Our 2008 tour in Middle East included Egypt. We were a group of two, my wife and me. We crossed the border from Eilat (Israel) to Taba (Egypt). A taxi brought us to the border and left. After two hours wait, a guide from Egypt, from the travel agency we pre-paid, showed up to pick us. We had no means to contact the agency, we were at the mercy of the agreement we did on internet. It was already late evening, and we had to reach Cairo next day. It was an overnight trip in a minivan, 600 km crossing the desert. Passengers, except my wife and I, were the driver, a guide (not ours as we found out) and a surprise, a police officer. When we enquired the reason he is with us, the police officer (dressed all in black) told us that he is there to protect us… and pulled out from under his coat a semi-automatic machine-gun to show he is serious about that; he could speak broken English. About a week ago there was a kidnaping in Egypt, and the police department in Taba wanted to take no risk, or the police officer wanted a free ride to Cairo; no problem, it was a minivan for 16 persons and only five of us, including everyone.
It was a magnificent night and the desert looked very special under a bright moon.
In Cairo we walked the streets, visited bazaars and mosques.
I remember one event in a mosque packed with tourists, mostly a very large American group. Our guide wanted to show us how good sonority the mosque has, and a prayer could be done without microphones. He started a Muslim prayer with a very strong voice. He had a nice voice and his prayer resonated loudly, indeed like from a microphone. The whole crowd inside froze, total silence, except, of course, our guide’s prayer, that lasted not more than 10 sec. An American tourist came by and told our guide: “You definitely know how to silence a crowd.” My feeling was that he was a little bit scared and wanted to be sure it is nothing else but a demo. I laughed and patted him on the shoulder, that was the assurance he expected.
We visited the pyramids, and our Guide showed his skills, asked us for ten dollars bill he spent to gain access in a pyramid under revision, with two tombs inside. After we were out, he said: “I liked that you did not touch anything. There are tourists around here, mostly Russians, that scratch the walls to take home souvenirs.”
He was not the only guide that did not like the Russian tourists. Our guide in Sinai Peninsula told us that if you go in the desert and turn a stone, you will find a Russian tourist.
In Sinai Peninsula we visited the Moses mountain, that is the place where Moses got the ten Commandments from God. We followed the tradition of the place and started the journey at 2 AM to catch the sunrise from the top of the mountain. By the way, there is no place saying here on this spot God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses, or something like that.
The rule is that any group should have an accompanying Bedouin from the local tribe to go up on Moses mountain, our guide was not allowed to come with us. So, we had Mohammad, the Bedouin, coming with us. I did not expect to be so cold, and Mohammad offered me his coat.
At the base of the mountain is the famous St Catharine monastery, Christian Orthodox faith. It was never attacked by the Muslims since inside the walls it is a mosque as well. That mosque never had a prayer inside, but it served its purpose saving the monastery from attack. Some bones of Saint Catherine are in a room inside the church where only Christian Orthodox are allowed, and you need to have a proof of some sort, you cannot fool the monks. We have dual citizenship and my wife used her Romanian passport as a proof, Romanians are considered Orthodox in that church, so, she saw the bones.
And within the walls of the monastery it is the burning bush, where Moses met God. From Wikipedia: “ According to the narrative, the bush was on fire, but was not consumed by the flames, hence the name. In the biblical narrative, the burning bush is the location at which Moses was appointed by Adonai (God) to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan.”