Moses For A Day


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, June 12, 2004 was originally posted on June 17, 2004.

DAY 238:  “Uh, there’s a camel behind you,” I told Michelle in the darkness of 2 a.m.  It sounded like the beginning of a practical joke, but lo and behold, fellow hiker Michelle turned around and saw a massive moonlit camel right behind her.  She flinched back in surprise.  Apparently, camels are quiet walkers in the desert sands and can really sneak up on you.

Michelle, an Australian traveling with her boyfriend James, and Matt and Brenton, two Americans from outside of D.C., were my companions on the one excursion worth leaving chilled out Dahab for:  a trek up Mount Sinai in the early morning in order to see the sunrise.  We had all left the night before at 11 p.m. in a minivan that took us the ninety minutes to St. Catherine’s Monastery, at the base of the holy mountain peak, 2285 meters tall.

ACCORDING TO THE OLD TESTAMENT, Mount Sinai was one of just two places God revealed himself on earth, appearing this time in front of Moses at the top to give him the Ten Commandments.  Following in the footsteps of Moses, the savior of the Hebrews in ancient Egypt, we walked up the less steep of two designated trails that went up the mountain.  With only the slight luminescence of a crescent moon, we tried to follow the path by use of James’ flashlight — the only one we had.

The night sky was incredibly clear — I dare say the clearest I’d seen to date — with thousands of stars, planets and Milky Way clouds visible, plus the occasional shooting star.  The plethora of stars made up for the lack of people; it being a Sunday, the monastery was closed and most package tour groups didn’t do the Mt. Sinai trip.  The nearby Bedouin camel touts tried their best to get business from us, the only tourists around.  We refused and they didn’t bother us much more afterwards.

“WHICH WAY?” we asked Matt, who had done the nighttime trek before.  We had come to a fork in the path, a wide way that went upwards gradually towards the lights of a Bedouin encampment, and a second that steeply went up through the darkness.  Michelle and I had the inclination to go to the left, wider path.  Matt couldn’t remember which way to go.  James shined the light ahead on the path, until we saw the flicker of a lighter from the narrow path.

“Which way is it?” he called to the shadowy figure.

No reply.

“Is it this way?” James asked again to the figure on the right, pointing the light beam towards the wide path to the left. 

“Yes,” the man finally answered.  “Come.”  His request to go him on the narrow upward path was contradictory to the first part of his answer.  James went up to investigate.

“He’s bluffing,” I said.  “I think we should go left.”  Michelle seconded my motion, but Matt and Brenton followed after James.  The shadowy Bedouin man turned out to be a guy with a camel, trying to see up a ride up the mountain.

We refused again.  Moses didn’t use a camel!  The narrow uphill path was the correct way after all; Matt’s memory was jogged.  However, he never forgot how tiring the trek was.  “Why didn’t Moses tell God to just meet him at the bottom?”

Being just the five of us walking up, it felt nice that for a change, crowds weren’t ruining an otherwise touristy destination.  “At least it’s just us out here,” Michelle said. 

“There could be hundreds of guys watching us right now,” Brenton pointed out.  True, we were in the middle of a vulnerable valley, surrounded by many perfect hiding places in the dark.

“Great, just when I was feeling secure,” Michelle said.  “Ali Baba and the forty thieves.”

THE PATH FORKED AGAIN and we didn’t know which way to go.  Luckily, we heard the foreign voices of two others behind us and they walked towards a lit house that Matt said wasn’t on the way.  With them was some sort of a guide, and as they approached the house, their shadows were cast on the mountain in larger-than-life fashion.  Soon, the shadows and the voices disappeared into the house. 

“Should we follow them?” Michelle asked.  “It looks like they know the way to go without thinking.”  Matt originally though the lit building was just a residence, but was starting to change his story.  James led the way with his flashlight towards the area were the three shadows disappeared.

“If we hear gunshots, we’re going the other way,” Michelle said.  We walked up as I wondered if Moses had to put up with the same thing.

THE HOUSE TURNED OUT TO BE a rest house where one could get coffee or tea or sleep in the floor.  The voices we heard belonged to an Israeli couple, who were on their way up too.  We hung out at the house until about 3 a.m. and then head up the final leg to the peak; on a stone staircase with over 600 steps.  Our combined group with the Israelis and their guide started the ascent with plenty of time to kill and gradually we divided into two groups: forerunners and stragglers.  Being part of the latter, stopping often didn’t hurt us, but it slowed the others down. 

“Go ahead,” James said.  “I have a torch.”

“It’s okay, you can go ahead,” Michelle said.  “You don’t have to wait up.”

“Just save us five commandments,” I added.

NO STONE TABLETS OF ANY COMMANDMENT stood at the peak of Mount Sinai when we arrived there.  Instead more touts greeted us, this time pushing blanket and mattress rentals instead of camel rides.  Cold temperatures and the winds did warrant the rentals, unless like me, you brought a fairly heavy fleece jacket.  Needless to say, with the warmth of that jacket and the lack of sleep, I passed out right away.

