people descending. I began to notice that Omar was kind of hanging around me, stopping every now and then to take pictures. I didn’t know if he was watching out for me or what so I asked him, “Are going slow to take pictures or to take care of me?”
He smiled sheepishly, “Both.” What a sweety!
Finally, I made it down to the path where the group was waiting. Alexei wanted to take the “stairs of penitence” the rest of the way down, but Sala, using a lot of hand gestures as if Alexei was deaf, discouraged it. Since Alexei was still silent, he could not argue the point. So we began walking down the path. The camel handlers kept offering me a ride saying it was a long way down, but, I was determined to walk. The switchback path was fine in most places and not hard to walk, but, they were right it was going to be a long walk.
This picture is the only shaded section there was.
Pretty soon I could not see anyone ahead or behind me anymore. Hmmm, here I am on Mount Sinai in the Sinai desert all by myself. Yeah, yeah, I know, but it’s okay, I’m okay, in fact it feels kind of cool. I kept walking and, after a bit, I heard someone whistle. I looked up the mountain and a few switchbacks back, I could see Noelle and Alexei. I guess she had been stopping to take pictures. Cool, I kept walking because I knew they would catch up with me and I didn’t want to slow them down.
I rounded another switchback and saw a woman sitting on the ground with a man standing over her. As I approached, I could see her knee was bleeding.
“What happened?” I inquired.
“I fell on my knee and it won’t stop bleeding.” I saw several blood soaked tissues on the ground.
I knelt down, took away the tissue on her knee and saw a gash about a ½ inch wide and maybe an 1/16th inch deep. It was still bleeding, so I put heavier direct pressure on it.
“My name is Linda, I am a nurse. My two friends who are nurses will be here in a few minutes. So don’t worry.” I held pressure another minute and saw the bleeding had stopped. I put a wad of tissue on it, wrapped her scarf tightly aroundthe tissue and her knee just to stabilize it, then rolled her pant leg down. By this time Alexei and Noelle had arrived. I helped the woman stand up but she felt faint and had to sit down again. I checked her heart rate which was okay, then determined she wasn’t diabetic, but I was still a bit concerned.
“Honey, you should take a camel back.” I scanned the lower path for the camels and could just make them out in the distance.
“No, I am okay; I just get faint at the sight of blood.”
I poured some water on her head and neck then helped her up again. This time she tried a step, stumbled and felt faint again.
“You are definitely taking a camel!” I insisted.
Alexei was already rushing down the path, trying to get help. I could not see the camels anymore. They were gone. What the heck do I do now? We are on a mountain in the desert. We need help to get her out. All I could think of was to give her my water, tell her to rest, tell her friend to stand over her to create some shade for her, and to take off his jacket before he got too hot. Then Noelle and I hurried down to find help too. Fortunately, a couple of switchbacks further down, Sala was waiting to make sure his group was descending okay. Alexei had broken his vow of silence to tell him the problem and Sala had yelled at someone further down the path, who yelled at someone else, who yelled at someone else until eventually, hopefully, the call would reach a camel handler.
Meanwhile, Sala was staring at Alexei. “I thought you couldn’t talk!?”
It was so funny as Alexei explained his vow. Now that he was talking again, I asked him what his coolest experience had been.
“I had left you and was looking for the last set of stairs to the summit. I couldn’t find them. I couldn’t find my way. I knew I wasn’t lost, but, I couldn’t find my path. Then I turned around and my path was right there before me. It had always been there; I just needed to look in the right direction.”
Our eyes locked and we both understood what he was saying. I hugged him. “That was a beautiful revelation, sweety.”
It was time to move along and we started down the path, but, Sala pointed out a shortcut across the switchbacks and said we could go that way faster.
Not sure if this was a good idea because now it was very rocky and uneven. I fell and hit my knee; but, didn’t even check it and just kept going. I fell again. I soon realized that I was dehydrated and beginning to “hit the wall”. I’d hit the wall once before when training for a marathon so I knew my symptoms. It was confirmed a few minutes later when I pooped in my pants. I could see the monastery ahead; it looked so close but was really still far away. I lost track of how many times I fell. Thank goodness for Alexei and Noelle teasing me and keeping it light. I didn’t tell them then about the pooping.
Alexei yelled, “Look, there’s a camel heading up the mountain!”
Great, she was going to be okay.
Finally, we were at St. Catherine’s Monastery. Noelle and I made a beeline for the bathrooms then to the store for water. Alexei took off to see the monastery. I really wanted to go, but, I was pooped, uh, literally.
St. Catherine’s’ Monastery is an Orthodox Christian church and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is reported to be one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. Originally, Helena, the mother of King Constantine had had a chapel built around the bush the monks believe is the original Burning Bush where God spoke with Moses. It was called the Chapel of the Burning Bush. A monastic community grew around the chapel and then in 542 AD the Emperor Justinian I built a fortress- like basilica around it all to protect the monks and the bush from raiders. This was called the Church of the Transfiguration in memory of the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah on sacred Mt. Tabor. The official name of the monastery is The Sacred and Imperial Monastery of the God-Trodden Mount of Sinai. It is commonly known as St Catherine’s Monastery. According to tradition, the Christian, Catherine of Alexandria, became a martyr when the Roman emperor Maximus killed her for criticizing him for worshiping pagan idols. Apparently he tried to kill her on the “wheel”, but failed so then he had her beheaded. It is said that the angels took her remains to Mt. Sinai where in the year 800 the monks found them.
The monastery preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world. Only the Vatican Library has more. It houses many irreplaceable works of art including the best collection of early icons to be found in the world. It also has copies of the famous document, the Achtiname, in which Muhammad bestowed his protection upon the monastery; the monks living under Islamic rule as well as the pilgrims on their way to the monastery; he also gave them freedom of worship and movement; freedom to appoint their own judges; to own and maintain their own property; exemption from military service and taxes; and, the right to have protection in war. There is a Fatimid mosque built within the walls but it was never used because it is not correctly oriented towards Mecca.
I can’t believe I am too tired to see this place. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and Alexei’s pictures.
(Picture by Wikipedia)
After I rested a bit, I was determined to at least see the Burning Bush and dragged my butt the full length of the grounds to go see it.
It was cool to see it. I wish I wasn’t so tired. I would have like to spend more time visiting, but not only was I too tired, it was time to meet our van and get back to Dahab. I kind of spaced out on the van and then in the rush to get out, I left behind my Bedouin head dress. I was really bummed about that and Alexei said I could buy one anywhere, but no, it would not be the same, so, I never did.
It was time to say goodbye to Dahab, get in our taxi and drive a few hours to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Sharm el-Sheikh is the administrative hub of Egypt’s South Sinai Governorate. It is also called the “City of Peace” due to the large number of peace conferences that have been held there. It happens to be where the deposed President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was hanging out when he resigned. It was also a big resort place. It is noted for having the deadliest terrorist action in Egypt when in 2005 it was attacked by an extremist Islamist organization aiming at Egypt’s tourist industry.
To us, it meant sharing a room overnight at a nice hotel while on our way to Luxor. Originally, I had planned on getting my massage there, but honestly, I am so glad I experienced the Turkish bath with Cutey Pie in Petra instead. All I remember about Sharm is that it was resort like, I reluctantly did some walking in a market, had a good dinner, and then I went to bed around 6 pm.