Tuesday, July 11, 2006

St. Katharine's & Sinai: City of Nothingness

(Well, Andrew thinks that my last Sinai post was pretty pathetic due to waking up at 2 am the day I wrote it as well as being rather sick the day before; he thinks I should write a better one. I'll write another one but I don't know if it will be much better.)

At 1:20 the alarm clock on our phone goes off. We quickly hit the snooze button and lie in bed for another 5 minutes. The alarm goes off once more...we drag ourselves out of bed bemoaning our late bed time of 11:00. We had been up the whole day before and were looking forward to a few more hours of sleep we were rewarded. We get dressed and groggily walk out of our hotel room and stagger to the lobby to pick up our boxed breakfasts. The breakfasts look great: they are in a big yellow and red striped box encased in plastic wrap. They are warm and we can smell fresh-baked bread. Yum...today is going to be a good day!

*** Hold it! ***

The breakfasts were hot but they definitely did not smell very good at all. We grabbed them and filed onto the bus. Even though we had just eaten dinner a few hours before (I mean just a few hours! We showered before going to bed and my hair was still wet when we woke up) we were starving. Inside the huge box was a measly breakfast: 3 buns (which were warm), a juice box (also warm), some cheese, meat and jam (you guessed it--warm). Andrew gave me his meat...and for some reason I ate it, and mine. I must have been really hungry.

We drove for a few minutes past the gate of St. Katharine's. St. Katharine's is a great city. There are a few stores, a few hotels, and a bank (without an ATM). You have to pay a fee to get into the city and then hold onto your ticket stub the whole time you're out of your hotel room because you'll get fined if you don't have it. They've turned the whole "city" into a national park. That's probably okay because the city really isn't anything to talk of. I'm surprised I've used this much space already.

Anyway, we got dropped off at the foot of Mt. Sinai, which looks small (only 2285 m high) is quite a killer to hike. I was thinking of the mountains back in Utah, like Timpanogos (3582 m)...or Mt. Everest (8848 m). Really, it should have been pretty easy to hike, right? Wrong. I think that a number of factors went in to play here:
a) the early hour (1:30 am? Come on!)
b) breakfast (should not have eaten that meat!)
c) sickness (see b)
d) wind (cold and blowing)

The first part of the hike was pretty easy. We were really grateful for our flashlights because there was no way we would have made it up the mountain without them (at least without any broken ankles). We got some wind-up flashlights and even though the package said that they would last for 45 minutes for 1 minute of winding we had to wind them every 10 minutes. We scared a lot of camel guides that way, as well as some innocent hikers...no one knew what the sound was...For us, everything was fine and dandy.

Then, just when you think you are almost there, the hard part starts.

At this point even the camels refuse to go up. There are uneven stairs that twist and curve every which way and they are rather steep. It smells absolutely putrid for the next few yards because all the camels that people have ridden up are hanging out, doing their own little thing...which smells...bad. We were literally picking our way through a forest of camels. I've never seen so many camels together. I was so afraid I was going to be stepped on, or spat on, or used as a camel bathroom. But I survived without anything horrible happening...and then we found the stairs...

When we reached the top of the stairs we were so excited--we just wanted to sit down and have the sun come up right away. We were bombarded with people wanting to rent us blankets and mattresses. We refused and found a comfortable spot on the summit where we waited for the sunrise. I wish that it was more pleasant, but...I don't really remember it being that way. I was cold (Andrew eventually gave me his jacket even though he was cold as well. I was shivering uncontrollably) and was doing all that I could to not throw up. I was so glad when the first rays of sunshine finally peaked out of the horizon!

Us on Mt. Sinai

After the sunrise we began our descent...but, alas, we were not headed to our hotel (and nice, warm, comfy beds). We were headed to have a testimony meeting. This was a good idea...but I fell asleep and missed a lot of it. This was probably a very good thing because I don't think I would have made it down the mountain had I not had that nap. I was wasted. What I heard was nice though...I just wish I had been awake for more of it.

Our Natural Amphitheater

Now we get to the fun part: absolute muscle fatigue. That, on top of illness and extreme sleepiness... (I told you that nap was a good thing!) Let's do a visual:

The Steps of Repentance

Try walking down those stairs on no sleep...whoa! I suppose it wasn't really that bad. It was pretty fun actually--we had good company, for the whole 3750 steps. Everyone's legs were shaking so I didn't feel too out of shape.

Just when we thought that we would never finish the repentance process, we received forgiveness: we turned a corner and saw a monastery! That means civilization...and busses shortly thereafter. (I don't know of many monasteries with parking lots, shops, and hotels within the gates...but this is St. Katherine's...anything could happen!)

We rested on the monastery wall for a while and then decided to go in...some people were rather slow coming down the mountain and so we had to wait for them. It was pretty cool but we couldn't go into a lot of it without paying and since St. Katharine's doesn't have an ATM we didn't have any Egyptian money. So we just looked at the free stuff and left.

These camels were a
lot cleaner and free of flies than the Petra camels that we rode on! They have white camels in Egypt which is pretty cool (they might have them here in Jordan, too...but I don't know for sure).

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