Sharm el-Sheik rises at the far end of the Sinai Peninsula facing a Red Sea more coralline, blue and alluring than anywhere else.
The place has hosted so many reconciliation conferences that it has come to be known as “The City of Peace” even though it is known that, in 2005, a terrorist attack carried out with car bombs caused the death of 64 people, mostly Muslims.
This incident has caused the influx of visitors to the area to dwindle to almost nothing, but when it comes to tourism, memory is short. Large hotel groups and travel agencies were quick to reorganize.
They combined charter flights and packages at surreal prices, the guarantee of unforgettable underwater experiences and a nightly mega-disco atmosphere. A few years later, the resort's resorts were once again crowded, mostly with Italian neighbors across the river. Mare Clausum but also with many thousands of Russian guests.
It is at the door of one of these beach hostels that they pick us up at eleven at night. The van appears to be overcrowded and passengers take a long time to free up seating space.
The Unexpected Russified Expedition to Mount Sinai
They are almost all Russian and, in the image of several other employees of the planted seaside hotels, it gives us the feeling that Mohammed, the Egyptian guide at the microphone, speaks their Slavic language as well or better than they do. The trip is expected to take 3 hours. Halfway through, we still stopped at a roadside whereabouts.
“Last place with bathroom” announces to us, in English, the driver. "If you don't have clothes for the cold, take advantage of it now too, there will be no shortage of supplies". The prediction is confirmed immediately.
A frenzied band of sellers of gloves, scarves and bonnets rushes the passengers and pressures them to do business. Shortly thereafter, we are urged to resume the journey, which continues to rise from sea level to the highest lands of Egypt.
The driver returns to the station and his crazy routine. Luckily, we don't have a real sense of how fast we're going. With the exception of the competing vans which proudly overtakes around, all references disappear in total darkness.
A Russia, is, by coincidence, a record-setting nation in terms of traffic accidents. Little impressed by the driver's display of virility or annoyed by the discomfort of their improvised positions, some passengers share a prodigious sleep that only ends when we finally reach the surroundings of the Santa Catarina Monastery.
All Faith in Susi, the Bedouin guide from Sinai
A young Bedouin awaits us there. Jamil introduced himself at ease and gave us a code name “your group will be called Susi. When they hear someone screaming for Susi, they already know it's up to you. Please don't forget. Today there will be more people than ever.”
Susi? We find the new half-unnatural identity strange, but we end up ingraining it. Even because, however, the journey begins and even with frontals placed over the foreheads, we soon feel lost in human trafficking and camelid intense that runs along the Way of Moses.
In the Biblical Steps of Moses
According to the biblical narrative, this patriarch freed his shackled people from the yoke of the pharaohs and led them to the promised but elusive places of Canaan.
On the top of the mountain where we were walking, in a 40 days and nights stay, God revealed himself to him and gave him two tablets with the Ten Commandments that he should teach to his people, thus founding a new monotheistic faith.
When Moses returned, he found his people worshiping a golden calf. In a rage, he destroyed the figure and instructed men of the tribe to which he belonged to go through the field and kill everyone, including the children.
Once the carnage was over, the bewildered patriarch returned to the mountain for another 40 days and 40 nights.
God appeared to him once more and gave him new Tables of the Law. Returning to the survivors, he definitively gave them the Commandments. But it could do nothing to prevent the founded and regained belief from branching out through history.
The Christian, Jewish and Muslim Pilgrimage to Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai is now considered sacred to the three Abrahamic religions and visited by Christian, Jewish and Muslim believers.
We have ahead of us some Orthodox Christians, old or overgrown, some belonging to the newly established Susi group because Jamil cries out from time to time. The trail remains tight and we can see almost nothing towards the rocky and uneven edges.
Out of respect for the guide's authority, we preserved ourselves in this slow platoon. But at a certain point, dozens of other pilgrims who, like us, find it difficult to follow so slowly come under pressure from behind.
And the Painful and Troubled Night Ascension
At the same time, from the sides, the breathy and smelly camels and dromedaries that the Bedouins inflict on walkers in difficulty, in a growing dispute for profits that seem inevitable, are squeezing and drooling.
Jamil appears, like a jilaba's savior angel. He had already realized the restlessness in which we were walking and the desire we had to become autonomous. “They want to go ahead, right? OK no problem.
Go almost to the top but when you find the biggest concentration of stalls, enter the 3rd one and wait for me. The owner is my friend. Also called Jamil. Drink anything and rest."
So we do. Although somewhat charged, we passed large groups, several, Nigerians formed by ecstatic believers who sing or shout in a Gospel style of moving choir their emotion, as they feel closer to God: “I’m going to meet the Lord. Praise the Lord. I'm going to meet him! Hallelujah!"
We leave your trails of light and faith behind. We advanced at our pace and gained extra time to recover the boiling muscles in our thighs and watch that eccentric pilgrimage from some of the small businesses set up along the way.
Also in the latter, by Jamil, covered with large bright rugs of Arab or Bedouin weaving. As agreed, we wait there for the homonymous guide.
The Mystic but Freezing Top of Mount Sinai
We are at the edge of the 2285 m of Jabal Musa, one of the highest elevations in Egypt. The air is therefore much thinner than at the foot of the mountain and, at 4 am, surprisingly cold for a place at the gates of the always sultry Arabian Peninsula.
We took the opportunity to drink hot chocolate and regain our temperature, breath and legs that are already throbbing from so much step. Jamil and some of the Russians show up almost 20 minutes later.
One or the other drag themselves up the path, aided in the threshold of their physical possibilities, when the camels can no longer help them and there are still hundreds of steps to the end of penance.
Part of the final staircase to the summit tapers the procession even further. We used goat detours to get around it and reach the summit in time for sunrise, which we ended up achieving.
Upstairs, the luminosity increases visibly and the daily miracle of dawn unfolds. The sky takes on pink and scarlet tones and the large star, which is still partial, yellows the granite pattern of the chapel of Santa Trindade, surrounded by believers out of their minds.
The cries, cries and religious chants form a transcendental moan that sounds like the summons. And, as the rapt eyes and passionate smiles of his followers reveal, God may not have revealed himself as Moses did on that inhospitable piece of earth, but he touched their hearts deeply.
The Diurnal Descent to the Monastery of Santa Catarina
One Slavic believer, in particular, makes a point of praising privilege in retreat. He moves away from us, kneels on the ground, turns his back on the rocks, and stretches his arms towards the changing firmament.
The confirmation of the dawn reveals the stony scenario in which Moses got lost. Little by little, the pilgrims return to themselves and to the foothills from where they started.
There, the Monastery of St. Catherine, ordered to be built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, awaits them.
And, inside, the burning bush that the resident Orthodox Christian authorities marked as the one in which God materialized and revealed to the patriarch. THE Promised land the one he almost reached is still a long way off. This is another romance.