Thursday, October 05, 2006

Middle East Travelogue #8
Dear Family & Friends, 10/4/06
In an effort to catch up, I am going to type
another travelogue tonight and hope that it doesn't
bog you down.
Yesterday we wrote that we arrived at Aqaba, Jordan
on Sept. 28th. The 29th we caught the hydrofoil to
Nuweiba, in Egypt and there was a bus waiting there
for us to take us to a resort town called Dahab. If
you look at the geography of this region, you can see
that there are 4 countries that have port cities
within short distances of each other right there in
the Gulf of Aqaba which is part of the Red Sea.
Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We have
mentioned how Ramadan is affecting so many things
here, and the hydrofoil schedule was one of them. We
were supposed to leave by 10:30 or 11 and we actually
didn't get away until after 3. Of course, no one tells
you anything about why there is a delay and unloading
the ferry and then reloading it proceeded at a snail's
pace. The boat was packed with travelers, 98% of
which were men (very common in these Muslim
countries). We had to get our passports stamped by the
immigration guy on the boat and luckily he knew Nadine
so we got special treatment or the wait would have
been horrendous.
Dahab is mostly a resort town where foreign
backpackers hang out, so there are tons of small
hotels and beachside restaurants right on the Red Sea.
Apparently you can snorkel right there, because we
saw some people doing it, but we took a jeep the next
day to a place called the Blue Hole. This is mostly
for divers, but the reef is good along the edges of
the very deep hole, and we saw many beautiful fish,
corals, and other marine life there. The restaurants
there have very comfortable seating areas which are
well shaded and they also rented out fairly decent
snorkeling equipment. We stayed about 6 hours there,
and it only cost $7 each for the jeep out and the
equipment rental. Dahab was a nice place, and our
group enjoyed a nice seafood meal there but prices are
somewhat higher because it is a touristy spot.
Upon leaving Dahab, we drove to St Katherine's
Village where there is a monastery at the foot of Mt.
Sinai. We had a very nice hotel there but didn't get
the chance to enjoy anything but the shower and
dinner. At 8:30PM we left the hotel and met our guide
near the monastery for the hike to the top of Mt.
Sinai. Usually they do this hike in the morning and
arrive for the sunrise, but that means getting up at
1:30 or 2 AM, so we decided to go up and sleep on the
top. A girl on our Morocco tour last May had told us
it was good to elect to take a camel up because then
you don't have to watch every footfall in the dark, so
we rented camels. Some of our group hikedup. We rode
the camels for about an hour and a half and then they
dropped us off at the foot of the 750 stairs we still
had to climb. Camels don't climb stairs well. It was
after 11:30PM by the time we got to the teahouse at
the top where we rented thin mattresses and thick
blankets and slept out under the stars. At 4:30AM a
Korean church group arrived and woke us up! At 5:30
we had sunrise, which was nice but not as spoectacular
as we had expected. The Koreans started singing
hymns. There are brown granite mountains all around
the peak we were on, so we gotsome interesting
pictures as the sunlight got stronger on them. After
the 750 steps down, there are over 3000 "Steps of
Repentance" which leave one with rubbery legs no
matter how young and fit you are. So we took the
camel track down in an effort to save our knees. It
was not too bad a hike back down. Of course, Mt.
Sinai is the spot where Moses supposedly received the
Ten Commandments from God, so that is why everyone
goes there. Nadine told us that there have been over
1000 people up there with her groups at times, but
this time there were less than 100.
We showered again at the nice hotel and drove to
Cairo. We had to drive through very barren desert and
in spots we had goats and wild camels running in front
of our bus! Then we drove north along the Red Sea
coast towards the Suez Canal. There are lots of
resorts and condos along this shore. We couldn't see
the Suez Canal because we drove under it in a tunnel.
Arriving in Cairo, we took a while to get through it
to the hotel because there are now over 20
millionpeople living here; some estimates say 25
million. It is one of the most densely populated
places in the world. But it was thrilling when we
drove across the bridge over the Nile. We arrived at
our hotel which is in a nice area because there are
lots of embassies in the area so lots of trees
and green spaces.
We have spent the past few days walking in various
areas of Cairo looking at all the chaos and life in
the streets. One of the first things we had to do was
see a dentist because Elaine chipped a tooth. We got
the name of a good one from Nadine, and got an
appointment for the same day, but at 9PM! They keep
strange hours during Ramadan.
The rest of our group has left now because they
have 6 more days to explore Egypt. We are here on our
own until the 8th when our 14 day tour starts.
Tomorrow we move over to a more upscale hotel where
that group will meet because it is a more upscale
tour. Hooray. I will tellyou all about our time here
in Cairo in the next travelogue. It is an interesting
place to be! Everyone seems very friendly and often
people on the streets smile at us andsay "Welcome."
Sending big hugs to you all.
Love, Mary & Elaine

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