The expedition started off at Dahab on the southern point of the Sinai desert. A group of strangers clambered off the plane and jumped in a rickety minibus which took us to our pleasant hotel. Our first evening was spent introducing ourselves to each other - wondering if our preconceptions of the expedition were going to be correct. One things that was immediately clear, was that there was a complete mix of ages. Everybody was discussing the previous treks that they had endured - goodness, this was my first one!!!
Our second day was to be our first real challenge. After a morning being introduced to the guidelines and rules of the trip (following a hearty breakfast), we were to be dropped off in the middle of the Sinai desert with the one bag of luggage each that was to last us for the next week. In the distance we could see four local Bedouins with their camels - surely these were not for us....or were they?
Our guide wanted to test our physical ability, so the first stage of our trek consisted of a long walk along a rocky dried up river bed, then a very steep climb up a sand dune. The climb was exhausting 'one foot forward and one slide backwards' - I was already feeling out of breath as we started the climb, through tiredness and apprehension.
Well, after several hours we eventually made it to the top, but in need of some rest. At this point, the local guides decided to show us the extent of their fitness and proceeded to run up and down the dune in their bare feet chasing a plastic bottle.
After a few more hours of walking, we finally came to a stop and set up camp for the night. This was it... no more hotels... not even a tent... just our sleeping bags and what was to become a rather strong breeze (and would you believe it.....some rain!!)....how exciting, we were finally here. One of the first things to be agreed was the location of our bathrooms. We decided that the girls would walk to the east and the guys would walk to the west. (oh, by the way, our bathrooms consisted of a spade, some tissues and a long walk). As we were all typically English, we were rather reserved and only a handful plucked up the courage on the first evening, the rest of us patiently sat there with our legs firmly crossed.
That night we tucked into an amazing meal of salad, tuna and chili as well as getting to know each other more. Sharing our stories of the ascent up the dune and our thoughts of the trip so far. The next morning we awoke to the smell of fresh baked bread and cigarette smoke as the Bedouins prepaired our breakfast.
Our breakfast consisted of fresh bread, fruit and yoghurt with honey. Just the thing to get us ready for our next day of trekking.
After feasting, we packed everything away and commenced our walk. The next couple of days were packed with amazing scenes, rock formations, mountains and lots of sand.
During the morning treks we would have a short break enjoy a strong cup of sweet mint tea prepare by our Bedouin guides who had gone ahead with the camels.
Speaking of camels, at one point we stopped near a rock formation that resembled a camel laying down.
But hey, no rest for the wicked!! Soon we were back on our feet and trekking to another breathtaking location.
Before long, we had adjusted to our new lifestyle. Our leg muscles had accepted that we were no longer at home on our sofas, and for many of us, our inhibitions of going to the bathroom with a spade were long gone (more out of necessity rather than desire).
The group was fantastic. I couldn't wish for nicer people to spend time with. So many different backgrounds, so many stories to share.... so many laughs to endure, so friendly. The evenings around a small camp fire brought us even closer together. It's amazing how in such circumstances no matter what your income is, how important your job is or how big your house is, everybody becomes equal. This was a very humbling experience - one I have not forgotten to this very day.
Each day as dawn broke, we were greeted with the usual smells of fresh bread (and yes, also the aroma of Bedouin cigarette smoke too). I'm not sure whether the sweet mint tea was actually tasting nicer or my sense of taste had just learned to tolerate it!
Also, each day the scenery became even more impressive. Even the odd tree became a object of fascination.
The camels struggled with the concept of seeing a group of mad English explorers trekking through their local habitat with rucksacks on their backs - for one camel, it was all far too much to cope with and he proceeded to hide behind a bush. Have a close look at the photo below and see if you can spot him.
As we continued through the trek, the terrain would change from sand planes to rocky passages to dried up river beds. The affects of the storms and floods from a few weeks earlier were clearly visible.
A few members of the group took up the opportunity to occasionally ride the camels and observe the scenery from a slightly different perspective. When walking behind them, you had to watch where you were stepping as well as looking at the stunning scenery.
Occasionally there was a chance to climb to higher ground. Even though the climbs were somewhat strenuous , the rewards were unforgettable and were fantastic photo opportunities.
At the end of each day, once the sun had finally set and dinner was consumed, we would all crawl into our sleeping bags and catch up on some well earned sleep. Only occasionally being waken up in the night by the odd insect trying to crawl inside.
Never before had I seen such an amazing skies. There were no clouds, no glow of city lights, just stars - perfect!
The mornings came and the sun rose from over the horizon to provide some warmth as we ate breakfast and packed up again for the next experience.
The last day of our main trek came and we were invited to our local Bedouin's' shacks, to meet their families. On the way we visited an ancient burial ground. The round buildings in the photograph below are the burial chambers.
When we arrived at the Bedouins' shacks, we were kindly greeted by their wives and children. We were humbled by their living conditions and their hospitality. We were presented with the crafts that they had been making and were given the opportunity to purchase some of their wares. This also allowed us to show our gratitude for the superb service that they had given us throughout the trek.
After this, we made our way to the base of Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai is renowned for being the mountain from which Moses received the tablets of the ten commandments from God. During the afternoon and evening we made our way up a steep pass that took us near to the top of the mountain, where we spent the night in freezing temperatures huddled around a large camp fire. Never before has sweet tea and biscuits tasted so nice.
A couple of hours before sunrise, we were all awaken and began our final climb to the summit of the mountain to meet the hundreds of people who had walked up the steps of redemption to the top (this is a regular pilgrimage trip for many people). What an experience, to be at the summit of Mount Sinai and to watch the sun rise over the mountain tops in the distance, seeing the light slowly flood over the peaks and valleys and to watch the sand slowly turn golden.
Once the sun was clearly in view, we returned to our camp to eat breakfast and to warm up, full of conversation - discussing the event that we had just experienced.
So, our trek was finally coming to an end. A last chance for a group photo.....
..before transcending down the steps of redemption to St.Catherine's monastery.
The significance of St.Catherine's monastery is that it supposedly houses the roots of the biblical burning bush.
The final morning was spent lounging around the pool and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea, before finally jumping on the minibus to make our way to the airport.
Unfortunately, I must have had a suspicious looking face, as I was stopped at the security desk in the airport and was promptly asked to empty everything out of my luggage in front of the guards - before they were happy that I did not have any dodgy items in my bag.
We eventually returned to Heathrow and said our final goodbyes. This was a very emotional moment for me, I met some wonderful people and gained two very special friends - as well as experiencing some magical and unforgettable moments. My life changed during that trip in a big way - I began to realise what was really important in life, for the first time I really felt that I was truly beginning to understand. The hugs were soon over and it was back to the car for the long journey home.....until next time.....
xxx THE END xxxBy Graham Ettridge
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