Sunday, 29 August 2010

From sunrise to sunset: Cate's birthday

On the morning of the 25th of August, my birthday, we woke at 5am to watch the sunrise. Apparently Egypt don't do the whole hour ahead thing like the rest of the world does. So by accident we woke at 4am to watch a dark sky. At 5am, a slow purple haze appeared above the sea. Gently red infiltrated the purple, the pink, then yellow light. As this light fell on the waves, two giant crabs scuttled past us and were swept quite suddenly into the sea. One of us was a bit scared by the crabs. I won't say who, but he is known to call cockroaches crickets.

We ate some bread and our driver came to collect us in his pick-up. He sped us to the nearby town to catch the bus - our plan was to go to Mount Sinai, where God appeared to Moses and gave him the law. It was exhilirating, speeding through the air as the sun ascended, a red, burning ball above the sea. We got off at the local town Nuweiba. After an hour - a thoroughly enjoyable hour as we watched a stray camel amble down the road, seemingly unafraid of violently fast buses, chomping innocently on a tree - our bus arrived. Exhuasted after a rough night, I snoozed for what seemed like half an hour. Suddenly the driver was ushering us off the bus. We had hoped to get off at Dahab, and catch our connecting bus to Mount Sinai. This dude recommended we get off at this random junction, as it would save time. On the map it certainly seemed to save us two hours travel time. We disembarked.

The promised bus never came. The sun was beating down and we were stranded. Our only company was mountains, electric pylons and fifteen police men manning a checkpoint, grumpy with guns. In hope of our bus, we waited there for three hours. I cried. It was my birthday and I was stranded and sad. Nick was sad because I was sad. We were both really sad. I opened some of my beautiful cards... THANK you my dearest and most precious friends for these! Such a delight! Such colour and joy and words of love! These made me cry even more because I wanted to be in London drinking coffee and celebrating with loving people. Instead I had pilons and guns. (And the amazing Nick! who was seriously brilliant throughout our stranding.) One gunman became our friend and asked truck drivers to help us. We desperately held our thumbs to posh tour companies but all the westerners averted their eyes from us! The lowest point was when I asked the gunmen if I could use their longdrop. They didn't initially understand, and as I walked away I saw one look digusted and shake his hands at me with such a degree of horribleness that I told Nick when I got back. Ooh and then one of my favourite moments of the day! Nick marched up to the gunmen and gave them an impressive telling off - and as they fobbed him off with 'no problem, it's no problem', he said, undeterred by their gigantic rifles, 'It is a problem! You were rude! She's upset! And it's her birthday!' The man apologised and I was somewhat smitten with my choice of husband.

A Bedouin man (the local tribe in Sinai) stopped by and offered to take us to Sinai for a fee. We accepted gratefully, and got to stop by at his home en route - a tiny hole carved into a mountain of rock. He dropped us off once more in the middle of nowhere with guards, which was almost the final straw, but apparently this time we were extremely close to Sinai. Another Bedouin (very old with no teeth, wonderful eyes and an ancient wooden stick) offered us a lift to Sinai. We jumped in, and he too dropped us off NOT at Sinai but CLOSE to Sinai, and this time, hungry we stopped to eat. I pottered off to a local stall. By this stage I was so exhausted. I knew the stall owner would be keen for some chat. I decided to embark on a NEW TACTIC - silence. This is how it went.
Owner - 'Hello!'
Me - Silence
Owner - 'Come in!'
Me - Silence
Owner - 'Have a look!'
Me - Smile and silence
Owner - 'You are beautiful, and quiet! An angel!'
So impressed by my silence was he, that he gave me a free bracelet. When he offered to put it on for me, I said no thanks my husband would, and he started telling me how lucky my husband was. He interupted himself and started writing a postcard to my husband saying the following 'Necolas you are lucky, wife is beautiful angel, England.' He was so zealous that he didn't mind drawing on his own resources to pen his heartfelt congratulations.

