Once we were on the bus, our tour guide, Bishoy, told us that some of the group had asked where we could purchase “Egyptian” souvenirs. We went to a shop where papyrus paper is actually made and painted on. On the upper floor we saw a demonstration of the paper making process which was very interesting. They had loads of papyrus beautifully painted with scenes copied from the tombs at the pyramids. Downstairs was a regular gift shop that sold the usual “Egyptian” souvenirs such as ankhs, brass trays, wooden camels, etc. They also sold spices and dried flower petals for cooking and making your own perfume. The smell was intense and rich.
Joining the tour at this point was an armed Tourist Police Officer. We discovered that every country in the Middle East has Tourist Police. He was with us to expedite the group through check-points.
After everyone’s shopping bug was satisfied (for the moment) we boarded the bus and headed across the desert to St. Catherine’s. The scenery was very stark, but the sky was a beautiful blue and every once in a while we would see groups of camels, donkeys and goats roaming about. Bishoy told us that these belonged to the Bedouins who lived in the desert. Every once in a while we would see a Bedouin village or a Bedouin man or boy riding a camel or donkey.
On the way to St. Catherine's. Taken through the window of the bus.
The drive was very long and about half way there we made a short R&R and potty stop. I don’t have a picture of it right now, but Ruby did take a picture of the bathroom at this shabby convenience store out in the middle of nowhere. First thing you have to know is that most public restrooms have an attendant you have to pay in order to use the “facilities”. At this one, as with most, it was one US dollar for 3 people. I’ve got to tell you, this one wasn’t worth a penny for all of us. It was a “squatter”- a hole in the floor. Actually, there were three holes…it was a three stall bathroom. There were tiles on the floor around the hole and tiles to indicate where your feet should be. There were no hand rails or anything to hold onto, so some of us less coordinated and with knees that don’t bend too well were challenged by this. But when nature calls and you don’t know how long it will be to your next stop, you do what you have to.
During the drive Bishoy gave a very thorough history lesson on the region. He also got lots of phone calls. We started teasing him about all his “girlfriends”. He took our goofiness pretty well, but whenever someone tried to ask him a question about his personal life, he dodged it like a bullet - he’d just start telling us about something else that happened in the 6th century. It was really funny.
It started getting cloudy as we gained elevation and got closer to St. Catherine's
As we continued the drive the sky started clouding up as we gained altitude. By the time we reached St. Catherine’s it was very late afternoon. We started out at the Red Sea at a nice mild 60 degree temperature and ended at 5085 feet in below freezing weather with a strong wind blowing. It was a pretty serious shock to the system. None of us had enough clothes on and our luggage was still in the bus.
An olive tree inside the courtyard area at St. Catherine's Monastery
Olive trees would become a common sight to us
Darkness was quickly falling and after we used the ladies room we were rushed to the church where evening services were underway. The church was beautiful but the lighting was dim and since it was dark outside we weren’t able to appreciate the full beauty of the church. The entire ceiling was filled with chandeliers. It seems that every king, queen and head of state likes to gift the Monastery with chandeliers. However, none of them are wired for electricity, they just hang from the ceiling and look pretty. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the church, but I bought a nice book at the gift shop at St. Catherine’s that has some great shots of the inside of the church.
A page from the book I bought showing the layout of the church and a picture of the inside.
Stay tuned for part 3, 4, 5, etc. I don't really know how many parts there will end up being. I just don't want to bore my readers with a complete, lengthy, detailed description of the trip. So I'm giving it to you in small portions.