It’s unlikely that as Moses descended from Mt Sinai with the 10 Commandments he was offered a cold Coke or a lift on a cheap camel from countless entrepreneurial Egyptians. Nevertheless, that is exactly how innumerable tourists now experience this holy site. Gebel Musa (Moses’ Mountain) is identified as Mount Horeb in the Bible. The nightly pilgrimage to its summit affords those willing to make the hike an unforgettable view of the sun rising over the splendour of this mountainous region in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.
The hikes begin around 1am, following a 90-minute bus ride from Dahab, the nearest major tourist resort on the coast of the Gulf of Aqaba. The route to the summit follows a clear and well-maintained path from St Catherine’s monastery at the base of the mountain and should take between two and four hours, depending on your fitness. Every few hundred metres there are little shacks selling drinks and snacks, with the distance between them liberally interspersed with camel herders, who are happy to ride you to the top for a small fee. However, the last section of the hike is a steep path with stone steps that must be completed on foot. At the 2285m summit, hikers are able to bed down in their sleeping bags until sunrise. Camping mattresses and indispensable blankets are available from more enterprising locals.
And when the sun finally begins its majestic appearance, be prepared for a multilingual outburst of hymns and praise, some of which seem pleasingly appropriate, others overly zealous. The experience is enlightening and makes the subsequent descent remarkably pleasant. Unless, of course, you happen to be burdened with more commandments.
Travel agents and government authorities are urging travellers to Egypt to follow Foreign Commonwealth Office safety advice and take out comprehensive travel insurance in the wake of last month’s terrorist bombings in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik.
While the attacks, which resulted in 88 deaths, led to a slump in tourism in the week following the July 23 attacks, the Egyptian Tourist Board and travel agencies are now reporting an upswing in visitors.
Louise Clark, spokesperson for STA Travel, said aggressive travel pricing meant Egypt last week regained its position within the agency’s top 20 destinations.
Concerned travellers should be reassured that agencies, including our own, provide the most up-to-date advice from Foreign Commonwealth Offices (FCOs) regarding the safety of travelling in Egypt at any one time, Clark said. There will also be alerts issued if the FCO advice changes while you’re on your trip.”
Foreign offices in Australia and New Zealand have warned of expected terrorist activity in the month of September, as Egypt prepares to go to the polls for their national election. They are urging travellers to ensure they have comprehensive travel insurance before they depart for Egypt so they can make urgent changes to travel plans if an emergency situation arises.
“Good travel coverage will protect holidaymakers if those sorts of eventualities arise, so that they can leave Egypt early if it is what the FCO advises,” Clark said.
Foreign offices are also advising travellers to avoid crowded tourist areas like Hurghada, Luxor, Aswan, Giza and Alexandria as “further terrorist activity is expected in these key areas in coming months”. It added that despite the threat, it should be remembered that most visits to Egypt are trouble-free.
The Australian, New Zealand and South African governments are advising travellers to avoid major tourist centres and attractions, to remain vigilant and notify their respective embassies of their travel plans.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (firstname.lastname@example.org, +64 4439 8000).
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (+61 2 6261 3305). Australian Embassy, 11th floor, World Trade Centre, 1191 Corniche el Nil Boulac, Cairo (+202 575 0444).
South African High Commission (020-7451 7299, email@example.com).
For more on Egypt, see TNT’s online guide to Egypt at www.tntmagzine.com/uk”