(5.0) (52 Votes)
March 26th, 2005
Enjoyed mammoth plates of shish kabob
Dahab is Egyptian flypaper. Practically everyone I've met these
past several days has admitted that they came here intending to
stay but a short while and now they've been stuck here, “one
week”, “a month”, six months. The town also teems
with expats from Russia to America and exudes an international air.
Its virtual nothingness and sanitary global homogeny is exactly
what I normally try to avoid in my journeys. “Nothing”
however has come at just the right time and now I'm wallowing in
For the past several days I've done virtually nothing. I've lounged
on sofas by the beach overlooking the Gulf of Arabia and enjoyed
mammoth plates of shish kabob and tall glasses of warm coconut tapioca.
I've gone from restaurant to restaurant, putting my feet up and
writing all day long and I've been loving it. I had initially considered
staying here but a day or so en route to Cairo but almost a week
later and I can barely conjure enough strength to book a bus ticket.
This has been a much appreciated vacation within the journey and
I'm thrilled that there is nothing to see here besides the coast
of Saudi Arabia on the shoreline while I splay myself out on cushions
and drink doll-sized cups of viscous coffee. To best describe the
sort of town Dahab is I'd probably say it's a cross between Mykonos
and South Beach but with a more laid-back feel. There is everything
a traveler needs here and far too much of what they don't need.
About the only culture to be found here comes from the radio and
even that takes a backseat to western pop music. I'll be starved
for adventure and culture later but right now I'm only starved for
more cheap Middle Eastern food and a bit of sunshine.
I’ll wake up and escape in a couple of days. If you'll excuse
me I have a favourite table in the shade on the seashore that's
calling my name for a plate of kofta, pita and hummus and a little
glass of anise tea.
Cheers next mount Sinai,
And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto Mount
Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen
throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed
before that mount.
And he hewed two tablets of stone like unto the first; and Moses
rose up early in the morning, and went up unto Mount Sinai, as the
Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of
stone. [Exodus 34:2-4]
…And it came to pass, when
Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of testimony
in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist
not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with them. [Exodus
I asked everyone who'd climbed Mount Sinai for the sunrise if it
was worth it. I was hoping for a negative response. Call me crazy
but climbing a mountain shortly after midnight in the freezing cold
is not exactly appealing. “It’s freezing up there –
seriously, it actually snows up there” they said. “Try
to get some sleep before you leave Dahab or you can sleep in the
van on the way up.” they said. “The first couple of
hours aren’t that hard but the last hour is difficult –
even the camels can’t walk up that part.” they said.
"You'll need to rent a blanket once you've reached the summit
or you'll freeze to death." they said. "You can't wear
those sandals you'll get yourself killed in those!" they said.
"Be careful on the way down -- that's the dangerous part,"
they said. "But is it really worth it?" I asked. The response
was unanimous. "Yes" they said.
I nodded in and out of consciousness during the two hour drive in
the cramped van to the base of Mount Sinai. It was around 1:30 in
the morning when we pulled up in front of the admissions booth.
With heavy lids I crawled out and got in line shivering. We were
still quite a distance from the actual path and I stood shaking
watching the other busloads of people pull up in the darkness. The
sight of children and the elderly sitting warmly in the tourist
buses while their guides purchased their tickets bolstered my optimism
as to the difficulty level. Then it dawned on me, Moses was 80 when
he climbed the Mount – how hard can it be?
I befriended a Mexican guy next to me on the ride there and as is
the silent code of solo travelers’ ethics in situations like
these, we stayed together the entire journey. A Mexican? Yes, a
real live and very pleasant Mexican named Arturo. The first Mexican
I’ve ever met in any of my journeys. It was shaping up to
be a night of many firsts; I’d also never climbed a mountain
in the dark before.
Under the light of the full moon we began our assent past camel
caravans and up boulder strewn trails. Lunar brilliance rendered
our flashlights superfluous for long stretches through the cobalt
night. Turning a corner up a wide path, the roar of a dromedary
would echo. Deep accented voices were hacking muffled conversation
and slowly the image comes into focus. From the shadows silhouetted
by Orion and lit by the moon crouched camels draped in tassel-fringed
carpets. Turbaned Bedouins in their long flowing robes sat sipping
tea from tiny cups next to their beasts of burden. Further up a
kerosene lantern hung outside a shack carving light into the etched
faces of the men who call Mount Sinai home. I paused for a cup of
tea and watched as a woman, her veil flowing ascended a narrowing
bend clinging to a camel’s hump.
