Our driver had a little too much confidence on the roads to St. Catherine's. I would have preferred to take it a little slower, instead of hanging on in order to not flying out of my seat. The scenery is quite breathtaking, The first hour is only the Gulf of Aqaba and Saudi Arabia beyond that. But then you turn north to actually get to St. Catherine's, it becomes desolate and mountainous. On our way, I commented that it was so wonder the Israelites built a golden calf. If I was stuck in this waste land, I would also have a hard time holding on to my faith. It was quite a daunting view and I would wish on no one to be stuck there for forty years.
When we arrived at the monastery, I think we were all shocked by the beauty we were greeted with. The flower, garden filled monastery is surrounded by towering mountains, including Mt. Sinai, that we would climb the next morning. We were showed our rooms, relaxed outside had a tea/coffee and chatted with our new friends. Rupert and Sally are from Wakefield, England. He is a pastor and she seems to be a jack of all trades. There three children are in university or recently finished, they love to travel and hike. The bottom line is, they are beautiful people and Beeba and I couldn't have been more lucky to have bumped into them.
Beeba and I toured the part of the monastery that was open, the grounds and gardens. It was lovely and around sunset. We took a lot of pictures and ran into a group of Indians from Beeba's state. So she talked to them in their native language, which was awesome because I had never heard Beeba speak it before.
We raced back to have dinner, we were starving by then, only to find out there is a hour time change between Israel and Egypt, who knew? So we sat for an hour because we were served our huge dinners. Salad, fresh baked bread, babaganush, pasta and chicken! It was a great meal before our hike.
At 12:30 am, we woke, prepared, and met to start our hike at 1am. Another girl from NYC, Stephanie, had also joined us. We had a Bedouin guide to lead us blindly into the moon lit sky. And lit it was, we didn't even have to use our flashlights. The moon was so bright we could see all the rocks, boulders, and stairs in our way. We slowly progressed up the mountain, stopping for tea and snacks on the way. Around 3:30 am we made it to the last outpost before the final incline to the top (only about 3 minutes more). We waited there for the dawn to begin and for our sweat to dry so we wouldn't freeze at the summit.
As it began to lighten, we hiked up the last bit to the top. There is a church and a mosque, both securely locked. We saw other hikers who had come the night before the sleep at the top and a few other tourists/pilgrims who had come during the night like us.
Like all sunrises, it was beautiful and magically, but it wasn't so colorful. But a steady increase in light and then we saw the ball floating in the sky to the east. It really was majestic. The expanse of the desert mountains also came into view with the new light. Whether someone is religious or not, it felt like a holy place indeed. We explored the summit until our group were the only ones on the mountain. We took one last picture and Rupert said a beautiful pray about hoping that our faith will endure like this mountain, and then we slowly started our descent from the 2300 meter mountain.
Our the way down we took the way of Elijah's cave. There were 3000 stairs to descend, but we did so slowly and taking many pictures on our way. Breakfast we waiting for us when we arrived. I showered. And not much time after our devoted taxi driver was there to take us back to the border. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and sank into the seats that we had sat in less than 24 hours before. When we arrived at the border, the same border men were there to welcome us back, and the old man with one yell tooth reassured me that he still loved me...
And then, we were home, back in Israel. Where they made Beeba (and I) sit and wait for two hours. Thanks Israel, it was a nice welcome home. I hope every woman who works at the Taba Border Crossing is fired. Todah. =)