I left my hotel in Nuweiba at midnight with 5 of my travelling companions in order to arrive at the Monastery of St. Catherine, a Greek Orthodox monastery founded in the 6th century, to do the overnight walk up Mount Sinai. We met with our Bedouin guide (he wore a red and white scarf so we could follow him) who would make sure we all made up the mountain in time to see the sunrise. We were given the option to walk up the mountain, approximately 4000 steps, or pay for a camel. Even if we chose the camel ride it wouldn't take us all the way up the mountain, you have to dismount and walk the final kilometer, approximately 700 steps. We all chose to walk up the mountain. It took us about 3 hours to make it to the top, and other than a very short distance in the last 700 steps, the entire trek is uphill! We found a spot to watch the sun come up over the mountains. It was a breath taking sight, one I will never forget. Once the sun came up we started our way back down the mountain. Being able to look back and see how far we had walked was amazing. Once we made it to the bottom of the mountain; we met up with the rest of our group and toured the Monastery.
I have never been on a glass bottom boat. It was amazing to see the different fish and corals though the bottom of the boat. I thought I would going to be stepping on glass getting into the boat but it was a box sectioned off in the middle of the boat where you could lean over and take pictures of the fish and coral as the boat slowly past by.
Approx 10 minutes from the monastery is a very comfortable, and well priced, motel.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Sinai, in a small valley, this is the perfect place to base yourself for a visit to the monastery. The cool waters of the pool is welcoming enough but the well stocked bar will provide you with a cold beer to drink while you wash away the desert dust!
The restaurant is basic but the food is fresh and plentiful. A buffet dinner can be purchased for approx US$8 and is great value.
After you leave the burning bush, take the path to the Charnel House. The house is situated above the garden area, near the café.
Some may find the Charnel house gruesome as it is the final resting place for thousands of Monks skulls from days gone by. Housed behind a simple wire fence, it appears that a skeleton of a dark robed monk is guarding the bones of his ancestors! I am not sure if he is keeping the Monks in, or the visitors out.
There are also a number of niches carved into the side walls that appear to house complete skeletons.
Within the walls of the Monastery of St Catherine there is a bush that is said to be growing from a single clipping of “The Burning Bush” that instructed Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
Anne and I can be seen here standing under this evergreen bush in the “robes” that were given to us at the entrance to the chapel. The robes are used to cover your knees and, when they are handed back, you are asked to make a donation for their use. This is a scam because the “robes” are given as a free service to visitors and it is simply the door attendant that is looking for some “Baksheesh” to supplement their wages. Do not pay!
The Burning Bush Chapel houses a rather “different” religious icon! The hand of St Catherine is said to be here! House in a plush box you will see a jeweled weather beaten hand that is remarkably preserved in some areas, while other areas have the skeleton clearly showing.
St Catherine is revered throughout the Catholic religion as it is said that she converted the non believers to Christianity. These non believers were, in fact, putting Christians to death and Catherine of Alexandria converted these people with no regard for her personal safety!
Years later though, Catherine was tortured by being spun around on a spiked wheel, (Catherine wheel,) before being beheaded by a pagan emperor.
Centuries later a body was found in the hills above the Monastery and it was said that the body belonged to St catherine.
Special dispensation is usually required to enter the Burning Bush Chapel, but the Chapel was open on the day that we were there…and we simply walked in.
The chapel is decorated with walls of blue mosaics that have religious iconic painting on every wall. The simple alter that stands at the end of the chapel is almost representative of a manger from a nativity set and the light streams through the window as though it was representing a halo.
Huge candles stand around the floor underneath the most impressive tall ceilings that seem a little dulled by the centuries of candle smoke!
The monastery of St Catherine is also said to be the place that Moses met his wife.
After Moses fled from the Pharaoh and his “cronies,” Moses entered the Sinai desert and made his way to this monastery. He met his future wife at the well and worked for her father. Moses promised his father-in-law that he would work for him for seven years before he would move on. (Moses eventually worked there for 10nyears before returning to Egypt to beg for the release of the Israelites from slavery.)
Anne is pictured here, standing under a mural depicting the burning bush, in the room that houses the Moses well.
The elevated entrance was once the only entrance to the monastery of St Catherine but it is no longer used as the local monks cut a new entrance into the protective walls quite some time ago. Even so, you still get a sense of how hard it would have been to get into the monastery if you were not invited!
The walls are very high, and the elevated entrance was required, because the monastery houses the second largest collection of manuscripts and religious icons in the world….second only to the Vatican in Rome.
If you do not feel like walking the path to the monastery, you have the option of taking a camel ride.
Located at the start of the track, the camel handlers will attempt to extract as much cash from you as humanly possible! They will advise you that their camel is a Ferrari, very fast and very comfortable. They will also attempt to get US$20 from you for the privilege of riding their trust flea bag up the well traveled dusty track to the top.
Believe me when I tell you that you can pay as little as US3 for the experience and have a comfortable beginning to your adventure. (The walk back is very easy as it is down hill all the way.)
Situated approx. 90 kilometers from Nuweiba, the Monastery of St Catherine is known as:
• The oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the world.
• The place where Moses is reported to have witnessed the “burning bush”
• The smallest diocese in the world.
The monastery is said to date back to around 535 A.D, however, it was built as an addition to a chapel that was built approx 200 years earlier.
Just about everywhere you go in Egypt, you are met with the stalls and shops whose owners almost “expect” you leave with a memento that you purchased from their shop!
When you first arrive at the car park you must walk past these shops to get to the ticket booth, café and restrooms. It is a good idea to purchase a couple of cold bottles of water as the track that leads to the monastery is slightly uphill, approx 800 meters long and there is no shade. The sun reflects of the stone path and the water will quickly replenish the perspiration and rehydrate you before you day is spoilt!
The town of Nuweiba is extremely small and basic, there are a couple of places to eat and several markets. By the port of Nuweiba they have a ATM and a few more stores to stock up with groceries during your stay in Nuweiba. The best places to eat are generally at the resorts.
The beaches of Nuweiba are perfect for those who want solitude and sand with an incredible view. The red sand dune beaches are largely free of tourists and in most cases you will have them to yourself. The views are priceless, in one sweeping glance you can see out into the Red Sea and take in parts of Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The water is warm and calm and the sun is always shining and the sand is soft to the skin. The majority of the resort are still suffering from the aftermath of the terrorist bombings a few year back so the beaches are empty and the resorts aren't very expensive.
You will find so beautiful beaches at Nuweiba where you can take rest ,so don't forget to take a book with you .
It will be easy to find a lot of books in so different languages : ask for Fuad ,he has a nice coffee shop : Little Prince ,close to the central telephone in the city .
About 200 books in french language !