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Of Bedouins and Bedrock: Life in the Sinai Desert, Egypt

Updated on October 26, 2011
Bedouin elder in prayer on Mediterranean beach
Bedouin elder in prayer on Mediterranean beach
Lodging at St. Catherine's Village near the base of Mt. Sinai blends in well with rocky, dry surroundings
Lodging at St. Catherine's Village near the base of Mt. Sinai blends in well with rocky, dry surroundings
Individual unit at St. Catherine's Village.
Individual unit at St. Catherine's Village.
The path leading up Mt. Sinai, looking back
The path leading up Mt. Sinai, looking back
Trail up Mt. Sinai. Camel traffic is common.
Trail up Mt. Sinai. Camel traffic is common.

Bedouins

If you want to see an ancient tribe of people and the incredibly difficult environment in which they live, go to the Sinai Desert in Egypt. As a biologist, I searched the terrain at the base of Mt.Sinai for any signs of plant or animal life. I saw a couple of species of birds, but I could barely find a plant of any kind amongst the rock and stone that lay as far as the eye could see. There is a tribe of people who live in this austere environment—the Bedouins. Young girls tended a small flock of goats as they scampered effortlessly over the boulder-strewn landscape looking for a plant on which to browse near where I was searching. They yelled at me in their high-pitched trill with face fully covered in a black burka. Yet again, the phrase about not being in Kansas anymore came to mind.

St. Catharine's Monastery

At the base of Mt.Sinai is one of the planet’s most incredible landmarks—St. Catharine’s Monastery (see video below). This is the world’s oldest continuously-occupied Christian monastery; it has been staffed by priests of the Greek Orthodox church since the 6th century. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Enclosed within the grounds of the monastery is the “burning bush” of biblical fame. I stood in front of the bush with one of England's foremost botanists who explained to me that the bush was a shrub in the genus Rubus. That’s right, it is a raspberry bush. The gallery of art inside contains some of the oldest icons in existence (photos not allowed); they are well over 1,000 years old. The site is considered sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Mt. Sinai

The hike up Mt.Sinai is not that strenuous, or you can ride a camel up. We only had time to go half way, but the views of the Sinai Desert below were breathtaking. Of course, this is the mount on which Moses supposedly received the 10 commandments from God. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the antiquity that emanates from the entire area generates a sincere respect for the history represented.

All photos by DrTom. For great travel deals, see DrTom's Travel Shoppe.

We walked, but you could ride.
We walked, but you could ride.
Young girl at wadi in Sinai Desert
Young girl at wadi in Sinai Desert

Mt. Sinai and St. Catherine's Monastery

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    • profile image

      AJ 

      7 years ago

      As I cannot travel to these places except vicariously I enjoy items like this, thank you for sharing! This is a good demonstration that even in extremes life persists.

    • Life at DrTom's profile imageAUTHOR

      Life at DrTom's 

      7 years ago from Ithaca, NY

      Great advice Tom. Sounds like you know a lot more about the area than I do. Fascinating part of the world.

    • profile image

      Tom Kenis 

      7 years ago

      I've lived in Cairo, and the occupied Palestinian territories for a combined 5 years. Every long weekend, or any other chance me and a bunch of friends had, we'd go East or South respectively and camp out in the Sinai. I've hiked up the mountain a few times, and spent the night to await the most magnificent sunrise you've ever seen.

      Absolutely wonderful!

      For those going to the Sinai, there's some wonderful snorkeling to be done in Sharm el-Sheikh, and up north, in Dahab and Tarabin too. Check out the smaller camps in between the towns for a quiet time away from internet, TV, tourist peddlers and whatnot. Choose carefully because the upkeep and management changes every year. Just walk along the beach and check for places that seem well-kept, or where there's a couple of people staying already (always a good indicator!)

      Prices are dirt-cheap, as long as you don't mind a reed hut, and don't require a socket to charge your iPhone and whatnot.

      Food-wise: if you order fish for dinner, and tell your host some time in advance, chances are he'll send someone to go catch it on the spot.

    • profile image

      Susan  

      8 years ago

      Thank you for showing these pictures, as I have always wanted to go there but have been scared to go.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Interesting hub, video and pictures. I have never traveled in that area but I think it would be most interesting.

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