Day 8 was a pretty slow day. We woke up late, got picked up by our drivers (apparently any long drives the government requires 2 of them), and travelled to St. Katherine, about 6 hours away, in the middle of the Sinai peninsula. The most interesting part of the day was when we were leaving Cairo and we saw hundreds of police lining the road we were on. The driver said that President Mubarak lived in the area and was probably heading to the airport, again the Egyptian style of protection seems to me an obvious tip off of what's going on. Along the way we passed through a pile of checkpoints, and under the Suez canal. We arrived to the Wady Mouqdess hotel in St. Katherine, where we were the only guests in the hotel, generally not a good sign. But the room itself was fine, once we got the heat going. The town of St. Katherine sits at 5250 feet above sea level, so it was quite cold by the time we arrived. We had supper at the hotel and off to bed for our 1:30am wakeup call.
Day 9 - The 1:30am wake up call was not
Wady Mouqdess hotel
The view was great, room was ok. Just no hot water at night.
just for amusement, today's plan was to climb Mt. Sinai for the sunrise. According to the Bedouin, Mt Sinai (locally Gebel Musa) is said to be the mountain where Moses received the Ten commandments. The actual peak that is the biblical Mt Sinai is somewhat disputed, but we'll go with this one. Mahmoud arranged our local Bedouin guide who took us up the mountain. According to Mahmoud I was to pay the guide 85 le after we were done, I said that the company should pay as all my tour guides should be included. In the end I didn't have to pay, my one small victory with pricing in Egypt.
Our guide, also Mahmoud, must have thought we were in good shape, as we tore up the mountain! When we reached a big group of people, or camels, he would grab Melissa's hand, who would grab mine, and we would race past everybody. We had our headlamps we bought specifically for this, but it was still kind of nervewracking ducking underneath camels in relative darkness. Along the 7.5 km camel path we hiked up, there are a number of coffee shops where you can go inside, and stop for
Sunrise on top of Mt. Sinai
tea, coffe, hot chocolate, and get out of the wind for a bit. With our pace, we arrived at the last coffee shop at about 4am, sunrise wasn't until 6:15. So we nursed our tea as best we could, (they tried to kick you out and get new people if you weren't buying anything), and sat in the coffee shop. We noticed a lot of Russians here, doing the day trip from Sharm El Sheik, who definitely did not know what they were getting into. On the way back down, we even saw one lady doing the hike in heels!
At about 5:30am, we rented a blanket and mattress from the coffee shop, and started the 750 steps to the summit, at about 7500 feet. At that height at 6am, it is freezing. Of course, with my extensive research, we had long johns, toques, and mini mitts, but it was still cold. The view you get of the sunrise is pretty cool, and the surrounding landscape is amazing. Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time to sit and enjoy it, as we were to meet our driver at 8am. So we went back down the steps to meet
our guide where he told us to. When he wasn't there, we went to the coffee shop to return the blanket and mattress where we found him sleeping.
On the way down we chose to go the quick way, also known as the "Stairs of Repentance". They were built sometime in the 6th century as a direct route from the monastery below to the summit. The 6th century Greek Orthodox monastery at the bottom contains what they say is the famed "burning bush", but again is somewhat disputed. We didn't actually stick around to visit the monastery as it didn't open until 9am. Our guide knew that we had to meet our driver at 8am, so he was again setting quite a pace. Mahmoud said we did the 3750 stairs in 35 minutes, which was pretty good except for the fact we sacrificed our knees to do it. Melissa and I were still struggling to climb stairs a week later. We went back to the hotel for a quick shower and breakfast and then back to the van.
From St. Katherine, we were heading to Petra. Being that the ferry from Nuweiba, Egypt direct to Aqaba, Jordan didn't
Starting back down
leave until 3 or 4 or 5, we decided to go through Israel. As we were driving closer to Israel, we definitely noticed the increased military presence, and the checkpoints seemed to get a little more serious than the others we had gone through. Once we hit Nuweiba, we stopped again at one of the checkpoints, and had a policeman jump in the front seat with us for the ride to Taba. So we had 2 drivers and an armed escort, it kind of felt like we were somebody important.
The drivers dropped us off at the border, we paid our exit tax from Egypt, got our stamp and walked towards the Israeli border control. Now the Egyptian border guards all carry machine guns, but the teenage Israeli guards just looked a little more serious about using theirs. But we got our entry into Israel with no issues. Once inside Israel our tour operator had apparently lined up someone to meet us, and get us onto the bus to go to the next border crossing about 20 minutes away. No one was there, so I asked a bus driver who had pulled up if this takes us to the
I had to get at least one good picture to show we were actually in Israel
Israeli/Jordan border. "No bus exists, this bus takes you into the center of Eilat, you take a taxi from there". No big deal, we just grabbed a taxi, and took the drive to the next border. Entry in Jordan again was very smooth, but we were a little nervous about our driver showing up in Jordan.
We changed some money, and walked out through the gates, ignoring all the guys asking us if we wanted a taxi to Petra, and starting walking by the parking lot to look for our ride. We heard some shouting, but just figured it was the taxi touts. Nope, the taxi guys finally got our attention long enough to point out the guard towers who were telling us not to walk any further. Apparently there is the parking lot, then an area controlled by the military that nobody can be in. Ok, we'll just head back to the taxi area then. Fortunately one of the taxi drivers let me use his mobile, and he called our tour operator for us, and about 20 minutes later our driver showed up. I was getting a little nervous about my discount tour agency, but it all worked
The treasury building
We paid the Jordinian tour operator, dropped him off in town, then we were off on the 2 hour drive to Petra with our driver Hasan. First thing we noticed about Jordan is that it is much cleaner, and more modern than Egypt. The highways there are better than Manitoba's.
We arrived to Petra mid afternoon and checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel. Melissa was very impressed that we were served orange juice and our bags taken upon arrival. It was definitely a huge step up from the St. Katherine hotel. First thing we did was to flip on good old CNN, where we saw that there had been a bombing in Cairo the day we had left. No wifi in the hotel for our ipod, so we went to find an internet cafe as we guessed we may have a couple emails from people.
We had our driver Hasan pick up a couple tickets to "Petra at Night" when we first pulled into Wadi Musa (the town Petra is located by). It only takes place 3 nights a week, and starts at 8:30pm, which is a big reason I wanted to go through Israel to
get there on time. They line the 1.3 km siq (arabic for "the shaft") with candles for the walk to the famous Treasury building cut into the rock face. Then they served us tea while we listened to some traditional Jordanian music performed by the Bedouin. Better writers than me describe it as magical, surreal, awe-inspiring, I just think it was really cool.
We went back to the hotel and crashed hard as it was likely the busiest day I've ever had. We climbed a mountain, went through 3 countries, and visited one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Not bad.
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