copy Excellent Adventures in Egypt

Enter here to share Joni's adventures living and working in Cairo courtesy of the U.S. Fulbright cultural exchange program. Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. - Mahatma Ghandi

1/13/2005

On Tuesday we left the charms of Sharm, traveling through gorgeous desert scenery to the St. Katherine protectorate in the Sinai’s high mountain region. This a region of gold-and-amber sands and wind-sculpted red rock, striped by black granite intrusions (called “intrusive dykes” to our great amusement). The landscape is similar to the North American Southwest, sharp crags and curved hollows, faces and demon shapes stalking steep slopes which rise up above sinuous wadis and pancake-flat plains. Vegetation is sparse but breathtakingly beautiful when visible: the “forse,” or desert carpet of spiny shrubs, fragrant herbs and ethereal acacias raising their soft fronds in solitary grace above the dry surface below. Human habitation is also sparse: scattered patches of stone houses, cloth tents and palm-branch animal pens dotted across the vast vistas. The Jabaliya Bedouin were nomadic until this generation; most of the permanent habitations we saw were less than 30 years old. In addition to its status as an Egyptian national park, St. Katherine’s is a UN World Heritage Site due to the presence of Mount Musa (Moses or St. Katherine Mountain) and the St. Katherine Monastery (with its priceless collection of Byzantine manuscripts and art). Hundreds of thousands of tourists come here each year, rising at 2 am to climb the 3700 steps of the “path of Lord Moses” to view the sunrise at the exact spot where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Many then descend the mountain to pass through the monastery’s gates, kissing grubby icons and gazing in awe at the original “burning bush” where God first appeared to his reluctant prophet. Of course, there is no archeological or historical evidence that any of these events happened at all - let alone happened here - but that is an insignificant detail. Religious pilgrimage, an early and still thriving form of international tourism, has been part of the life of St. Katherine’s for the last 1800 years. The other major category of tourists visiting St. Kat’s is hikers and mountain climbers coming mostly from Germany and Israel - at least before last fall’s attack on Taba. For mountain people, this is a sacred landscape venerated in much the same way as our wilderness areas in the western US. The mountains are quite high - St. Katherine’s is one of several peaks topping 5,000 feet - with exhilarating climbs and spectacular panoramic views. Dina snapped this stunning shot. Posted by Hello

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