For the past four years I’ve successfully dodged invitations to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park under the stars with friends and family. A combination of fear, disinterest, and a few other good excuses (probably not that good) kept me from discovering the magic that comes with catching the sunrise from atop the world… until the past weekend, that is.
On a blitz weekend getaway from the Kingdom, a dozen students and I set out for the City of Peace: Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Located comfortably on the southern point of the Sinai Peninsula, this beachside resort town is famous for the number of international peace conferences it’s hosted, beautiful diving, and a vibrant nightlife. This being said, I will forever call Sharm “the Marbella of the Middle East” or simply “Sharm el Sheikh, USSR.”
Never in my life have I been more entertained by the Eastern European populace. I would go so far as saying that up to 90% of the tourists visiting Sharm were from somewhere in Eastern Europe (haircuts, miniskirts, and confused looks all dictated this inclination). Looking back, one of my only regrets from the trip was not getting into a political discussion with one of these visitors over a drink (possibly in the middle of one of the many foam parties) to learn exactly how Eastern Europeans came to dominate the Sinai scene. Needless to say, it’s on my to-do list the next time I’m in need of 48 hours of freedom.
As I alluded to in the opening paragraph, the real treat during our vacation to Sharm was scaling one of the most religiously significant peaks in the world; Mount Sinai (or Mount Moses). This mountain, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God was nothing short of spectacular; although sometimes smelly.
After bargaining with local tour guides, fudging our way through six different security checkpoints (including one at the base of the mountain during which a dumbfounded security guard pulled out a Frisbee and a bottle of Havana Rum from one of my friends packs), and hiring a twenty year old to take us up the trail; we started our journey. It was close to 2:30 am.
I’m not sure if it was our delirious state or the pitch darkness, but the first ten minutes of the hike were surreal. The mountains rising up on either side of us, exploiting the brightness of the stars (the most that I’d seen since camping in Africa) and the echoes of our footsteps had us all at the mercy of nature. This peace of mind didn’t last long…
Ten minutes into the hike, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a regular Bedouin Wall Street. Cell phones, whistles, camel grunts and snippets of Italian (don’t ask why) started whirring around us like mad investors buying and selling stocks. Following the example of our un-deterred guide; we dodged camels, men asking for food, and offers to hire a camel with big eyes and a feeling of “awesomeness” (the only word that makes sense here).
Two and a half hours later, we found ourselves huddled in a tent just below the summit packed with beaten-up blankets, heavily-coated mountain men, and the smell of tea lingering in the thin air. Only when the first signs of light pierced the sky did we make the final push for the top.
Watching the sun rise into the sky at this holy site where Jews, Muslims, and Christians can congregate in peace was a memory that surely none of us on top of the mountain that morning will forget; just one of the few things we’ll choose not to forget on this short but memorable trip to Russia, I mean Sharm el Sheikh…