Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Desert sunsets and sunrises

 Last year I wrote about my trip to Mount Sinai. Today I thought I'd fill you in with the events that lead up to it, so to speak.

It all started with my husband deciding to go to the Holy Land with our local church. Our priest was enthusiastic, he felt that he needed to go there regularly. It sounded easy, we would just go along on  a coach with people that we knew and he would do all the work of permits and visas.

A few days before our departure violence broke out in that troubled part of the world. Everyone was worried, some considered cancelling the trip. We went to a meeting where the Tour operator gave us instructions. Almost as an afterthought he asked if anyone was concerned about their safety. Lots of hands shot up. Well he said there's no need to be afraid, tourists are necessary to their economy, they need them and will protect them. He went on to tell us that the year before a woman from Florence had decided not to risk the trip and while they were away she tripped and fell in the bathroom, bumped her head and that was that.

We followed an intense itinerary for the first few days and then headed towards Eilat, the California of Israel where we were booked in to the only luxurious hotel on our trip. We could all see the dazzling bright blue sea in the distance and relishing the thought of a swimming pool and then it was decided that we should stop to admire the sunset from a hill before descending into Eilat.
It was a wonderful breath taking sunset right on the border of the Egyptian desert. We could see the watch towers in the distance and were reminded of the fragility of this land.
We got back on the coach ready to head to Eilat, now lit up and twinkling alluringly in the distance, but... the coach wouldn't start. There we were in the middle of nowhere and no one else around. To cut a long story short we nearly saw the dawn as well as the sunset and were unable to enjoy the facilities of the hotel.

It didn't matter though, no one minded, we weren't here for that sort of thing anyway. The next day we went into Egypt to get ready to climb Mount Sinai. Our Egyptian guides were entertaining, friendly and witty. We had lunch by the Red Sea, completely mesmorized by the intensity of its' blue.

We drove through the desert to the base camp of Mount Sinai. We stopped every so often so the Bedouins could sell us their wares. The desert kept changing colour, from warm sandy beige, to rosy pink. Just before we arrived at the base camp the priest stood up to make an announcement. By the way he told us, last year and old man from their group had collapsed and died climbing Mount Sinai and to avoid bureaucratic delays they had propped him up and taken him back to Israel. We all looked at each other not knowing what to say.

We had to go to bed early and get up at 1 am to begin the climb. As were got off the coach in the pitch black darkness we could hear hundreds of different languages and see a trail of torch light winding away up ahead. We were given a guide, a young Bedouin man who could have been my son. He was to stay with us for the duration of the climb. The priest in his eagerness rushed on ahead with a group following him. The guide panicked. He said he'd lose his job if he lost his group. We followed on with the ones with dodgy knees and  breathing problems. Every so often there were kiosks selling refreshments, some of the older ones decided to stay there drinking hot chocolate and eating Mars bars.

Camels kept charging past us, many with people in their beach clothes and flip flops from the Red Sea resorts, giggling and laughing as the camels tossed them about.
As we neared the top the climb became very steep and the air cold. We were given thick blankets that made you glad you weren't allergic to camel hair.

At the top the chattering ceased, all was quiet as we waited for the wondrous sight we knew we would enjoy. It felt like the whole world was up there. We were all together on this one. As the sun came up and cast its glow on the sandy mountains and the eager faces people held hands, kissed, hugged and turned to each other in awe.

We all felt on top of the world.

Just out of interest if you ever go up Mount Sinai, I wore a pedometer and it said 16,000 steps to go up and 10,000 to come down, so we must have come down a different route.

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