Erica in Cairo

Erica is a junior majoring in art history in Meadows School of the Arts and international studies in Dedman College, with a minor in Italian. She also is a Hatton W. Sumners Scholar. In fall 2010, Erica will be taking classes in Egyptology and Middle Eastern studies at the American University in Cairo with SMU-in-Cairo. She hopes to learn as much Arabic as possible while traveling throughout the region.

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A frigid sunrise on Sinai

cairo13.jpgUntil we hiked Mount Sinai on Friday night, we did nothing but swim, eat at the innumerable gorgeous beachfront restaurants (I hardly ever had to salt anything!), and go out at night.

The water was incredible- like an entirely new aquatic world. Also, if you were merely swimming on the beach, every once in a while you could hear the scuba divers in training right below you; they circled like sharks, and the water sounded like it was breathing, a la Darth Vader. It was an interesting sensation. We weren’t able to scuba ourselves because Sinai was right in the middle of our trip, and you can’t scuba dive and hike to such elevation in such short time! I have no doubt that I will be back, however, and scuba I will.

One of the coolest aspects of Dahab was its location. You looked right across the water at Saudi Arabia – watched the sun set over the tyrannical country daily. It was beautiful. We heard a story about a man who windsurfed across the water and was met at the Saudi beach by 12 armed guards, then thrown in Saudi prison and eventually extradited to Egypt. Yikes! I was talking to a Saudi friend of mine, who hates going back, and she said, “Yes, it is not illegal for you to go to Saudi Arabia, but if you windsurfed over, you would be in a swimsuit? Yes, that would be the problem.” I also met an American boy who was raised on a compound in Saudi Arabia because his family is in the oil business. Born and raised on a Saudi compound – he has the coolest accent I’ve ever heard. It’s a treat just listening to him talk.

cairo10.jpgMoving on! Climbing Mount Sinai in the middle of Friday night to see the sunrise. To remind you, we were on a bus all of Wednesday night and slept maybe three hours Thursday night, on top of swimming in the sun all day. Oddly enough it was Dakini, who by now had a British accent, that arranged for a Bedouin friend of hers to take us up the mountain for $26 (too much).

I was skeptical, but it worked out surprisingly well! Her guy, Hussein, drove with the windows down for the entire two hours – it felt like a tornado was roaring through the bus – but we arrived safely and in one piece. The group that ended up going with Hussein numbered about ten. (Dakini had swindled Sally and I into paying before we left her camp by saying everyone was going with her.) And aside from us four girls, the other six boys were all West Point studs – incredibly fit and competitive. I thought I was going to die.

It was 1 a.m. when we began the hike, and there was no light whatsoever. Instead of taking it at a “pilgrimage” pace, like the thousands of others attempting the hike at the same time, we began at what was (for me) the pace of a slow run, passing every tourist group we saw, dancing on the rocks to get around them without falling off the side of the cliff. It became much easier when one of the boys took my backpack and our Bedouin leader told us that there was a hut that sold Snickers bars coming up in the next couple of minutes (Egyptian minute = 30 actual minutes). I don’t think I would have made it without such primitive inspiration – I was praying the entire time that God would help me think of Moses and not my lungs.

cairo11.jpgThe entire hike kind of felt like a weird dream now, because it all happened in the middle of the night. By 5 a.m. we had neared the top, after about 700 steps leading to the summit. There were men that smelled like camels renting out “mattresses” (pieces of cotton two inches thick covered with a cloth that smelled like an animal), and blankets (also beastly smelling, and likely covered with fleas). But we all got one of each, knowing that the sun wouldn’t rise for another 4 1/2 hours, and it’s known to be rigidly cold at the top.

When we arrived, our leader took us to the roof of a low edifice where we would have a perfect view of the sunrise, and we waited. Freezing, we waited. I fell asleep. When I awoke, the sun still hadn’t risen, and I was still freezing. The entire experience was one I’m glad I had, but I have a hard time appreciating hiking because it’s harder for me to appreciate beauty while in physical pain. After seeing an absolutely biblical sunrise, we set off back down the mountain. After the mass exodus had dispersed slightly, I put on my iPod and kept up with the leaders the whole trek down.

cairo12.jpgAt the base of the mountain we saw the burning bush at St. Catherine’s monastery, which is as much the burning bush as the rock at Delphi is the belly button of the earth. We then repeated the tornado ride home. Another day on the beach followed, and then Dakini decided to organize a dinner for the group. Sally and I had no interest, so we told the group to call us when they were done. Obviously, we napped. We went to sleep at 10 p.m., thinking that they would be done by 11, so when we woke up at 3 a.m. thinking we missed their call, we were amused to see they had actually just called! We all met up at a dance club called Mojito around 3:30 am., danced until 5:30, laid on the beach until 6, and then went to bed until 8:30, when we had to get up for our bus back to Cairo, another story in itself, which I will report on later.

Dahab is a sleepless city of both relaxation and energy, and a city that I highly recommend visiting. However, rest up me hearties (yo ho) before you go, because you won’t get any sleep once you’re there.

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