So I'm really excited to write to you about my trip to Sinai (woot). I got back yesterday, but then we had another holiday (more about that later) so I didn't have time to write it then. And you know I mean business because I have a big bottle of diet coke by my side and a finished bag of shoko (mmm chocolate milk in a bag).
Anyways the way you get to Sinai from Israel is you take the bus down to Eilat, then take a cab (about 10 minutes) to the border with Egypt, then you walk across the border and you get your passports checked and all that good stuff and then viola you are in Taba a city in Sinai. Then we took a 2 hour ride to Dahab where we stayed for the 4 nights.
So the first thing we experienced in Sinai was coming outof the border we were basically swamped by cab drivers trying to get us to ride with them. We were walking to the bus station and all I can say is WOW, I was not expecting them to be so aggressive. I thought Israeli people (at least the ones trying to sell you stuff) were aggressive, and these Egyptians put them to shame. Anyways things ended up working out and we got a cab to take us (for super cheap!) to Dahab.
Second thing I experienced in Sinai was the beauty and magnificence of the landscape there. There were many tall rocky mountains and since we were in the desert it was pretty hazy which gave it a very mystical quality. In the Torah it speaks about the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years, which is (at least partially) referring to Sinai, so it was kind of cool to be there. I'm not talking about the historicity of the bible, that is something for another time, but to be in a place where the Israelites "got the Torah" and really developed as a people in critical ways that makes up a decent amount of material within those first 5 books, was certainly a trip. I can really see why people would feel close to God in this place. It was awe inspiring.
So after the rough ride to Dahab we settled in at our hostel/hotel (the penguin hotel, thanks Senna for the recommendation...). Dahab is a pretty touristy city but it's cute and the tourists were from around the world so that was cool to experience. We definitely were not inIsrael anymore.
The first full day there we went to the beach, I think it was called Lagoon or maybe Lagouna. It was about a 40 minute walk away from where we were staying. The thing about Dahab is that is has reefs all over the place, so even though we were staying right on the water it was not a good place to just go swimming. When we got to the beach is was lovely. The water is soooo blue there and it's also nice and cold which was important since it was so friggin hot there (ughhh even hotter than Israel). Here is a picture I took at the beach. It doesn't quite capture the beauty of the scene, but it gives you a little taste.
The next day we went on a snorkling trip. As I said, Dahab is known for it's snorkling/scuba diving. So we ended up going on this day trip to two different snorkling places with a bunch of other people who were visiting Dahab. The second destination was called "blue hole" and if you are ever in Sinai you gotta go. It was unbelievable! There were these coral reefs that came up to about 3 feet or 2 feet below the surface of the water and then then went down so far that you couldn't see where they ended. It was incredible, there were all these beautiful, colorful fish (yes I found nemo), and fascinating things to look at. It was crazy how there were these rich reefs and then right next to it a blue abyss. I feel like I'm describing it strangely, but yeah go. I wish I had an underwater camera to take some pictures, but I guess you will just have to see for yourself.
One of my favorite parts of the snorkeling day was the HUGE schools of tiny fish, minnows maybe, or sardines (I don't know my fish types)? Anyways they were these small, small silverish/whitish, shiny fish that swam all over the place and often got pretty close to the surface. So what I did was dive down and got in the middle of the huge school and ugh it was SOOO cool, the fish didn't want to touch me at all so they formed a perfect wall and swam around me and I was just surrounded by this aura of little fishies. It was awesome. I was speaking with someone else on our snorkeling trip and they agreed with me, so even if it doesn't sound cool, trust me :-)
We got back from our snorkling trip at 5pm and went to nap because we had to be ready by 11pm to go climb Mt. Sinai!! While it is impossible to know what mountain is actually mt. Sinai/if there actually ever was anything significant that really happened there, we thought it would be cool to climb the mountain that people thought was mt. Sinai. I think it was decided in like the 4th century or so CE that this was THE mountain, so regardless of the truth of the statement there is a lot of history at this mountain.
So what you do is you leave around 11pm and you get there at 1am and start the climb. You climb at night because it is WAY too hot during the day, and people go to watch the sunrise. The one thing I didn't expect, but I shouldn't have been surprised by, was the number of people climbing. The night we were there, there was probably about 300 to 500 people climbing with us. It was quite a hike, but I had some interesting conversations with people in our hiking group, and it was cool to just look out into the desert at night and up at the stars. I felt a lot of sympathy for Moses haha.
