Published: May 2007
I was recently leading a tour in the Holy Land with Val Kerr, Associate Priest, St. George's, St. Catharines. We brought along 27 people and together we were able to visit many of the wonderful religious sites in Israel that we hear about as we sit in church each Sunday, and in our Bible studies. We all shared some wonderful worship experiences like renewing our baptismal covenant at the River Jordan; sharing communion at the sight of the Beatitudes; receiving anointing and praying for healing at The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem; singing and dancing on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. All of these were amazing and almost overwhelming experiences, but the highlight for me was during the last few days of the trip when we drove through the wilderness of the Sinai desert and stopped for a visit at St. Catherines Village.
We had planned a free day in the resort town of Eilat so that our group could have time to rest and digest some of the experiences we had shared during the previous week. The border crossing the next day was an experience in itself and even though people seem to worry about visiting Israel, it is in fact Egypt that seems to be more security minded and has many, many police and security check points. After our walk across the 'no-man's land' between Israel and Egypt and boarding a new bus with Egyptian driver and guide, we set off on a four hour drive south through the desert with beautiful scenery. All of us shared later that we could have done without the drive, but on the other hand we really got a sense of the endlessness of the wilderness and could have empathy for the Israelites who wandered here for 40 years after their escape from slavery in Egypt.
Our accommodation at St. Catherines Village was somewhat 'cottage like' with individual huts... except that when we looked out into the sunset we could see Bedouins in the distance going home on their camels! When we left the dining room that night and entered into the pitch dark and looked down on the hotel site, it was evident that the huts were built to look like Bedouin tents. Most of our group settled in for an early night, while six of us prepared to get up at 1 am to climb Mount Sinai and experience the sunrise from the summit.
After a nice cup of tea we were driven about 10 kms to the Monastery of St. Catherines which sits at the base of Mount Sinai. Our tour guide introduced us to our Bedouin guide who was to lead us to the summit and then return us safely back to the bus by about 9am. So, at about 2:15 am we began to climb, choosing to take the 'easier' route called the Camel Path... as opposed to the stairs. Our guide, Selah, suggested that we hike for about 20 minutes and then rest for 5 or 10 minutes, as we progressed up the mountain.
There was lots of excitement in the air, lots of people who had also gotten up at 1 am to share in this opportunity to climb 2,400' and experience the sunrise from the mountain top. It seemed that about every 10' there was a camel and its owner who would ask everyone who passed, "camel ride Miss?" No thanks! After about a half hour of climbing one of our group was really feeling challenged by the pace and the climb so we negotiated a camel ride...actually the camel owner had us over a barrel and it cost $10 US for a ride up the mountain to the camel station...it was worth it as it was quite a distance. I think it took a great deal of courage to get on that camel and let it walk in the darkness on that narrow path... Yikes! The rest of us hiked for a couple more hours taking rest breaks in little tea houses along the way--'Bedouin Tim Horton's' that sold hot tea and coffee, chocolate bars, and souvenirs. It was very dark on the mountain and we were far from artificial light so that when we did take a break we could stop and look up at the stars which were amazing and there was even a milky way. Breathtaking! Looking up the mountain we could see a zig-zag of lights from people's flashlights and know that is where we need to go, and looking behind and down the mountain there were also lights as far as one could see from the people who were coming up behind us....
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