After a week of playing in the sea and doing not much else. Today, we decided to go visit the Saint-Catherine Monastery and hike up to the top of Mount Sinai. As usual in Dahab since I arrived, our party was very international with Carolyn (American), Suzie (English) and Rado (Slovakian).
For the cultural aspect, Saint-Catherine monastery has been built to protect the church built close to the burning bush where (based on the book of the exodus) god told Moses to remove his shoes because he was on a sacred soil. And the Mount Sinai is the place where Moses received the 10 commandments from god.
Since the monastery is closed on Fridays and Sundays. We decided to make it a day trip and go to the top of the mount for sunset.
We arranged for a mini-bus the day before costing each of us EGP110 for the round-trip.
We left early in the morning and made it to the monastery first that is open for 2 hours only in the morning (on the days it actually opens to the public). The church is just amazing with an impressive collection of orthodox icons, mosaics, amazing light features and many other golden items. The most impressive for me was definitely the museum that presents some of the nicest items the monastery owns. That includes very fine gold objects as well as more icons and paintings but also an amazing collection of books like the Codex Syriacus (Vth century) or a version of Iliad and the Odysseus (XIth century).
Behind the church, you can actually see the burning bush. It is not exactly what I was imagining!
After a great lunch downtown Saint-Catherine, we started the hike at 2:30PM and reached the top around 5PM. The hike is quite easy if you follow the camel path and then climb the 700 step stair. All along the path, there are small shops that sell drinks (hot and cold) and food as well as crystal stones.
We finally decided to go back. It took us around 1 hour to get back to the mini-bus. It is possible to sleep at the top of the mount either under the stars or in one of the Bedouin shops but I was not interested in that for that time.
To give you an idea, the usual tourist trip works like this: you leave the hotel at 11PM, drive to Saint-Catherine in a full mini-bus, arrive their at 1AM, climb to the top of Mount Sinai at night arriving around 3:30AM-4AM, watch the sunrise and go back. Then you usually visit the monastery (in a fatigue haze for some) before going back to your hotel. Not exactly what I am looking for in this trip but it works if you only have 2 weeks of vacation and want to fit the visit in.
All in all, that was a nice change of pace and a great place to visit. Highly recommended :).
[Edited on 5/19/2006 to add links to related pictures]