By Catherine Bilkey
Moses may have climbed Mount Sinai in sandals, and you can still make the journey today with a Bedouin guide to watch the sunrise. Just don’t forget your flashlight.
Mount Sinai is between a six and 11 hour drive from Cairo, depending on whether you take a microbus (public bus) or rent a private bus. While it seems that renting a bus would be the shorter of these two options, our two rented minibuses made the journey in 10 hours thanks to a plethora of smoke breaks and the constant wait for “bullet cars,” which are armed security vehicles that accompany groups of foreigners. While they are a pain to wait for, they make the trip safer. There is also the option of renting a private car or flying to Sharm el-Sheikh and taking a short, three-hour bus ride to Mount Sinai.
I would recommend staying at nearby backpack haven Dahab, rather than going directly to Mount Sinai to start climbing. Dahab is well known for its beautiful snorkeling and cheap hotels like the Penguin where the most expensive rooms are still under $8 a night. Since I was traveling with a group of 30 irreverent Americans, we split ourselves up into three hotels. The Penguin had by far the best restaurant and beachside lounge, plus it provided our group with moderately priced diving and constantly refilled shisha at night.
Our group decided to do the sunrise Mount Sinai hike, so we took off at midnight. The drive took about one and a half hours. Fifteen of us decided to take the rightly named 3000 Steps of Repentance, the shorter but much more difficult of two trails. The easier Camel Path is longer but less steep and one can opt to ride a camel almost the entire way up.
The 3000 Steps of Repentance has the best views of the mountains but is perilous at night without a flashlight. Our group brought two flashlights for 15 people – a mistake that resulted in many falls. We managed to make it to the top before sunrise, only to find the entire peak crowded with Russian Orthodox Christians praying and reciting bible passages. While we had all concentrated so much on seeing the sunrise, this modern religious scene reminded us that we were on top of the mountain where, according to Judeo-Christian tradition, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. This moment was short lived when we saw a Bedouin-run stand marked Starbucks Coffee.
If you haven’t had your religious fill by then, a trip to the Monastery of St. Catherine at the bottom of the mountain is in order. This is one of the longest running monasteries and where Moses saw the burning bush. One can actually see a descendent of the bush itself transferred and replanted at the monastery. The monastery can also be toured, costing students only 10 EGP, roughly $2.
Once finished with our journey to Mount Sinai, we returned to Dahab to spend the rest of the day recuperating at the Red Sea. We are not sure where Moses may have parted the body of water but we hoped it was where we were lying.
(All photos by Catherine Bilkey)