By 5 a.m. the “show” started and we were all up with our cameras to capture the moment on film.  Since my nap began, several others made it to the peak as well; there was about twenty of us in total.  A colorful aura of the coming sun made the distant mountains appear as a warm color palette, and soon the rotation of the earth revealed the sun itself, traveling up over the mountains with a powerful God-like splendorPerhaps God really did show himself to Moses here?  In the distance I finally saw why the blue Red Sea was given its name; with the early morning sun it appeared blood red with the haze and the sandy dust particles in the sky.

AFTER WALKING PASSED THE CURVACEOUS MOUNTAINS OF SINAI, we took the shorter path down the 3750 Steps of Repentance, built by one of the monks of St. Catherine’s.  The stone staircase led me passed more towering mountain faces (picture above) and back down to the monastery, which although closed, had one door open for me to take a peek inside.  Supposedly on its grounds was the descendant of the Burning Bush — the shrub that spoke the word of God and guided Moses on his mission to save the Hebrews — but I didn’t see it.  I was told it’s nothing special anyway; it wasn’t exactly on fire and most of its tendrils had been torn off by tourists.

WHILE MOSES MAY HAVE CROSSED THE RED SEA by parting its waters clear away for he and his people, I traveled through the Red Sea in a more modern way:  with a wet suit, fins and an oxygen tank strapped to my back.  A complimentary Egyptian breakfast of tahini, beans and pita recharged me back at the pillow cafe of Penguin Village, which was a good thing because I was to start the first of five training dives for my PADI Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Certification.  Jake from the Nile felucca ride told me getting the advanced certification was worth it; most of the prime diving spots out of Dahab required it, and the certification cost just a little bit more than paying for all five dives separately anyway.  I signed up at the Penguin Village dive shop and had they no problem accepting my non-official prerequisite credentials — a paper trail of e-mails between me and my dive school SSI trying to get a replacement card since I lost my card in the mugging in Cape Town

Dive instructor Walid took me and my dive buddy, another soon-to-be advanced diver named Oz, to the bay in the northern part of Dahab, at the entry point of a dive site known as “The Lighthouse.”  We geared up and dived the tropical reef environment of coral and fish, paying extra attention to what we were seeing as it was our Underwater Naturalist Dive, a specialized dive in the eyes of the PADI.  We did things according to the PADI Advanced textbook chapter we had to read beforehand, complete with homework study sheets we had to complete.  The dive was amazing — we saw peacock groupers, a flathead crocodile fish and plenty of pretty lionfish — and came back with one dive down, just four to go.

LIKE THE HEBREWS FOLLOWING MOSES out of the deserts of continental Egypt and into the Sinai peninsula, other travelers that I had encountered before followed me to Sinai.  Back at the Penguin Village pillow lounge, I ran into Greg from the felucca ride; by coincidence, he and the two Canadians from “Team Barracuda” had followed me not only to Sinai’s Dahab, but also to the same accommodation, Penguin Village, for some R&R.  (Aussies Butch and Cheryl of Team Barracuda stopped over in shore town Hurghada for a day before they too followed.)  We sat in ocean breeze under the afternoon sun and pretty much just chilled out with deliciously thick chocolate milkshakes for the rest of the day until afternoon became dusk and dusk became nighttime.  Nearby, I noticed that Shanna and Alex (from the west bank of Luxor trip) had also followed me to Penguin Village.

Angie was relaxing in a state of no worries when another familiar face appeared, attached to the head and body of someone walking down the promenade.

“Oh my God, The Shawl is here!”

The Shawl was here too?  Still following my people around?  “Shawl… Let my people go!”

Apparently the snobby Team Shawl also knew of Dahab’s relaxing neo-hippie scene and arrived after wandering the deserts of the west.  For some reason, the happy hippie vibe rubbed off on them because when we made unavoidable eye contact with them, one of them actually waved back hello.  It was good thing too because if not for their change of heart, I might have had to bust out that whole Pillar of Fire trick.

Next entry: My Three Dives

Previous entry: My New Paradise

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Comments for “Moses For A Day”

  • wow dood, color me jealous. Mt. Sanai pics look great and lounge of pillows overlooking the red sea looks sooo comfortable.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  09:42 PM

  • HAHA!  I knew that wouldn’t be the last of team shawl.  hillarious…

    I am SO jealous of you being in that cool little beach town with all the pillows.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  09:46 PM

  • I’m really jealous now too - awesome pics!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  10:25 PM

  • damn Team Shawl!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/17  at  01:27 AM

  • Those sunrise pics are awesome. And the rocks on the way down Mt Sinai are really nifty.

    But the diving - I want to go!! I want my advanced cert - jealous once again…

    Glad that Team Shawl pulled their heads outta their butts and waved!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/17  at  08:16 AM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
My Three Dives

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My New Paradise


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