Monday, November 15, 2010

Nov. 12th–On to Mount Sinai

I just bid my fellow prilgrims "farewell" for the day and I write now from Safir Hotel in the city of Cairo to catch up on the last three days. It is quiet and the view of the city from my 11th floor balcony is impressive.

Internet access has been good to non-existent, and free with the hotel (as at the Jacir Palace in Bethlehem) to very expensive. At the Leonardo in Gallilee, Internet access was $12 an hour! Here at the Safir it is 3.90 Egyptian Pounds per minute with a maximum of 155 EGP per day--only 28 dollars for 24 hours of access! Ah well, we do what we can.

Friday, Nov. 12th dawned bright and early and we had breakfast, loaded the bus and bid our farewell to Bethlehem and the city of Jerusalem. Last night we said goodbye to those who were returning to the states and our Pilgrim group today is nine members smaller. God bless you, Fr. Anthony and all the others–may God grant you a safe journey home!

This is our last time to go through the hated gate between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The Iraelis are building a 3-story(?) concrete wall between the Palestinian territories and the state of Israel, and Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territories. Where we are the Wall is covered with grafitti and the vast majority of the graffitti on the wall in is English–obviously aimed at english-speaking tourists. One line that caught my eye was "Life without freedom is a kind of death"–a sentiment that George, (our Palestinian Christian guide for the first part of the Pilgrimage) would definitely have agree with.

Every time we left our hotel in Bethlehem we had to cross this border, passing through the checkpoint that was staffed by Israli soldliers carrying BIG guns. The last three days two of them walked through the bus, sometimes asking to see our passports. On Tuesday morning when we left Bethlehem at 4am for the Way of the Cross and Mass at the Holy Sepulchre we thought we might have a problem because some on the bus mates didn't have their passports with them–two future Deacon's wives in particular (ahem!). But the guards let us go on–I guess Pam and Bella didn't look too threatening!

Through the bus windows now we can see the walls of the old city of Jerusalem one last time.

We retraced our journey from the day before as we headed south along the length of the Dead Sea toward the Red Sea port city of Eilat. As soon as the bus passes by the Mount of Olives we begin the descent into the Judean Wilderness and the immediate change in the terrain is striking. The Judean Wilderness has a beauty all its own.

The journey to the port of Eilat is nearly 4 hours and "Coffee Out" stops were mandatory–here the group begins to regather at the bus to continue our journey.

We reached our destination at high noon–Just beyond Eilat is the border check point. We gathered our luggage and spent a long time in line, going through security and getting our Egyptian tourist visas. It was nearly 2:30pm when our security guard arrived to escort us into Egypt. Our tour guide for our stay in Egypt is named Ayman (pronounced like "Simon" without the "s"). Ayman has a masters degree in Archaeology, is married, in his thirtes and has been working in the tourism industry for 18 years. He told us that Tourism is the second biggest industry in Egypt–second only to the income generated by the Suez Canal.

Taba is just across the border from Eilat and is becoming a major tourist center. There must be nearly a dozen major new hotels that are in the process of being build.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Taba Marriott just before heading down the road toward Mount Sinai. A few of us took the opportunity to go wading "ankle deep" in the Red Sea. It was a very beautiful place.

From Taba it is four hours to St. Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. We arrived at St. Catherine City and had dinner and settled in for the night.

Even here we were accompanied by many other pilgrims. Just after our arrival a group from India and a group from Brazil also arrived, wanting to see the "Mountain of Moses". Those who chose to climb Mt. Sinai for the Sunrise had to rise at MIDNIGHT to begin the climb! The rest of us slept very well!

–posted by Greg Smithhisler, Liturgist

No comments:

Post a Comment