Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Village and Monastery of St. Catherine's

The village of St. Catherine's, Egypt
I was not sure what to expect with the town of St. Catherine's.  In fact, when I arrived, I was kind of in a hurry to get to Dahab.  Now, as I write this, on the shores of the Red Sea in Dahab, I find myself missing St. Catherine's.  Everything about St. Catherine's was laid back and calm.  The landscape was rugged and wild. I now know why it was called "the wilderness" in The Bible.

As mentioned before, we stayed at "Desert Fox Camp" which is very close to Mt. Sinai and the village of St. Catherine's.  It is also a close (20 minute) walk to the monastery.  In total, we spent about 4 days in St. Catherine's, and the days went quickly.  The hosts at the Desert Fox Camp were incredibly helpful, and of all the places we have stayed so far, the Desert Fox Camp has been the best.  I will write a review of it later; but for now, let me just say that we highly recommend it.

We spent most of our days relaxing at the Desert Fox Camp, other than the day we went to climb Mt. Sinai and the day we walked to the monastery.  Since I already wrote about climbing "Mount Moses" as the locals call it, I will write about the day we went to see the site of the Golden Calf and the monastery.

Nothing left to worship...
It was the morning after our climb of Mt. Sinai when we went to see the monastery.  We have read that the burning bush that God spoke to Moses through was in the monastery (I am not sure if I believe that it is the same one) and we wanted to see it.  Also, we have heard that the monastery itself is quite beautiful and one of the oldest monasteries in the world.  So, we went out in the morning hours and walked towards it.

On our way we saw the site of where the Golden Calf was worshiped when Moses came down from the Mountain with the Ten Commandments.  All that is left is a big round wall and a sign that says "Golden Calf."  We did not expect to see this, and it was very interesting to come upon it.  Nearby was the Manna Field where the Israelites were fed Manna.

About ten minutes from this spot was the gates to the Monastery.  There was a small boy here who asked money for school and then said "chocolate."  We did not have any small bills and we were not sure if we should be paying for an education in unhealthy eating, so we abstained from giving.  He told us the monastery was closed, and we did not believe him at first (when people say something is closed, it is usually not).  We headed into the area which was full of tour buses and souvenir shops selling everything from t-shirts to giant stuffed camels.  We came upon a gate with police and were told by an officer that the monastery was indeed closed, and he took us in and showed us a list of holidays that the church observes.  One of these dates is June 13th.   He then told us we were welcome to go see the outside of the building though, and we thanked him.

The walled garden of the monastery
We made our way up to the monastery, which was a little further up a dirt road.  There were a few taxis that wanted to take us up, but there was no sense in it with how close we were.  When we got there, we spent some time looking at the outside of the complex, which was quite large.  There were walled gardens lined with trees.  Inside were a few goats as well.  Near the monastery, there were many tourists taking pictures of the camels that were kept in a nearby pen (to ride towards the top of Mt. Sinai) as well as the mountain itself.

After spending some time taking pictures, we headed back towards Fox Camp.  On our way back we saw the same "chocolate boy" who was chasing a tourist onto a bus trying to get money and seeming quite upset. We were asked a few times about a taxi back, but we said we were not interested.  Someone tried to get us to go back up the mountain, and we told him that we were already up there.  He wanted us to go again, and although that would have been interesting, once in two days is enough.

I wish we would have been able to see the burning bush and the inside of the old monastery, but we did not get to.  That's a shame, but it was nice to see the building and all the sites that we were able to.  I am sure the bush is really impressive, but I do doubt that it's the same one that God spoke through at this point.  

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