So we got to the top at 4something in the morning and we picked out a good spot to chill before the sunrise. Little did we know we were partially sitting in a beduin coffee shop/stand thing. After arguing for a little about our right to stay in the area my friend paid him off by getting a cup of coffee. It was funny, I think it's the same in Israel, but arguing is something that happens more often here, and it's nothing personal, people are just more ok with fighting back and getting their way.
So after a few minutes we made friends with the guy in the coffee shop thing (it was basically a flame with some hot water and a little counter thingy but not really), and we "helped" him sell stuff. He was yelling "coffee, tea, hot chocolate, mattress blanket" and then at random times we would yell it too, but also add random stuff in like "camel!" or taxi. It was a funny interaction, we were all laughing a lot, even the Bedouin guy (I'm forgetting his name...). The guy sitting next to me asked if we were high (no, we were just high off the endorphans from climbing the mountain).
Before you get to mt. Sinai they tell you it will be cold so bring warm things. I didn't believe them, so I brought a sweater. I mean it was soooo friggin hot, I couldn't imagine being cold. But let me tell you, it was freezing up there while we waited for the sun to rise. So if you do the hike, trust me, bring some sweatpants and a blanket (or you could rent a blanket up at the top). The bedouin guy actually gave us a blanket for free which was super nice.
To be honest the sunrise was pretty lame. Everyone was taking a million pictures, but yeah it was nothing special. I overheard one guy saying the sunrises are better in the winter. Whatevs. My favorite part of the whole this was when the sun was up and you could fully see the scenery around you. It was breathtaking. The mountains were this gorgeous red-ish color, and the shapes of the rock formations on the mountains were really cool. Here is one picture of it, or well it and me at the top of mt. Sinai (I think I look super Israeli in this pic and tired haha).
There were some other cool parts I didn't take pictures of because they were on the climb down and I was afraid I was going to fall and die if I tried to take my camera out. There are two ways to go up mt. Sinai, one is a path and the other is ALL STAIRS. We climbed up the path, but then somehow by accident we ended up going down the stairs route (I think it is called the stairs of attrition). It was worth it because the views were amazing, and there were so many interesting rock formations, not to mention we escaped the crowd and the smelly camels. BUT it did hurt a lot after a while. We climbed for like 2 hours down rock steps without any breaks in the steps. By the end my knees were all wobbly and I am still having issues climbing down steps, but we made it. woot
We got back to our hostel at around noon and passed out. We just chilled for the rest of the day and went to a small beach that was closer to the hostel. We also went shopping, there was a market place thing that basically sold stuff to tourists and ripped everyone off haha. I got a cute scarf and some board shorts though, and while I probably got ripped off, I think I bargained them down pretty well, and everything was cheap anyways so it wasn't horrible.
I forgot to mention another highlight of the trip...At the hostel there were these 4 adorable kittens that were tiny and super cute and ahh OMG. I spent a good amount of time making friends with them/petting them. Here is a pic:
The cats around where we were staying were more socialized, I think because they are used to being around people trying to get food so they put up with being pet which was great for me, so I finally got the whole petting cats thing out of my system for a little, but I still want a pet cat sooo bad. Some day... The guy at the hostel actually offered me a kitten to take home, and I was sad that I couldn't, I hope they find a good home.
So as fun as Sinai was, the time came to go back to Israel. The weird thing about it was how friggin excited I was to go back to Israel, we all were. I was so happy to hear hebrew again, which I did at the border because many Israelis were crossing over too. It made me realize how much Israel has become home for me this year. I was grinning as I passed into Israel. I really do love it here, and I think it is easy to get hung up on the things that bother me about this place, but Israel is soo much more than that, and being in Egypt helped me realize that.
First thing I did back in Israel was have shwarma, mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. After having been vegetarian for the whole time in Egypt it was wonderful, gosh I love shwarma.
So last funny story: On the bus back to j'lem from Eilat I was sitting next to this girl who I recognized from the bus on the way down to Eilat. We started talking and it turned out she worked at camp Eisner last summer so we knew some of the same people. It was really crazy, ohh Jewish geography, and it was crazy it worked with an Israeli who grew up in Jerusalem. Good times.
So we got back on Wednesday night right before simchat torah started. It's good to be home :-) (more on simchat torah to come, I'm gonna make it a separate blog entry because this one is crazy long).
So to sum up: Go to Sinai if you can, it is fun, super cheap, and a beautiful place. yay