Our Big Mideast Trip - Part 2

Sphinx and Pyramid of Chefron

From January 30 through February 20, 2009

Organized by Elderhostel

Port of El Sokhna
We left Israel via Air Sinai, on their one airplane, a Boeing 737, then we took a coach to the Port of El Sokhna, a small, mainly commercial port on the Gulf of Suez, about 100 miles south of Cairo.
Harmony G
We took the motor yacht Harmony G from El Sokhna to Sharm El Sheik.  This yacht remained our hotel for the following six nights.
Almira III
The principal attractions at Sharm El Sheik have to do with the Red Sea. Located at the very tip of the Sinai peninsula, it is surrounded by reefs, good places for scuba and snorkel diving.  Some of the best reefs can be found in the Ras Mohammed National Park.

Most of the boats you see at this marina at the edge of the park are dive boats of one sort or another.  The Almira III breaks the white fiberglass mold, although over two days I never saw it fly a sail.
Ras Mohammed Park - Mangroves
This bit of green is a cluster of mangroves, that grow on salt water.  Because they are green, against the Sinai desert, these are tourist attractions.  The paler water color indicates reefs below the surface.
Ras Mohammed Park - Beach
A mini-bus, the desert background and a beach.  Actually, there are a few snorkelers visible in the water, too.
Valley of Gazelles
From Sharm el Sheik, we took a long bus ride through the desert toward St. Catherine's Monastery.   Along the way we passed across the Valley of the Gazelles.  I don't see any gazelles, though.
St. Catherine's Monastery in its habitat
St. Catherine's Monastery is tucked into a crevice in the mountains, as shown in this picture from the Wikipedia commons.  I didn't get up the mountain.
St. Catherine's modern entrance
The modern entrance to St. Catherine's is at ground level, but the medieval entrance is about 30 feet directly above this point.  Visitors could only enter if the resident monks lowered a rope lift to bring them up to the door.
Burning Bush
The location of St. Catherine's was more or less set by Helena, mother of Constantine I.  She had a vision that told her that this was the Burning Bush that spoke to Moses, and his well was just 60 feet away.  She arranged to have a chapel built her.  In fact, that little bit of stone on the left of the picture is part of the chapel.  The monastery, built between 527 and 565 by the authority of the Emperor Justinian, enclosed St. Helena's Chapel and (very practically) the well.  It got the name St. Catherine's 200 or 300 years later, when the monks found St. Catherine's remains, which had been transported by angels from Alexandria.
St. Catherine's Bell Tower
View from the roof, the bell tower was built in 1871 to house bells donated by Czar Alexander II.  The lead roof covers the 6th century Basilica of the Transfiguration.  The adjacent minaret has never been used.
Garden and Guest Quarters
Just outside the Justinian walls, there is a garden and guest quarters.
Entering Wadi Rum
The Harmony G took us to the Port of Aqaba,  from there we motor coached to Wadi Rum, which has  become a tourist destination.  The mountain commonly referred to as "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" looms over the tourist reception area.  Wadi Rum was the center of T. E. Lawrence's operations against the Turks during WW1, and it also served as a filming location for the 1962 "Lawrence of Arabia."
Desert jeep
We traveled across the desert of Wadi Rum in the most beat-up 4-wheel drive trucks you could imagine.  No lights, broken windows, hot-wire starting, no dash board.  Everything up to date!  Well, the Bedouin drivers all had cell phones.
Bob Gammill in Wadi Rum
Every turn brought forth another spectacular rock formation, surrounded by extraordinarily fine sand.  Our friend in this picture is about 6'5" tall.
Nabateab petraglyphs
These petroglyphs go back to about 600 BCE, where they might have been made by the Nabataeans, active traders of that era.
T. E. Lawrence Carving
This carving of T. E. Lawrence was made while he was organizing the local tribes in Wadi Rum.
Bob on a camel
Your intrepid host on a camel.  They are noisy beasts, seeming to complain about every move.  The most exciting part about a camel ride is the time when the camel stands up, back feet first (tilt way forward), then front feet (regain equilibrium).
Petra - Obelisk Tomb
Petra is a massive site, and one of the earliest views is this complex, the Obelisk Tomb and the Triclinium.  Both are carved from the sandstone, not built up by from stones.  For the most part, that describes Petra. Carved from the walls of canyons.

Around 100 BCE, a trading nation know as the Nabataeans constructed Petra as their capital city.   The city reflected influences from both Egypt and Greece, the two major civilizations of the day.  In about 100 CE, the Romans came in and took over, then after a century or so, the trading flow shifted away from Petra.  Around 400 CE, the city was mainly a site of religious pilgrimage.  It was occupied by the Crusaders for a while, and in the Middle Ages it was a site visited by a few caliphs.
Entering the Siq
Until, 1812, the city was beyond the horizon of the Western world.  It was a camp site for desert residents.  A Swiss explorer, Burkhardt, following rumors, used guile to find his way in.  It is possible that he entered at this point, the beginning of the Siq.

The Siq looks like a fissure between two mountains that cracked apart.  For a half mile or more, you walk through a crevasse.  Actually, a paved crevasse, thanks to the Nabataeans.  
In the Siq
Of course, there were options to walking.
Leaving the Siq
This is the view as you reach the end of the Siq.  Light breaks through, and it illuminates a building popularly known as "The Treasury."
The Treasury
Presumably, Burkhardt called this The Treasury, because that is how his Bedouin hosts described it.   It is a tomb, carved out of the rock walls of the canyon.
Interior of the Treasury
The interior of the Treasury shows the wide variations in the rock colors, which characterize Petra.
Petra Theater
Like most cities of its time, Petra had a theater.  While we tend to associate theaters with the Romans, this was built by the Nabataeans.  It doesn't follow the rules for making Roman theaters.
Urn Tomb
In the latter days of Petra, the Romans used the Urn Tomb as a courthouse, and some of the structures in front and below were built of stone blocks, not carved from the mountain.  They were jail cells, I think.
Roman Cardo in Petra
These columns indicate the presence of a Roman Cardo, their main shopping street, probably during the 2nd century.  But look at the hills!  Carved with rooms and facades.
Port of Aqaba
Our way in and out of South Jordan was the port of Aqaba, Jordan's only shipping port.
King Abdullah's Yacht
And where else would King Abdullah keep his yacht?
Eilat, Israel
Looking across the Gulf of Aqaba, we see the Israeli city of Eilat.  At the top of the Gulf of Aqaba, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are all clustered within a very few kilometers of each other.

Return to Home PageNavigate to Next PageNavigate to Previous Page