We walked the final stretch, ten minutes in the desert heat, and found our monastry guesthouse, at the foot of Sinai. What an oasis in the desert: cool, clean rooms and a leafy courtyard. We had made it.

We were ready to make like Moses and, er, climb up Mount Sinai...

Or at least we were ready to sit on some camels while they did the legwork and we enjoyed the view. On the way we met a police man who insisted we go back and get a torch if we were to go up at this time - nearly 5pm. Having done that & got Cate's glasses, I showed him my super 1/2 Watt wind-up LED mini torch which he very much liked, though he did drop it. It's not up to much, but it doesn't get dark that quickly does it?

We paid for two camels and a guide with some of Cate's birthday money and we were off. This was harder work than either of us imagined as we gripped on with our legs and tried not to panic as we trusted them to follow the path and not wander off down the cliff. I noticed their feet were much more suited to the climb than say a horseshoe would be - they are kind of like lanky horses with slippers. Mine made very strange noises a lot. And also farted really really loudly on occasion. I'm not sure even now that Cate believes it was the camel. It was. Honestly.

After about an hour and half, we were ready to give up our sideways munching friends and walk the last 45 mins up to the summit. This is a much steeper bit not suitable for camels and was pretty hard going. Though we had been warned of the hoards of tourists, we had gone up the whole mountain alone. At the top we joined a few people who had also come for the sunset and found a place to sit.

The sweat and tears were to be rewarded. Mount Sinai was astounding: towering peaks as far as the eye could see, with dark shadows of valleys between. The red sun we watched rise now set amidmst this overwhelming land of mountains, of power, the earth brown peaks and black valleys illuminated by red and gold light. I was so amazed at its vastness and how small I was, that I felt almost frightened. The God who made all of this suddenly seemed so magnificent and massive, and I was so small. I knew He was God and He could do whatever He wanted. And then I remembered His love for me, and I was overwhelmed. He is so holy. I thought I could hear Him whispering 'Be holy, as I am holy'. What a call... and I have the Spirit in me, who is Holy by name, to lead me to holiness...

It suddenly grew dark very quickly, and I couldn't see Nick anywhere. A quick jaunt down the mountain I thought, jogging over in my little plastic flipflops. Nick was cross I had taken so long - he was worried about about the descent. I began to understand why. In the blink of an eye it was night, and we were stuck at the top of a mountain. We still had our guide who had accompanied us on the camel, and so we were reassured by his presence. The problem was he skipped like an antelope, leaping down the hills as if they were green English meadows, and we were often left quivering with our pathetic torch behind. This jaunt became an absolute marathon. A mix of ferociously uneven rocks, jolting our ankles and causing us to slip, combined with death traps around the corner, as a few wrong steps would lead to hurtling off the edge, and added to that serious exhaustion, antelope guide and hours still to go... At one point I mounted a stray camel to ease my legs, but it hurtled me back and forth so painfully I had to get down. In the end I was so tired I was speechless and my legs were shaking like jelly. We arrived like drained wretches to a wonderful three course meal at the monastry and an incredible night's sleep. Was the trek worth it? Yes. But I might not hop up there tomorrow.


  1. Nick, great blogging! And earning many husband points, which is good. Am tempted to say chip off the old block except that it is only recently that I have myself become 'El Puno', scourge of the airport carparks. We love reading your stuff and brilliant Cate's stuff and feel very close to you both. Love Dads

  2. Wow! Respect for you guys - the heat, the perseverance to get to the mountain, the camels, the height, the dark, the jelly legs. Amazing!

  3. how scary it must be trusting a camel to follow a path beside a long drop.... and talking of long drops well done Nick hero of the moment!
    Loved Cate trying a new tactic silence! What a funny story beautifully told. So glad you had an unforgettable(but totally exhausting)birthday dear Cate.. we miss you both so much lots of love mum xxx

  4. well done you! sounds amazing! you are doing so well! can't believe the adventures and you tell it to 'real-ly.' great story tellers and loving reading them. yes! woopee! love you guys xxx char

  5. Love your posts! Thanks for sharing your travels.

  6. That was me, Amanda M.