The heat and rising temperature of Cairo is getting to the irritation of even the most hardened resident. The pollution, crowds, dust and noise is a constant reminder of the city we love; but the heat of early summer is starting to break our good humor.
You need, indeed you deserve, a break. Somewhere where you can be cool, calm and at ease; some fresh air perhaps with a little light exercise.
Maybe some mild involvement in history with a sprinkling of the antiquities of Ancient Egypt. But definitely something that gets you away from it all and refreshes mind, body and spirit.
Fortunately for you, I found such a place about three years ago when I left the heat of Cairo for the mountains of South Sinai and the small town of St.
Catherine. After spending a few days in the mountains, I fell in love with the place and shortly afterwards started a small business with the local Bedouin.
We run local hikes, manage a guesthouse and fund a local school for the children to improve their English.
St. Catherine is nestled in the heart of the mountains of South Sinai. From here you can wander into the mountains and visit the gardens kept alive by the local Bedouin. These extraordinary oases of green and color are full of every herb, flower, fruit and vegetable you could imagine; kept and protected from the surrounding dry and arid wadis by clever irrigation and tender nursing of the plants. You can wander around one garden, pick some herbs, add some boiling water and you have a cup of instant tea.
Alternatively you can visit St. Catherine’s, the world’s oldest monastery, climb up Mt. Sinai (of Moses fame) and gaze upon the stunning landscape through which every major prophet has ever walked. It is a combination of peace, wonder and spiritual serenity that can only be understood by experiencing it.
And you do not need to be Mr. Mountaineer to do these things; we have seen small children and nimble grandparents happily make their way across the old Bedouin paths, ride the camels across the desert dunes and scramble over boulders to get a stunning view of the distant Red Sea coast.
The best day you could have is for the Bedouin to take you along their paths, pointing out natural herbs and flowers, the purposes of ancient nabatean ruins and cairns (piles of rocks on top of each other), the empty stone cages where they used to catch mountain lions (don’t worry, you will not get eaten; sadly they have all died out), and then the romance of the kissing stone where young Bedouin couples place their feet and if the parents circle the pattern, then they can get married. If you are lucky, they will tell you of ancient medical remedies that involve donkey dung, dead scorpions and strange herbs.
And once that has been done then it is time to see the Bedouin make their fires and cook the freshest bread you have ever eaten.
Watch them make bread as if they were in a pizzeria in Roma, as they pass the thin bread from one hand to another before laying it down over the fire.
They will chat with you, engage with you and make you feel right at home.
They will even show you to the camel school where you can learn to ride, control and master a camel; dress the camel with its ghabit (saddle) and the rasan (head gear) and learn the importance of the khee or gom commands (get them the wrong way around and you are in trouble!).
And all of this is done in the warm sunshine where all you need is sunscreen during the day and warm jumpers for the evening. So pack your study boots, get out your old kit bag, shake down your latest kuffiyeh and get yourself over here.
Once you arrive here you will need sustenance. This is where the Bedouin Camp comes in.
First of all it is not a camp, it’s a guesthouse with the best kitchen in town; and secondly it has the perfect location so guests see the bluest sky possible as soon as they wake up and step out of the room.
Breakfast is served in the warmth of the morning sun or the shade of the arisha, typical Bedouin style with low level tables, comfy cushions and the best pancakes in all of Sinai. You will not go hungry with our mixture of western and Egyptian menus. Hearty western breakfasts are followed by light Egyptian lunches. Three course dinners serve up the best of both cuisines with soups, pastas, fish and chicken topped off with a strawberry tart for dessert. In between enjoy cool smoothies, fresh coffee and homemade cakes. And there is free Bedouin tea all day.
And as the sun starts to settle, sit back in the arisha with a cool drink and converse with your fellow guests and the local Bedouin while sharing a shisha, a meal and a new friendship.
The Bedouin Camp has accommodation from dormitories to non-ensuite double and twin rooms to ensuite rooms (available as of end of July). We can arrange hikes, monastery visits, transport as well as general travel advice. If you want to go hiking then kindly warn us in advance so we can make preparations and advise you on what to bring.
You can get here from Cairo by bus (from Turgoman station direct to St Catherine), by air (fly to Sharm and then take a two-hour taxi ride) or drive direct (about five hours). If you call us we can arrange a pick-up from the airport or bus station.
So what are you waiting for?
Bedouin Paths runs ethical hiking tours out of their Bedouin Camp in St. Catherine’s in Sinai. For bookings, contact Mariam at [email protected] or call the Bedouin Camp on +2 0 18 966 2010; or visit www.bedouinpaths.com. n.