Egypt: Nile River, Red Sea & Mt. Sinai

While visiting Egypt’s ancient past, I was reminded of my very own past.  Here is an excerpt from my blog.

[singlepic=983,150,,,right]My only knowledge of Egypt really comes from an unlikely source – Charleton Heston. I can still remember my family all sitting around the one TV we had and watching the Ten Commandments. It was a huge event for us – we were even allowed to eat in front of the TV. Granted, the movie is not necessarily about Egypt but it is set around the Nile, Pharaohs, the Red Sea, and of course Mt. Sinai. All of these things were on the itinerary for my trip through Egypt so it didn’t surprise me that my memories of the movie came flooding back to me.

The movie wasn’t my only source of knowledge of the Nile River though – I have 4th Grade geography to also thank. I know the Nile is the longest river on the globe at 4,100 miles long and it runs south to north – that makes it unique and memorable. However, I still have this image burned into my brain from the Ten Commandments movie where the Egyptian princesses, Miriam, was bathing, washing, and socializing out along the Nile River when a little basket came floating by amongst the reeds with a baby in it…Moses. Therefore the Nile conjures up images of the decadent royal lifestyle, gold jewelry, and femininity – peaceful, yet grand. This is one of the reasons why I chose to tour through Egypt and not simply go to see the Pyramids. I wanted an adventure on the Nile!

[singlepic=984,150,,,left]We spent 2 days and 2 nights on a felucca on the Nile. A felucca is a single mast wooden sailing boat commonly used along the Nile. We were to sail down stream (to the North) from Aswan to Luxor. Upon my first view of the Nile – it was way different than my childhood memory. First of all it was much, much wider than the movie set river they used for The Ten Commandments. And there were no Eygptian women dressed in gold head-dresses doing their wash in it. However there were plenty of cows washing in it – as well as donkeys and young Egyptian boys swimming in it. There are a number of things written in travel books about swimming in the Nile – most recommend against it due to the fact that it’s rather dirty and full of bacteria. So – the Nile wasn’t really a royal river anymore – but it was still the Nile and it was our home for 2 days/nights.

A felucca isn’t necessarily a posh sailboat with a galley. Instead it’s a big wooden sailing boat with a flat deck area – and ….well….that’s about it. There are no other compartments of space. There are no bathrooms – there is no kitchen – there is nothing below deck – there is just a deck. We had two crew that operated the large felucca; they were the captain and first mate, plus the cooks, and the entertainment. The dinners they put together were quite good – considering they only had 2 gas burners and no kitchen space.

[singlepic=988,200,,,right]We stopped for the first night along the banks of the Nile along with a few other feluccas. That night we enjoyed a bon fire with the passengers and crew from other boats and listened to the Nubian locals play drums and sing for us. I settled down with my sleep sheet, earplugs, and eye mask for my first night of sleeplessness on the Nile.

The second day we continued floating down the Nile like Moses, which included some stops along the way to see temples and a camel market. And even though the camel market was not operating that day, we still walked around the small camel trading town of Daraw. Now this was ‘real Egypt’ – a town with no tourists. We stopped there for some sugar cane juice and were able to walk around the small town and explore for about 30 minutes. This was probably my favorite location in all of Egypt…because it was real. I walked around the market and soon had a group of school children begging me to take their picture. In addition, the men from the fruit and meat stands all wanted us to come over and take their picture. What made this town real was the simple fact that they didn’t ask for money after I took their picture – they simply wanted to look at it. They were just genuinely happy to view themselves on the screen.

The Red Sea was next on our Moses Tour. This was my favorite part in the movie. The water even looked red in the TV version and Charleton Heston’s ability to part it was truly a special effects miracle. We crossed into the Sinai region of Egypt by ferry from Hurghada (unfortunately no one knew how to part the sea and simply drive to Sinai) then we drove way north to a little white sand camp called Sawa. This camp was remote – not necessarily because it was in the middle of nowhere, instead it had no electricity except for 4 hours of generator in the evening, no fresh water (salt water showers), shared bathrooms, and a bamboo hut to sleep in with a sand floor, small mattress and no air circulation. This was roughing it. However – my little sand filled bamboo hut looked out over the Red Sea – and that was all I needed. I could see Saudia Arabia from my little sand and ant filled mattress, and I was no more than 300 feet from some of the best coral reef in the world. I was even able to fit in a morning hike through a nearby cannon called Color Canyon.

[singlepic=992,200,,,left]Color Canyon was a treat – it was spectacular. The wind had formed the sandstone into a canyon – sometimes wide, sometimes very, very narrow. As you walked through the canyon and followed the path of the wind, you would see the various types of rocks, colors weaving through the sandstone as if it were a Paint –n-Swirl work of art. The canyon got so narrow at one point that we had to crawl through a small opening blocked by a boulder.

That night we watched the sun set over the mountains. As you looked East over the Red Sea – the sunset light bounced off the Saudia Arabia mountains giving the sea in front of you a deep red glow!Our final pilgrimage on the Moses roadtrip was the rock that started it all…Mt. Sinai. We left the Red Sea coast and drove into the tourist trap…umm…..I mean holy land. The town and monastery of St. Katherines was teaming with tourists – big tour buses, and tons of video cameras. Our first stop was at the base of a mountain where Mohammad pointed out a rock formation in the shape of a cow…the golden calf. Apparently the gold from the calf had long ago been stolen – so the rock formation was left.

However – the real draw there was the burning bush….yup…that’s right….I saw the burning bush…supposedly. Who really knows if that was the bush or not…but it was good enough for me…it looked old. I can’t say that God spoke to me – but it was certainly hot enough outside that I thought I was going to burst into flames…so why not that bush?

[singlepic=994,200,,,right]We rested during the hot part of the afternoon as we needed to prepare for our greatest ‘Moses-like’ adventure yet – climbing Mt. Sinai. What took Moses 40 days to do, we were going to do in 4 hours. We started up the mountain around 4:30pm planning to make it to the summit by sunset. It was a challenging walk – 3,000+ rock stairs that were relentless. The hike was spectacular and the mountain range was beautiful. We made it to the top with plenty of time to see the golden colors of the sunset bouncing off the mountains and the small chapel at the top. Then we made it down the mountain by flashlight via the camel path in time for a large dinner buffet and cold showers.

During my stay in Egypt I reveled in childhood memories of my family watching the Ten Commandments – memories that I hadn’t thought about for ages. In a way, I suppose it was a spiritual journey for me as those memories are precious. After all, family memories are carved in stone, but they are worn away over time – until something jolts you back to them. My jolt was Moses!

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