In search of Moses

Posted: December 10, 2010 in Africa
Tags: , , , , ,

And so with Kazakhstan as the sacrificial lamb, we hopped on the 07.15 bus to Dahab and the Sinai Peninsula. Sinai is the great and terrible wilderness of the Bible across which the Israelites journeyed in search of the promised land having been saved from the Egyptian army by the alleged parting of the Red Sea – that crafty old God. The Sinai Peninsula has been a place of refuge and conflict for decades, with Israel and Egypt at times both controlling the land. Israel was ‘encouraged’ to hand Sinai back to Egypt in the 1982 following the 1979 peace treaty. This had followed several wars, the last being the 1973 October War which the Egyptians won after extra time. Even now Israeli visitors have to show their passports at every road check whereas we can sit back and smile content with the fact the Egyptians love the English.

Inmo house

We had called ahead and booked a room at the German owned Inmo Divers Home and a Hungarian we met on the bus, Demas, decided to tab along. Inmo is a very cool yard – the buildings surround  a pool and drinking area with a wooden rooftop terrace built around the courtyard offering stunning views of the Gulf of Aqtaba, part of the Red Sea. In a rare bid to save money we checked into the backpackers room instead of the standard double. Slightly smaller and with no bathroom, for only 20 euros per night (including a huge buffet breakfast) it’s  a snip. The Egyptian dudes who run the place are all lovely and one of them was delighted when I asked for the free literature they have on Islam. Perhaps he thinks I’m a convert in waiting.

Snorkeling delight

Day 1 we opted for the chill session. A few hours of adoring the sun god followed by 2 hours of snorkel action on the house reef. To access the reef all we needed to do was walk out the back of the courtyard onto the beach and wade out for about 15m over the rocks. The reef is not bad. It is alive and you can see different colours of plant and fish swanning around, carefree because it’s not a mass tourist spot. Luckily there are no beaches along the house reef so there is no sign of the bus-in/bus-out crowd. We lucked in and spotted 2 rays gliding along in the depths by the reef. The water is so clear that you can easily see 20m down, which makes diving down and then looking up at the ceiling of water quite an experience.

We took an organised snorkeling trip on Tuesday to the popular Blue Hole (not a brothel much to my chagrin) but were left very disappointed. First we were delayed 40mins by 4 Israeli blokes who were coming along because they couldn’t be bothered to get up on time. Then we arrived at Blue Hole, after a cool drive along the Red Sea coast, to discover it is a teeming mass of shipped in tourists. Full of Russians, the place feels like a resort. We don’t really like resort atmospheres and having to watch out for selfish idiots thrashing their flippers in our faces (plastic flippers, they weren’t some weird human-fish mutant though many of the men looked it) took the shine away from the location. It annoyed us further when Muneeza saw one of the Ruskis chucking a stone at a fish whilst walking all over the coral. Unfortunately some people are just ignorant idiots, doesn’t matter where you put them. I was praying for the Sharm shark to make an appearance….

Muni jani samples diving

Muneeza has talked about wanting to give the PADI course a shot ever since we got off the plane in Namibia but was saving it for the cheaper shores of East Asia. I spotted that Inmo offers a intro dive for only 40 euros with 1-on-1 instruction. I suggested to Muneeza that it made sense to try diving before committing to a 4 day course, so she jumped at the chance.We headed off at 9am on Monday with her instructor Saleem, a lovely local dude who made Muneeza feel very relaxed (look into my eyes…)

I tagged along to do some snorkeling, resigned to the fact that I’ll never dive because when I tried the PADI in Honduras I really didn’t like being deep deep down with all that kit on me. After the essential briefing session, Muneeza disappeared off into the water. I opted to stay beachside so as not to distract her. She emerged about 45mins later with a big smile on her face and a blocked ear. Luckily she loved the experience and they had dived down to about 11m and seen an octopus. I think she got the bug immediately so will now give the PADI course a crack when we get to Thailand.

It’s funny that when we snorkel together, my jani doesn’t like the open water when she can’t touch the bottom whereas I’m as happy as a pig in the proverbial, diving down and looking around. However, when it comes to diving, I’m too claustrophobic to cope yet Muneeza took to it like a fish to water.

