Friday, May 04, 2007

Egypt

Having arrived in Sharm-El-Sheik, we checked into a hotel (Hostel for me and Trevor) and walked through the spotless and artifical lamp-lit streets. The famous resort is like a dimented mixture of Las Vegas and Disneyland, with waterfronts. Many of the beaches are privately owned by the adjacent resort-hotels like Movenpick, Hilton and Radisson. After dinner at a Lebanese restaurant (where rolls were baked in an oven next to the tables and served piping hot, seconds from the oven) we prepared for a hike up Mt. Sinai.

Mt. Sinai, where Moses was supposed to have received the 10 commandments from God, is in the middle of the Sinai peninsula, surrounded by little more than desert, camels, Bedouin and a steady stream of tourists. We arrived at the base about 1 AM and began the cold, slow trek to the summit. Just after St. Katherine's Monastary, our guide told us to be quiet in order to keep from disturbing the camels. Throughout the valley, camels were visible in the moonlight. There were so many that their silhouettes appeared as far as the eye could see. We were later told that there were approximately 300 resting there every night. Along the way, Bedouins sold trinkets, camel rides and food at the trailside or in scattered stone huts. After 3 1/2 hours of hiking, we reached the summit. Dawn broke over far ridges and bathed the surrounding mountains in a soft, gentle blanket of light. The landscape of Sinai is some of the most rugged, parched terrain that I have ever seen, however, in that auroral glow, it seemed rather welcoming.

We visited St. Katherine's Monastary after our descent from the peak and visited what was presented to us as the burning bush. The bush, as the legend goes, has been flowering since it burned before Moses. The monastary was built around the holy ground and has been expanded and rebuilt since then. There is a mosque in the monastary as well as a church. Most of the existing buildings at the monastary are several centuries old at least. The monastary sits in the base of a stark valley and contains a garden of palms and vegetables.

After returning to Sharm, I went with Trevor to check in to a reed hut at Shark's Bay, a cove community east of Sharm. After check-in, we rested on benches and sunbathed. We ordered a beer (rare and expensive in the middle east) and walked carefully out on the coral reef. Multi-colored fish and other marine animals darted to and fro in the shallows beneath the waves and curiously peeked out from small caves and tunnels. After awhile, we met in town and had coffee and a good dinner (shwarma and shisha). The next day we gathered in Sharm to relax and wander the bazaars. It was our last day on the sea and we wanted to soak it in. I headed off alone into the city and had a dinner of spicy salad and flaky flatbread. After a night plagued by mosquitoes, we departed for our flight into Cairo and a day at the famous Egypt Museum.

The Egypt Museum in cairo is perhaps the most packed archaeological museum I have ever visited. It is also the most disorganized and cluttered academic institution I have ever seen. Artifacts are placed everywhere and are often unlabeled. Packed artifacts are labeled and placed in the middle of its hallways on the lower level and some that are in the middle of study or preservation serve as benches for the tired egyptian student. Currently, a world-class building for the new museum is under construction in Giza, near the Great Pyramids. The Tutankhamen exhibit was at home and I was able to gaze at the rich sarchophagi and the famous burial mask. I had seen so many pictures of the mask and I was so framiliar with the outside that I looked up into the mask from below. The flaws in metalwork and hammer strikes are still visible on the inside of the mask. The cobra on the top of the mask has a body that extends back to the occipital region, winding back and forth all the way. The museum was filled with artifacts dating through the Pharaonic times to Roman rule. Curiously, I did not see exhibits of artifacts from mideival or more recent Egyptian history. Nobody ever seems to think about the major role the land played in the crusades, the Nepoleanic or more recent World Wars.

Next entry....Egypt to Nubian territory, long bus rides and my recent Bulgarian adventures.

1 Comments:

Blogger Elisabeth said...

I am enjoying your details. Are you getting more sleep because your writing is getting really cool to read.

Elisabeth

12:53 PM  

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