Editor’s note: This is the first of 3 postings about travel. Simone mixes some of her own adventures with thoughts about what traveling can mean. We start with a journey to a biblical mountain…
When I was much younger my husband and I took a trip to Israel which included a visit to a most unusual place.
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine is in the Sinai Peninsula. It is situated part way up the mountain where God is said to have appeared to Moses in the Burning Bush. The history of the Monastery dates back 17 centuries. The Monastery contains the relics of St. Catherine, a Christian martyr and houses manuscripts, early books, mosaics and an ossuary so old that it is not even gruesome any more. St. Catherine’s is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Had I known what I was getting myself into, I would probably not have gone on this expedition which would have been a great pity. Fortunately I had no idea that there was no real road and that we would be traveling in a Land Rover over terrain strewn with rocks the size of boulders. The landscape was otherworldly, almost lunar. At one point, a woman in a flowing black dress, forehead covered in coins, leading a donkey appeared suddenly, like an apparition. She was oblivious of us.
When we got to St. Catherine’s, our accommodations were truly ascetic. The mattress on the bed sagged and the sheets looked moldy as if they too dated to biblical times. In the morning I felt miserable, not having been able to sleep as I tried to cling to the side of the bed without rolling into the middle. The next morning, we were scheduled to hike up the mountain. The day dawned dark and gloomy and the mountain looked foreboding in the early light. I looked up at our destination high on the mountain and decided I would not attempt it.
So I let my group start the climb without me. I must have looked pretty forlorn to a party of kibbutzniks who suddenly materialized, ready to start their own ascent. They surrounded me and practically bowled me over with their enthusiasm. I was persuaded to climb with them because their spirit of adventure was contagious. I made it to the top and my sudden appearance greatly surprised my husband.
But I had made it.
I don’t remember a burning bush. It probably had burned itself out. On our way back we saw what looked like a mirage, but wasn’t. It was an old man brewing coffee over a fire. It was strong, sweet and tasted like ambrosia. We made it back to the base. The next day the back of my legs hurt from the effort of the descent. This was the most rigorous hike I ever undertook and I am very glad that I did not listen to myself and miss it.
Next time, general thoughts on travel….