Judy in Egypt, Day 9: Biblical Sinai

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Crossroads senior web editor Judy Koutsky arrived in Cairo Jan. 29 to begin a two-week adventure in Egypt, sponsored by Wild Women Adventures. Armed with a laptop and digital camera, she is sending on-site reports and photographs back to Crossroads' New Jersey headquarters on a daily basis (or whenever she can get an Internet connection). Agents who have questions or advice for Judy during her trip can send email to [email protected]

SHARM AL-SHEIKH, Egypt -- The top tourist attraction on the Sinai Peninsula, which separates Islamic Egypt from Israel, is a Christian monastery, St. Catherine's. The monastery, located at the foot of what is believed to be Mount Sinai, is occupied by Greek Orthodox monks and has been the destination of pilgrimages since the fourth century. It is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the world.

The journey to St. Catherine's is three hours each way from Sharm Al-Sheikh. There is some fantastic scenery to take in during the ride. St. Catherine'sDespite its isolated location, the monastery and Mount Sinai a great numbers of tourists and pilgrims.

Within its walls, visitors can see the bush that is believed to be the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. The thorny bush was transplanted to the back of the church, where visitors can see it flourishing. Also at the monastery is a collection of over 2,000 icons, nearly 100 of which are exhibited in the Icon Gallery.

Monks can be seen strolling the grounds, and a beautiful courtyard of olive trees completes the picture. In the distance, crosses can be seen on top of the surrounding mountains.

Outside the monastery, visitors can walk to the top of Mount Sinai, where it is believed that Moses received the Ten Commandments. Instead of taking the three-hour walk, visitors can go to the top via camel. Many begin the journey up the mountain at 3 a.m. so they can arrive in time to see the sun rise over St. Catherine's. While we did not undertake this journey, I'm told by those who have that it is more than memorable. Considering the religious and historic significance, and taking into account that Christians, Jews and Muslims alike make this trek, St. Catherine's is a can't-miss for clients visiting the region.

The monastery is closed Fridays, Sundays and Orthodox holidays. On other days, it is open only from 9 a.m. to noon. by camelVisitors should dress modestly, covering knees and shoulders.

After visiting the monastery, we drove to a bedouin settlement where we rode camels guided by the bedouin people. The bedouins are nomads that roam the Sinai with their camels, goats and sheep.

For these people, wealth is measured in camels and children, but they gradually are becoming open to the earning potential of tourism. The bedouins served us tea and bread in their village and offered us a glimpse into their daily lives. We were expected only to buy jewelry in exchange for their hospitality. The jewelry is handmade and very inexpensive; I bought two bracelets for less than $3.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving back to our hotel. The visit to St. Catherine's, was well worth the six-hour bus ride, but clients based in Sharm Al-Sheikh should be made aware that it is a full day's excursion. The bedouins were very gracious hosts, and meeting them was another invaluable opportunity to appreciate Egypt's diverse population.

Wild Women Adventures: 107 N. Main Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Phone: (800) 992-1322. Web: www.wildwomenadv.com. Email: [email protected]

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