The Sinai Trail – a 220km hiking odyssey across the desert

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Walking 220km through the Sinai desert and mountains

When an epic adventure comes to an end, it is normal to feel a bit flat. After 12 days of every day bringing new scenery and challenges, of being on a high, and of living the simple desert life, getting back to “real life” was a slap in the face for me.

We were a mixed group of 15 foreigners and Egyptians hiking the new Sinai Trail, wandering through the most stunning scenery:  sandy desert floors, up and over rocky saddles, climbing dunes and beautiful mountains for 12 days, over 220km, from the coastal town of Nuweiba to the top of Egypt’s highest mount, Jebel Katherine. Accompanying us were our Bedouin guides and cameleers, doing what they do and have always done best: taking travellers, traders and pilgrims across the desert. They know the water sources, the plants, the weather and most importantly, the way.

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Nasser, one of our wise guides,  sits in front of an old Bedouin food storage cave

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View from Jebel Meliheis – a great way to spend my birthday! 🙂

It didn’t take long for us to get into our routine: rising early with the sun, extracting ourselves from warm sleeping bags, negotiating our way through the camels parked randomly around the camp, and being drawn to the fire for a cup of sweet tea. The sun warmed our backs as we prepared our daypacks with water and snacks, and then around 9am we would get on our way. Every day unfolded with new scenery and challenges – rocky colourful mountains to scramble over, creamy-coloured sand dunes to play in, palm-treed oases to rest at, and weird sandstone rock formations which gave way to creative wonderment. It was always breathtakingly beautiful. The day was punctuated with stops along the way to regroup, to snack, to eat lunch (with bread baked in the hot ashes of the fire) or to learn about the herbal remedies of the desert plants…. or to hear an old ghost story.

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There was always a big pot of tea and coffee waiting for us on the fire in the morning

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Two Jordanian Bedouins playing shiza in the sand

As the day drew to a close we would enter “camp”, where camels would be waiting with our bags unloaded and a huge kettle of tea on the fire. After a cup of tea to unwind, we would then search out a nice place to sleep for the night. Most people camped in tents, I slept outside under the stars each night, determined not to have anything between me and nature. Waking in the middle of the night was thus always a treat to see the bright stars above, and I loved the feel of the desert breeze blowing across my cheeks. Well, until that wind got bitterly cold later in the trip, and then there was nothing to be seen of me in my sleeping bag.

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Ein Hudera oasis – one of our camps for the night

A hearty evening meal of soup, followed by some kind of rice or pasta dish and then fruit was always welcome to warm up. Around the evening fire our Bedouin guides would sing to us, tell tales or serve us tea until we reluctantly left the fire to go to bed. Nights got colder as we were going up in elevation each day. The Bedouins say you get energy from nature, and I do believe this. Even though I was just sleeping on a mat, there was never a morning that I woke up feeling tired, despite the hard ground or a long day’s walk.

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Preparing to leave camp in the morning –  Jebel Barqa

Living the simple life away from the worldwide web was bliss. Along the way there were great conversations with whoever happened to be walking next to you. As the days went by, and as we got deeper into the desert, I felt our minds also became freer – our “hard drives” cleared and many a good story came out. The desert allows you to just be in the moment and not think about the usual stuff that crams our daily minds.

There was also no chance to have a decent wash, so we kept ourselves as clean as possible with wet wipes. On the whole we didn’t smell too bad considering the circumstances!

I did think that as we went we would possibly get increasingly tired. But this was not the case, our stamina increased and we kept on going. The positive atmosphere in the group also helped carry us – the Bedouins would often sing, we helped each other over hard places, and the amusing conversations kept us from thinking about the walking. Walking in the sand was the hardest, and we automatically sought out hard ground.

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Camels carry our gear to the next campsite

In the 12 days we passed through 3 different tribal areas – the first four days were spent in Tarabin land, and we had Tarabin guides and camels. Then they would leave and hand us over to the Muzeina for the next four days, followed by the Jebeliya. The aim of this trail is to maintain Bedouin desert traditions, knowledge and culture, and support communities with traditional guiding work. Modernisation, the internet and the dominant Egyptian culture have all meant that life is rapidly changing for the Bedouins of the Sinai.

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Muzeina Bedouins making fresh bread for us in the morning

The trip climax was hiking up Jebel Musa on the second to last day, followed by Jebel Katherine on the last day, at over 2600m. The guides decided we were up for the toughest route up the mountain, scrambling over huge boulders up a narrow rocky canyon, until we met with the path that took us up to the top of Jebel Katherine. An icy wind welcomed us as the sun set over Africa/Egypt in the west, causing an orange glow on the horizon. Behind us you could see the Hejaz mountains of Saudi Arabia.

It was a strange moment: with the intense cold detracting from the experience (I really needed to go and get some more clothes on!), but also in the knowledge that the trip was over. After 12 epic days, wandering through the desert, of amazing camaraderie, of mental and physical challenge, of learning about Bedouin traditions and the ways they survived in the harsh desert, how could this be over…

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On top of Jebel Musa!

And to end this I would like to say a huge thanks to all the team, tribes and people who were with me on this beautiful, epic adventure!

If you would like more information, contact the team at sinaitrail@gmail.com take a look at the Sinai Trail website, or contact me if you need more personal information….

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Last sunrise of the trip, on Jebel Katherine

Small things I would recommend: Cold and flu med – as the days get colder and your body gets a bit wary, a few of us got colds – good to have some lozenges and cold med with you. Good shoes – I wore Vibram Five Finger shoes and found these to be the best for walking on rocks (grippy) and they lasted the distance, while the desert seemed to eat everyone else’s shoes! Ziplock bags –  every 4 days I used around 1l of water and  rinsed my tops in a ziplock bag. Biking gloves – protect your hands from sun and rocks.

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…and yet another pair of shoes gets taped up, while mine are still going strong!

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Wow julie what a beautiful adventure. Thanks for sharing your story. Treasured memories.

  2. simon bannock · · Reply

    Great writeup jp. Such a contrast to life back here. Really enjoying yr FB stuff. I’ve become invisible on fb…am travellung away a lot but work related. 3 days till on holiday. Will head to west coast or anatori…weather/ traffic dependent. Have agr8 xmas. S

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this walk. it looks wonderful.

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