On the way to the Red Sea on the Sinai Peninsula we drove through the long underground passageway that ran beneath the Suez Canal. We stepped onto the beach and rushed toward the water catching hazy glimpses of Saudi Arabia far off in the distance. The white sand beach was secluded except for the few camels that strolled languidly by. As we lounged on fat pillows that lay beneath a traditional Bedouin tent our peaceful atmosphere was momentarily interrupted. Word got out that foreigners had arrived. Soon sun-wrinkled Bedouin women plopped down next to us and unloaded their cheap plastic trinkets.
Mt. Sinai, Egypt, where Moses was believed to have received the Ten Commandments, was just a short distance from the beach. A popular trek for pilgrims and tourists, my husband, Dan, was anxious to climb it. Hesitant at first, I let him talk me into it.
“You must experience the top of the mountain at sunrise,” people exclaimed, “It’s a fantastic experience!”
Never having any strong desire to climb a mountain, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but nevertheless got carried away in the excitement. Early to bed that night we slept a few hours before rising at midnight to begin the journey. Still half asleep, we dressed quickly and stuffed our minimal climbing gear into backpacks. My only climbing shoes were black Converse tennis shoes and I put them on without a second thought. As the rest of the hotel guests slept peacefully, we left our rooms and hopped onto a minivan that idled in front of the hotel. Wide awake now and feeling exhilarated, we drove down dark, secluded roads until coming to a stop near the base of Mt. Sinai.
We strode quickly past small groups of camels wearing multicolored tassels and grunting loudly. Their handlers enticed us to ride up on camelback however, the last time I rode a camel was in the flat desert and my body shook with fright at being up so high. I couldn’t imagine sitting on one of those bouncy animals as they clopped along the narrow paths that were way too close to bottomless inclines. ‘No, thanks,’ I thought to myself.
We learned there were two paths to take up the mountain. I chose the shorter path hoping it was also the easiest. As we began our ascent, we passed by tourists, young and old, chatting in multiple languages. Most climbers, I observed, seemed much better equipped, making me wonder if I was being a touch naïve about the difficulty of the climb.
With our flashlights illuminating the way it was onward and upward. An hour into our climb, we came upon stairs chiseled into the mountain supposedly built by a local monk. It wasn’t long before those small, rough steps became extremely tortuous to climb and my feet throbbed and my knees ached. About this time I also realized I made a huge mistake wearing those Converse tennis shoes.
It remained dark and cold for several more hours as we continued our slow arduous climb. The surrounding darkness made it difficult to see other climbers until we were right on their heels. Even more grueling were the camels that barreled past us forcing us to move way over to the very edge of the trail while stepping over their piles of poop.