From the Red Sea resort of Dahab, I take the bus to Mount Sinai in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Here, Moses is said to have received the ten commandments directly from God.
A starry night, the hills are bright with torch lights as two hundred tourists take a couple of hours to wind round the freezing mountain path to the top. There is nothing to see but the lit ends of our Bedouin guides’ cigarettes, their white shirt dresses shining under cheap leather jackets. Camels are led up the path to the stars, tired hikers splayed over their humps. Every half an hour, there is the welcoming light of a stone-walled cafe. Warmth. Bedouin tea that tastes of sugar and sage, and large cushions for lounging on.
Five in the morning and 2,285 metres high. The ice wind blasts through my body and a fiery pain circles my tired knees. It’s still dark but I can pick out the surrounding mountain ranges. Huge and lumpy. Walkers toss words from the summit,
It is. As the night begins to whisper towards light, the mountains appear carved out all the way to the horizon. They begin a muted rose, and as the veil of grey is lifted, the colours deepen to washed out orange under a sky pale as bluebells. The sun takes to the stage, neon pink dressed in misty mauve clouds. The crowd goes wild taking photos. The light show continues into pop art colours even Warhol would be proud of.
Then it becomes just another day.
3,750 steps downhill. My fingers begin to thaw and I think about using the middle one to show my Bedouin guide what I think of his decision to take us down the mountain the difficult way. Every step burns. I should be grateful. It was worse for the monk who had to build all these stairs in repentance. The path down is trippy, full of fungus-like red rock formations and little children selling plastic eggs from the path side.
The delirium gets worse inside St Catherine’s Monastery at the base of the mountain. One of the oldest surviving churches in the world, the sunrise crowd bulges through the doors of the simple chapel. A flapping unit of clicking cameras, the officials scream and point towards the signs saying ‘no photos’.
Maybe Dahab’s not so bad after all.