The shadows grew thick as we climbed further up. The chill dissipated
with exertion momentarily and in the darkest narrowing gloom the
breeze ceased. I took out my flashlight and scanned the path as
a caravan of camels passed. We looked down a chasm at a stream of
tiny torches slowly flowing upwards, their twinkling illumination
mimicking the constellations above. I sat for a moment and marveled
at the serene nocturnal splendor. The images unfolding were as if
from the flipping pages of an illustrated biblical epic.
Hours passed and the path began to twist and turn sharply and the
incline grew steeper. The air thinned and the temperatures plummeted.
We were now only climbing in the shadows of the mountain. We came
upon the amber glow of a Bedouin shack selling warm drinks and renting
blankets. It was last stop before the summit and now would begin
the most arduous part of the trek. It was a little past four in
the morning and we’d plenty of time before sunrise so we huddled
in the rug-covered walls by the gas heater with small cups of strong
coffee. Outside tribesmen hawked the rental of blankets and people
were dismounting their transport for the last forty minutes of the
We began the final ascent. A guide presented himself and offered
me his arm. I took it around a difficult corner and then insisted
that I’d be fine. He didn’t release me and though I
knew I’d have to tip him later I felt safer with his help.
We continued. He rushed me along at such a dizzying pace that I
had to several times sit to catch my breath. Now the path had become
precipitous rock steps, many of which shifted underfoot. Ahead Arturo
would call out to be wary of a certain patch that spelled danger
and I in turn would warn the people behind me. I heard more than
a few gasps slice through the pitch of night, some of which were
And then we saw the little structure with an iron cross outlined
by the moon clinging to the jagged apex. Invigorated to see the
end we sped up and found a crevasse between two boulders threw our
blankets down and crawled in-between. We wrapped ourselves up and
leaning against one side we faced eastward. We were at the highest
point on Mount Sinai and it was impossible for anyone to block our
I looked down to the side of the mount illuminated by the moon and
were it not for the lights that steadily trickled up far below it’d
have been impossible to decipher the passageway. I looked ahead
and saw only a smudge of a white cloud glowing and a thousand stars
flickering. Behind me the Egyptian moon shone its blinding pallor.
I inhaled deeply and let the moment envelop me; I am on top of Mount
The burnished horizon slowly melted away the cerulean sky and very
patiently it came like bubbling honey and then for a second seemed
to retreat. Now it rose. Its golden glow pouring across the skyline
and warming the mount. It was greeted by a smattering of applause
and deep sighs. Some prayed, others sang and everyone jockeyed for
the right shot.
We began our descent down the other side of the mountain where monks
had carved over three thousand irregular steps. We did it without
a break past ponds and streams and archways and spectacular vistas.
Going down was proving more difficult than the actual ascent as
the pressure in my right knee was weakening my stride and my calves
were tightening. A few times I slipped slightly on the sand-covered
rocks but caught myself and catching my breath rolled my eyes and
sighed in relief. I’d only eaten a candy bar and drank gallons
of caffeine and was famished but seeing the monastery at the base
hours later propelled me faster.
Saint Katherine’s Monastery (she of the wheel) was founded
in the fourth century and was built around what is professed to
be the actual burning bush in which God spoke to Moses. Now God’s
leafy conduit is a sacred pilgrimage site for the faithful. In the
cracks of the stone receptacle, the religious wrote their prayers
and folding them slipped them in the void.
Doe-eyed I stood in silence and gazed at the verdant shrub and felt
something wash over me. Staring with glazed eyes, and mouth agape
I leaned against a stone wall blinded by the hot morning sun. I
watched as people placed their palms at the base and wept, the aged
knelt on the stones with arms outstretched to the heavens muttering
their prayers. That’s when I felt it like a twist in my gut.
And I said to myself…
By God, if I don't get something to eat quick I'm gonna kill somebody!