February 24, 2011

Heading off to the Sinai- with a slight disruption on the way

On day two in Egypt we set off for the Sinai Peninsula. At the time we booked the trip, and even after our first night in Egypt, we were still were unsure if we were going to be joined up with some other Western tourists. As it turned out, nope, it was just the three of us.
But, what made it even more surprising was who was going with us. First we had Mohammed, our English-speaking tour guide. Then we had not one, but two "drivers". But, since only one actually did any driving the entire trip, we concluded that the other was really a body guard. But, then even Mohammed was surprised to see a fourth member join the van. It was a plain clothes tourism police officer assigned specifically to us by the government because we were Americans going to the Sinai.

Since Mohammed hadn't actually taken any Americans to Sinai before, he did not expect the extra company. This police officer stood over 6 feet tall, rarely spoke, wore a blue suit and tie and large sunglasses, and carried a gun. We weren't really sure what to think of this; did it mean Sinai really was dangerous? Well, we sort of felt safer having the extra presence.

It's an amazing site to see tankers cruising across the desert
So, there we were, three tourists and four Egyptians in a van. That felt weird. After leaving Cairo, we went across some really boring low desert areas and then things got interesting when we arrived at the Suez Canal. There is a deep tunnel that goes under the canal. But, all along the road at the entrance to the tunnel were the dozens of Army soldiers on both sides with their machine guns. In addition, there were soldiers manning mortars and carrying grenade launchers!

For obvious reasons, I did not take any pictures...It was not allowed.

In the distance, you can see the ships lined up in the alkaline lakes in the center of the canal

As we drove to the otherside of the canal, the van began to sputter and we pulled over at a small run-down cafe. Our van was dead and they had to call over the Min headquarters in Cairo for a new van. Unfortunately, that was going to take 3-4 hours, so we just had to sit there and wait. Within minutes, a jeep full of about 8 soldiers with machine guns pulled up and parked next to us.

At first we just assumed they were stopping at the cafe for a break. But, they sat there and waited and waited and waited. Soon it became obvious they were there to protect us. The Egyptian government did not want anything bad to happen to American tourists and those soldiers were there to make sure these three stranded tourists were safe. Once our new van arrived, they were off.

We lost a lot of time and thus had to give up on one of our planned stops. But, we did stop at Ayun Musa. This was supposedly the spot where Moses lead the Israelites across the Red Sea and then camped out. These natural springs contain numerous palms and tamarisk, and various deep holes (mostly filled with sand) that can be dug for water.

Mohammed, Kathleen, and Linda looking into the well at Ayun Musa

Geological evidence indicates that in antiquity, the entire low-flat region around the Suez Canal was actually covered by a shallow brackish lake (like the two that still exist there today) that was perhaps even shallow enough to walk across. Thus, the Isreaelites may simply have walked across this stretch of the "Red Sea" before the story was embellished into the "parting" of the Red Sea.

Hills of the Western Sinai near sunset
After leaving Ayun Musa, we drove for a few more hours arriving at St. Catherines at the base of Mount Sinai after dark for the night. That is where we will discuss our adventures on the next post.

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