By Kate McCabe
We climb over the dusty terrain with only the moonlight to light our way. It’s 1am and we walk one-by-one in the footsteps of our local guide like a train of ants. In fact, we are following the footsteps of Moses who is believed to have once climbed to the summit of Mt Sinai to receive the 10 commandments.
It’s a journey that I never thought I would take, and the experience opened my eyes to Egypt beyond pyramids and temples.
We reach the summit before 4am, just in time to witness the stunning sunrise over the bare but mountainous landscape. At 2,285m above sea level it gets a little chilly, so we perch ourselves on a large overhanging rock and wrap-up in sleeping bags until the sun can warm us again. This is definitely the most picturesque place I have ever taken a nap.
From the summit of Mt Sinai I witnesses the world in a different light — barron and endless, but beautiful. On the way down we could hire a camel to make things easy, but instead we choose the grueling 3,750 steps called the “steps of penitence” down to St Catherine’s Monastery. Along the way we witness rock formations, small chapels and desert plants.
It’s no wonder that the landscape of the St Catherine area of Egypt is world heritage listed for its religious significance and geological beauty.
Back in Dahab on the South coast of Sinai with barely a few hours sleep I tackle my next Egyptian adventure, Scuba diving! We launched ourselves out from sandy beaches, looking across we can see the shores of Saudi Arabia.
It was two long days of learning basic skills, breathing techniques, equipment tests and some theory to become a qualified PADI Scuba diver. As a first time diver, little did I know that I was learning in one of the world’s best diving spots.
Shoda, my instructor from Big Blue, is a passionate and experienced diver which make things a lot easier. As we progress through the course, I become more comfortable with the unusual and unnatural feeling of breathing underwater.
Once all the key skills are mastered, the icing on the cake is an open water fun dive where I am free to glide weightlessly through the water and take in the world-renowned coral and sea life — lionfish, clown fish, crocodile fish and giant clams… in just 45 minutes under the water I was seeing it all. Visibility is 15—20 meters. Hovering under the water in a world of colour I feel so far away from human existence. Maybe this is what it feels like to walk on the moon? I am now sold on the sport and can’t wait for my next dive.
From Aswan in the South, I am invited by a ‘Buddah’, a local Nubian, to visit Elephantine Island. The island sits in the middle of the Nile and it’s village and farms is home to 1,000 people. We walk through small, pale coloured alleyways between mudbrick houses. Every now and then a chicken, dog or donkey runs past. We are invited into one of the two schools on the island and before long I find myself sitting in on a Grade 9 Arabic class. The students and teachers are friendly and fine my visit to their classroom rather entertaining. By late-afternoon families are sitting outside in the shade, women sifting rice and children playing. At sunrise, we take Buddah’s boat back across to the mainline so that I am can begin to journey to LuxNext on my list of things to do in Egypt is a hot air balloon flight over the River Nile and the Valley Of The Kings. I rise at 4.30 in the morning and travel via mini-bus transfer to a flat dusty paddock. As the sun is rising over the hills, 8 big, bright balloons are being slowly inflated and eventually take over the skyline.
It is not the roomy and romantic champagne breakfast flight I had imagined. Rather it is a huge long basket with no less then 20 other sleepy tourists standing inside. But as we rose, I forgot everyone around me and instead enjoy the view. I look down to villages, farms and ancient ruins, and the mighty Nile all glowing with the orange tinge of sunrise. The view is spectacular, and I might be taking in a little more if my finger wasn’t permanently jammed on the button of my camera.
With some down time in Luxor, I set out to mingle with the locals. Hassle from the market sellers can be quite extreme at times so I settle for game of backgammon in a quiet backstreet. Here I meet Mohammed and Moustafa, two brothers who become my teachers for the afternoon. We smoke shisha and sip hibiscus tea while we play game after game in the afternoon heat. It doesn’t seem to matter that I don’t speak Arabic or that the brothers don’t speak much English.
After two weeks in Egypt I have seen plenty of ruins and pyramids, and countless tombs and temples. The cultural fascination and historical significance of these things I will never forget. However, after experiencing everything from the hustle and bustle of Cairo to the peace of floating down the Nile and on a traditional felucca, Egypt will stick in my mind most of all for the things I didn’t expect.
Kate travelled with Oasis Overland who are a UK owned travel company specializing in African, Middle East and South American tours. Oasis Overland used only local Egyptian tour representatives, Egyptologists, restaurants and hotels and put a focus on being environmentally and economically friendly. www.oasisoverland.co.uk