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Mount Sinai and the St. Catherine Monastery


Date: September 04, 2006


The permits for our mosque visit had been re-scheduled by the Egyptian press center, so Ben decided to move ahead with our 500 Km. pilgrimage to Mount Sinai and the St. Catherine Monastery.

At 2,285m (7,497 ft.), this mountaintop is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike as the historic site where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments by way of a burning bush. At its base is the Monastery of St. Catherine. Among newer structures, including a library surpassed only by the Vatican’s, the fortified monastery houses a Greek Orthodox Church whose origins date back to 337 AD, when Byzantine Empress Helena ordered its construction to house the putative Burning Bush, already a focus of religious pilgrimages.

In order to film the venerated sunrise from the mountaintop Ben, Shaunna, Khairoon and I, rose from our mosquito infested sleepless beds at 2:00 am to begin the 14 Km. trek.

Shaunna and I decided to climb the 3,750 steps of rock that had been hewn from the mountainside by a repentant monk, while Ben chose to walk the easier, tourist laden, switchback Camel trail with Khairoon, who has always been more of a cerebral individual rather than of a physical nature like the rest of us. For weeks now, Khairoon has been quietly brooding over her potential abilities to actually reach the top of this craggy, grey and red, sheer-faced massif with granite walls growing from the middle of the Sinai desert, surrounded by nothing but seemingly endless waves of other ageless mountains. She was game to give it a try though when Ben shared with her his belief that 90% of climbing mountains is more about mental and emotional toughness rather than one’s raw physical strength. Along the way though, her mental strength was tested many times by the Bedouin Camel drivers who would ride up alongside offering her a Camel ride for 40 lbs. Egyptian, (about 7 U.S. dollars), and repeatedly reminding her of how long and far that she had yet to climb and how exhausted she appeared to already be. Khairoon rose to the challenge though and was able to withstand their seductive offers and continued to persevere, acknowledging to Ben more than once through the sweat running into her eyes, “You are so right Ben, It is a mental game, and one that would be so easy to quit!” Personally?... I think she just hates Camels!

 For me, the dark, staggering climb up those 3,750 uneven, rock strewn steps, while  trying to keep up with Shaunna, (who has climbed Everest among her other mountaineering accomplishments), was like trying to keep up with a vertically inclined, long legged Gazelle. (I could have titled this piece, “The Old Guy and the Athlete”!)

We all made the summit in good time, filmed the magnificent sunrise, interviewed the exotic Bedouin and made our journalistic notes. I can’t speak for the others, but I also took a good long personal moment in this high holy place of spiritual significance, to have a private, pleasurable little chat with my parents, whom I always feel closer to, when I’m resting atop a mountain peak. 

Later at the Monastery we were befriended by a local, young church security official named Timor, who helped clear the way for us to film inside the ancient church, a practice that is strictly forbidden to the hoards of tourists who flock here daily.

 Shukran. Yalla baranah, ana ta’aban. (Thank you. Let’s proceed slowly, I am tired),

Mike Swarbrick.


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All content copyright 2006 by: Mike Swarbrick