We have had an amazing weekend, a true pilgrimage to some of the most amazing landscapes and historical places we've ever been !
Friday night we headed to Eilat, at the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea. The drive down, through the Negev desert, was really beautiful -- amazing dunes, rock formations, and herds of camels running alongside us and across the road. Eilat itself is interesting -- a real resort town, with the beautiful Red Sea (Gulf of Aqaba) surrounded by tall, dramatic mountains and cliffs. It was pretty windy but warm and sunny. Like all good American tourists, we went to the local faux Irish pub for dinner (though it was pretty authentic, at least the Guinness was!). It was a good choice, as Ronan and Mimi needed to "get their jumps out" after the long bus ride, and they loved the loudness of the soccer fans and Israeli karaoke (OK, so that part maybe isn't so authentic Irish, though the singing and having a good time are), and everyone loved them. Despite the look of the pictures, I promise the children did not drink anything more than milk !
VERY EARLY Saturday morning (5:30 --early even for us !) we crossed the border into Taba, Egypt (another beautiful resort town) and set off through more amazing desert (the Sinai) for St. Catherine's Monastery and the climb THE Mt. Sinai (where Moses got the 10 Commandments).
Since it had been too early for coffee at the hotel (ouch), our guide and driver Tamer took us to his home town of Nuweibeh, the port on the Gulf of Aqaba where lots of goods go from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and Iraq. We had coffee, tea and cookies at an open-air seaside cafe. This sounds more quaint than it actually was -- it certainly was interesting being the only female (besides Mimi) in the entire port and watching everyone have their coffee and water pipe for breakfast ! But everyone was really nice and began the trend that marked the day of strangers coming by to take pictures of Mimi with their camera phones !
It took a couple of more hours to get to St. Catherine's, and we passed lots of Bedouin villages, which now all have satellite dishes and 4x4s !
Tamer told us a lot of the history of the highway (built by the Israelis while they had the Sinai in the 60s then given back as part of the Camp David Accords under Carter) along the way. St. Catherine's is in an amazing location, and is a very famous pilgrimage site, as it is traditionally thought of as the place where Moses talked to the burning bush !
Ro and I got a picture under it.
The seminar itself was built in the 6th century by Helena, Constantine's mother, and Greek Orthodox monks still live there today. It is really beautiful, and the church inside is amazing -- Ronan especially loved the candelabras shaped like dragons, and I loved the icons. We saw our first real "relic" -- St. Catherine's hand ! It was really cool--but very busy and lots of tourists and crowded. We then had a wonderful lunch at one of the hotels near the monastery -- the one where the Pope's delegation stayed when John Paul II came to Egypt a few years back. Delicious, and more Arab men in love with Mimi! She is so friendly and not afraid of anyone -- I think that goes a long way in explaining her popularity ! Maybe that and the lightness of her hair in this sun !
We then set off on the 5 hour trek up Mt. Sinai. Ronan and I opted for the camel on the way up, while Mimi rode in her backback on Sean's back.
We had two Bedouin guides with us - Saleh and Hassan--and they took us up the shorter but steeper "Moses route" up the mountain (I guess if you are going to follow in Moses' footsteps, you might as well go all the way). It was amazingly beautiful -- you start out through this steep canyon, and then the route becomes pretty twisty and precipitous.
After about 1 1/2 hours, you stop and have to get off the camels, and then the last part is on foot up over 700 stairs ! Ronan, Sean and Mimi made it THE WHOLE WAY ! Kate must admit that she feel victim to the vertigo willies a bit short of the top, so she waited for them in the sunshine on a lovely rock, in the ABSOLUTE silence. LOVELY. In retrospect, Kate can't believe she let Sean take her children to the top. But they did it ! And as the views show, it was worth it.
We had to hurry down, since it was getting dark, and we didn't take the camel, since it is actually faster without them. By the time we hiked out of the canyon, it was dark, Venus had risen over the mountains, and the sky was SO beautiful. We'll never forget the beauty of that place !
We got back to Israel pretty late, so Sunday we just took it easy in Eilat. It was another beautiful day, sunny and warm.
We went to the aquarium here, which is actually built underground and into the natural coral reefs here (lots of people come to the whole Red Sea coast in Egypt and Israel to dive). It was spectacular -- parrot fish, barracudas, needle fish, clown fish, butterfly fish, amazing corals, sea stars, sea horses.....the water was so blue and clear. We also went out in a glass bottom boat, which Ronan LOVED !
It was really amazing to be in schools of fish and among the corals. We wish we had had more time to scuba or snorkel--we all want to come back. The aquarium had a great playground for the kids too. We had lunch on the beach in Eilat -- overall it was a lovely, relaxing day after our big trip to Egypt the day before.
We awoke Sunday AM to the news about the Israeli operations in Gaza. Of course it is worrisome to us, but everyone here says that we shouldn't worry (easy for them to say !). It is so complicated. Having spent the weekend in Egypt hearing about the trials and travails of the ancient Israelis and Egyptians and Bedouins and their conflicts over the years, I guess it isn't surprising, but it still is sobering. But we're staying safe and smart, so please don't worry about us. Send your prayers and good karma to everyone here on all sides, that the violence on both sides will stop and they can get back finding ways to live together here in this beautiful desert land.
We're looking forward to a quiet work week here in Beersheva (let's hope !). Kate has class and is giving a seminar for her colleagues at BGU (she's scared !), and Sean is going to catch up on the laundry and the kids' naps (thanks, Sean !). Then we are off AGAIN next weekend to Cairo ! Ronan is really excited about the stamps filling up his passport, and is counting down the days until he actually sees the PYRAMIDS !
We miss everyone and send lots of love and PEACE xoxoxo Kate, Sean, Ro and Mimi