Story & Photos by Marky Ramone Go
Under a canopy of dark midnight sky dotted with a few observable stars, and a wary moon hiding beneath thick clouds, we started our hike over a narrow trail speckled with loose rocks. As scorching as the wind was when we arrived at Saint Catherine—after a couple of hours wheeling over the long highway of the Israeli and Egyptian border, the wee hour breeze swifts by a little colder for comfort. Guided only by a small flashlight of our Bedouin guide, we trod the shadowy trail, slowly lost in silence of the hush sounds of our huffing and puffing and the breathing of a trio of camels.
Soon, we met the other Bedouin guides at the foot of Mount Sinai as they offered their camels for some of us to ride for $20, taking us to the deck just below the peak and back on the slopes again. A few of my hiking companions avail themselves of the camel service almost midway through our hike. I opted to complete our hike on foot.
There wasn’t much to see during the pitch-black hours—I just felt the sensation of my feet sliding over loosened rocks and while as the minutes passed by, the silhouettes of the surrounding mountains then slowly became noticeable.
We stopped at a small café where dozens of Bedouins are hanging out even though it’s very early to do so. It was almost 4 a.m. and the sun was about to rise in an hour. “We have time to rest and drink,” one of our Bedouin guide told us. I sat and sipped a mug of hot tea while listening to the animated conversations of the Bedouins.
Nomadic Jebeliya Bedouins
The Bedouins of Sinai in Saint Catherine belongs to the Jebeliya Bedouin—a nomadic tribe that originated from Southeastern Europe and settled in the vast Egyptian desert and the Arabian Peninsula in 6th century AD. Initially a Christian group, the Jebeliya Bedouins soon converted to Islam after marrying people from other nomadic communities.
The Jebeliya are known to be skillful farmers and gardeners. Evidence of their skills can be seen even in the dry valleys of Saint Catherine, where even in the most extreme land conditions, they are still able to transform the lands and nurture vegetation. In Saint Catherine the Bedouin community remains marginalized by the national government, giving them a hard time to find regular employment in the region’s hotels and resorts, so they end up mostly as tourism guides.
The sky started to gleam of daylight as a red line from the far horizon signals the impending rising sun. A Bedouin walking behind me pointed to a barely noticeable structure far below us, and said, “That’s Saint Catherine’s Monastery—where we came from.” It was the same monastery we visited the previous afternoon, where the biblical burning bush is.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery
The Saint Catherine’s Monastery situated at the foot of Mount Sinai is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world, built between 548 and 565 AD. “The Burning Bush” is housed near the Chapel of the Burning Bush inside Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
Almost secluded from the world and built inconspicuously near the gleaming golden colors of its environs, Saint Catherine’s Monastery is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site under the control of the independent Church of Sinai, which forms a part of the bigger Eastern Orthodox Church.
This monastery is also where the oldest library can be found with hundreds of unique reading materials and books, including the Syriac Sinaiticus, a 358-page 4th-century manuscript comprising the Syriac translation of the four canonical gospels of the New Testament.
The Codex Sinaiticus or the Sinai Bible, also referred to as the Great Uncial Codices, a majuscule script that is believed to be the only remaining one to contain the handwritten text of the entire Greek Bible, was also housed here until 1859 before it was transferred to the British Library in London.
Catching sunrise at Sinai’s peak
Having climbed countless mountains in the past—none seem to resonate more exhilaration than my experiences ascending the peak of the biblical Mount Sinai. After a grueling trek under darkness and steep terrain, we finally reached the peak just as the sun was about to rise. Surveying the breathtaking landscape laid out in front of me, I see the glistening golden hues from the distant mountains that are barren of lushness and stretching almost infinitely, appearing to collude scenes from out of this planet.
All of a sudden, my elation overwhelmed me completely. After I gathered myself and took photographs of the stunning sunrise, the otherworldly landscape took a backseat to the spiritual emotion that’s consuming my being. As I plant my feet at the very spot many believe was where God handed the 10 Commandments to Moses, it finally dawned on me the significance of the moment.
Temporarily entertaining the idea of performing a celebratory dance, I resorted to stomping my feet at the round mound of Mount Sinai’s peak hoping the dust specks would remain on my shoe sole forever. Discovering a new found spiritual catalyst to strengthen my own faith, I stretched my hands while I gazed at the mountains around me. Delighted at the idea that this may well be, the very same spot where the foundation of “Christian life, piety and worship” was first laid out, I recited a short prayer thanking the heavens for bringing me there.
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