I fail, once again, at posting. Apologies! So you get a two-in-one deal here: my trip to Mt. Sinai AND my trip to the Black and White Desert! And in a separate post, my mom’s visit to Egypt for the first two weeks of April.
A few weekends ago (okay so almost two months ago) I decided I wanted to spend 21 hours in a bus, breaking it up with climbing Mt. Sinai, supposedly the mountain where Moses got the Ten Commandments.
I did it through a tour group, which was all Egyptians and me. They all thought I was the crazy foreign girl, which is fine, I am. The drive to Sinai (which is a peninsular region in Eastern Egypt. Big deal, wars fought over it, borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, right next to Jordan and Saudi Arabic, Suez Canal is there, anyway) IS SO LONG. 10 hours on the way there. We left from Heliopolis an hour later than expected, and somehow or another, that meant instead of getting to Mt. Sinai at 1 in the morning, we got there at 4 in the morning. Part of it is to do with that fact that every three hours or so we had to stop the bus and soldiers at checkpoints would come and check everyone’s ID/passport.
Since we were climbing Mt. Sinai in order to watch the sunrise from the top, and we got there at 4 and it’s a 3 and a half hour hike and sunrise is around 5:30….yeah. Did not make the sunrise. Saw it from about halfway up the mountain. It was still incredibly beautiful, and hey, we only had to do half the hike in the dark. The hike was a bit strenuous, but it was really just a lot of walking uphill, not anything too serious. The kicker though is that the last part of the hike is 750 steps, the final part of 3,000+ steps called the Steps of Repentance (or something like that), the other way to get up the mountain. We made it to the top, and took in the gorgeous view, which included Mt. St. Catherine’s, the tallest mountain in Egypt.
I’m too lazy to upload photos (also internet is being spotty), so I’ve made my Facebook album of photos public – go browse through those, starting with this one.
We eventually mustered ourselves to go back down the mountain – which I practically flew down, I was tired and hungry. We had lunch at a hotel restaurant, then got back on the road around 2pm. It took us 11 hours to get back. ELEVEN. I cringe just remembering it. And at a certain point in the middle of the night, a checkpoint made all of us get off the bus with our bags to check to see if we had narcotics on us. Except they didn’t check my bag, just looked at me and motioned me back on the bus. Life in Egypt.
We get back to Heliopolis around 11:30 and hooray, one of the guys on the trip gives me a ride back to my flat on the other side of town.
On to the White Desert!
A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I, plus a group of other people we rounded up, so 15 total, took a one-night trek into the White Desert. Once again, too lazy to upload photos here, but album is public on Facebook and you should check it out.
The White Desert is so named because of chalk-limestone formations created back when the whole area was a shallow sea (think 500,000+ years ago). It’s quite an alien landscape, and indescribably beautiful.
A small caravan of two mini-buses picked up our group in Zamalek on an early Friday morning, driving us out to the desert. It took about 5 hours, through bleak landscape (most of the desert in Egypt is flat, rocky, and boring). We arrived in Bawiti, the oasis town on the edge of the Black Desert, and stopped at the International Hot Springs Hotel, through which we had arranged our desert safari. It is owned by a German and Japanese couple, who are awesome and the husband (Peter) is hilarious and very attentive. We had a lunch at the hotel, then loaded up into 4 SUVs with our guides, and our cooler full of alcohol in the back of one. We drove off into the desert, ready for adventures. Our first stop was Crystal Mountain, which is not much of a mountain and is not really made of crystal, but of calcite. However, it was quite interesting and fun to clamber about (once again check out the album on Facebook). We then drove off further into the White Desert, stopping at interesting chalk formations on our way to our campsite. As the sun began to set, we reached our site, and while our guides set up the Bedouin-style camp, we scampered about, exploring the landscape. Eventually, dinner was served, and it was DELICIOUS. Soup, vegetables, chicken, rice…so good. We ate with all the heavens laid out above us and only a few lamps and a fire to light our meals. Once we finished dinner, my friends and I grabbed beers and wandered off into the dark to sit, listen to music, chat, and occasionally just fall into silence when the overwhelming sense of humility from being in such a place quieted our minds and tongues. We had opted to not have a full tent for us built, but only walls supported by the SUVs, so that our final blanket was a ceiling of stars. To roll over and wake up in the night with that above you is comforting and terrifying. I could definitely get used to it.
I woke up early in the morning, and found Megan and Mugant had gotten up with the sunrise (I was a bit late for that, but I see it 5 times a week anyway thanks to my job). We decided the best way (by we I mean solely Mugant, he’s very inconsiderate) to wake everyone else up was to play music very loudly. Eventually, a lovely breakfast was served, we scampered a bit more as the guides packed up, and we headed on to the Black Desert. The Black Desert is primarily igneous (formed from lava or magma) mountains that formed a few million years ago in a large crevice in the earth. We reached one mountain, and while some climbed up to the very top, I stayed only halfway up and danced. After our mountain, we once more piled back in the SUVs and drove back to the hotel. We cleaned up a bit, thanked our guides and Peter, piled back into the mini-buses and headed back to Cairo.
It was a quick weekend trip, with quite a bit of travel, but the destination was worth it.