Mt Sinai and St Katherine’s Monastery

A trip to the Sinai Peninsula is not complete without a visit to St Katherine’s Monastery and Mt Sinai, where Charlton Heston received the 10 Commandments from the omnipotent one with dazzling 1950s special effects. Sinai has a barren interior where jagged red-brown rock mountains interchange with endless sandy desert. It is enclosed by palm-lined coast of the Red Sea which runs into the Gulf of Suez on the left side and the Gulf of Aqaba on the right. The journey from Dahab took us up the coast and then inland for just over an hour, so we got to see both aspects of the landscape and wonder at the remote bedouin settlements en route.

Our visit to St Katherine’s was a bit odd. We had been told it was closed due to it being the day after the Muslim New Year. So we had expected to look from the outside at this 4th Century AD monastery built by a Roman Empress and dedicated to St Katherine, the legendary martyr of Alexandria who was beheaded for her Christianity (oh those pious religious folk do know how to get along). However, general confusion reigned because, along with the Aussie couple on the trip, we spoke little Arabic and our supposedly ‘english speaking’ guide was no more conversant with our mother tongue. We were told that for a little baksheesh we could persuade the monks to let us in for a peek, of interest mainly because inside is the burning bush from which God first spoke to Moses. We were handed to another ‘english speaking’ guide who took us to the entrance then simply walked away with no explanation! Non-plussed we walked through the narrow entrance and carried on with the pleas for ‘money, money’ fading behind us.

Inside we were clueless. No guide, no explanation and to be honest a big disappointment. Inside the main chapel a service was being conducted so we didn’t want to intrude. Surrounded by surly looking Greek Orthodox pilgrims and worhsippers, we awkwardly strolled down to where the burning bush now rests. It’s not burning anymore and judging by its foliage has made a complete recovery since Moses tripped out in the desert.

So we exited stage right and sat down in the authentic 4th Century AD cafe outside the main building where, with true religious generosity, we were royally fleeced for some poor coffee and chocolate bars. Satisfied we had furnished the Lord’s minions with sufficient cash to build a new monastery, we headed off on the climb of Mt Sinai, led by our guide whose idea of guiding was to walk ahead and not speak to us the entire climb.

Luckily, the Aussie couple, Richard and Tamara, were lovely and shared our warped humour. The climb up the Camel trail (not a reference to the local women…) isn’t too arduous and the scenery is awesome, so we took our time absorbing the sights. The view from the top (2,285m) is fantastic looking out across the Sinai Peninsula and across to Gerbel Katarina, the highest peak in Egypt. The only issue is the handful of bedouin stoners hawking goods, though not intrusively as they are too stoned to summon the energy or willpower.

At the top we had intended to wait for sunset as that is what people generally do, but after an hour of soaking the views and talking to the stoner bedouin, Tamara suggested we head down before it got dark. This turned out to be a wise decision because we took the alternative route down, the 3,750 Steps of Repentance. The original steps are reputed to have been laid by a monk as a form of penance but judging by the current slabs, it has been tarted up somewhat by a large army of people. It was dark as we reached the bottom but the path would have been dangerous after sunset as it is very steep and slippery with plenty of options for limb breakage. The climb down was punctuated by discussion about the alleged biblical events and we all agreed that it was more likely that Moses, dehydrated after days without water and starving through lack of food, had simply hallucinated, seen a comet, heard some voices and decided it was God communing with him. The rest is history. I could clear up the mysteries of the bible in one chapter, no need to thank me.

We celebrated our physical endeavours with a slap up meal at Mrs Miggins pie shop, followed by the obligatory sheesah and few cheeky ales. I was comatosed on the floor cushions, more relaxed than George Bush writing about committing human rights atrocities.

Cairo bound

And so with a heavy heart we bid farwell to Dahab and head back to Cairo ready for our flight on Friday to Kathmandu, the start of the Nepalese adventure. We’re both amped to be going to Nepal and can’t wait to get stuck into an entirely different culture.

Take care and thanks for reading, still!

love james & muneeza x

  1. Katie says:

    Keep up the great blogs guys! Am loving catching up with your news and adventures xx

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