30 July 2007

Egypt Part II: Enlightenment... my arse...

St Catherine's Monastery at the base of My Sinai. All sort of spooky relics were in this place including thousands upon thousands of skulls of dead monks, the burning bush and the shrunken hand of St Catherine. By the time we entered this place we had been up and down Mt Sinai without any sleep and so I was unable to really take it all in.

Sharm El Sheikh is pretty much numerous hotel compounds that trace the coast, confined and secure cut-off from the reality of Egyptian life. Playgrounds for the rich to drink, fuck and laze in the sun while every need is catered to. One day I got in trouble for taking a little stroll out of the confines of the hotel and leaping a wall into the boundaries of another. After a heated exchange I was kicked out of the neighbouring hotel complex and told never to come back.

We were some of the first people up the top of the mountain that night. At first it was pretty irie and mystical. But people arrived by the dozen. It wasn't long before, I wanted to run off into the desert alone. One young Bedouin lad was relentlessly trying to rent us blankets and mattresses to sleep on. Dan and Julian gave in but I remained stubborn. 'But Sir, it gets very cold up here.' 'Yeah, but I live in Oregon...'

Joe and Hilde who organized the whole thing. Joe's a keen diver but burst his ear drum a few days into the trip. That would be like me going surfing in the Maldives and breaking my arm.

It was a pretty sketchy path up and down the mountain. My mum nearly got ran off the side of it by a demented camel. Luckily, she smashed into me instead of falling into the desert's void.

Moses was out guide. Yeah, his name was Moses. He walked up in flip flops and chain smoked the whole way up and down. His English was slightly better than my Arabic and we had a very surreal discussion about creatures of the Antarctic on the way down the mountain in the blazing heat. From what i could gather he wanted to know the English word for Penguin. After half hour of making gestures to describe, rivers, ice, water, ocean, wings etc. I was prepared to move onto another topic but Moses insisted he get his point across and stopped our trek to draw a penguin in the sand. After twenty fours without sleep I began to think I was on a trip of a different kind. Then I remembered a guide book that had an illustration of a native bird that looks just like a Penguin.

Moses was expecting twins, so he got a serious tip from us. We soon realized that lots of guides, taxi drivers etc. in Egypt are currently expecting twins, must be something in the water.

Lots of Russian Orthodox Christians made the trek up Mt Sinai. I was quite impressed by how some of them were able to get up there in high heels and platform shoes. Most of them took camels down which looked twice as dangerous. While I was interested in the site from a historical and cultural perspective, I am not religious in anyway. If I'm going to worship anything it would probably be the following scenes:

By 9am we were back down again. We had breakfast in the monastery and I was pleasantly surprised to find an Egyptian version of Stella in the fridge. It was one of the most refreshing beers I've ever had. Nothing quite like an ice cold beer for breakfast in a monastery.