Monday, February 6, 2012

Day 130: Meanwhile, back at the kibbutz...

Delivered safely from the land of Egypt, a most exhausting country full of extremes.  Sinai was a challenge the passed much too quickly.  'Tourist Police' seem to think that the best way to keep tourists safe is to not have any.  And since they need tourists in Sinai to keep the artificial tourist cities in business, they want the tourists to stay in their all-inclusive Club Meds and travel around only in tour buses.  Like I encountered in Algeria, having no clearly written rules means that any self-authorizing individual can make up rules that suit him and there's nothing to be done to challenge the rule.  Anyone venturing outside the tourist town of Sharm el Sheik must have a permit to be there (so the Tourist Police decided.)  Walk through the mountains [where Moses and the exiled wandered for 40 years] to the Monastery of St Catherine?  Permit Denied.  No reason needed.  Denied.  Get on a tour bus like everyone else.  Not even if I would pay a Bedouin guide.  Denied,  Where are the 'Pilgrim Police' when you need them?

So off to the monastery by car - a kind and honorable young Camino graduate who lives part time in Sharm el Sheik offered greatly needed assistance... military checkpoint all along the way, very curious about my nationality.  We found out that that very day two Americans with their guide were abducted by 'bad' Bedouins and held in exchange for an imprisoned drug dealer... the Egyptians paid up thus setting the exchange rate.  Americans are high-value assets.  But I'm just a pilgrim, safer on my own in the mountains than with an unarmed security post in the car on the highway.  Isn't that obvious?  Argghh.

The monastery, anyway, was fabulous and the monks let me stay at their guesthouse gratis.  Joining the tradition, I got up in the wee hours to climb the 6-kilometer well-marked path loaded with heated rest stations and lined with Bedouin hawkers offering every sevice and commodity under the stars to aid in the ascent.  Seeing the sunrise from Egypt's highest peak and the site where God handed down the commandments is a unique experience that I shared with about 400 bus pilgrims.  Cautioned very sternly by one of the 'good' Bedouin coordinators not to reveal my nationality to anyone, I tagged along with a group from France and spoke nothing but French except to bark at the boy hawkers aggressively convincing walkers to ride their camels (the Bedouins conduct business in Russian or English).  Many of them were incessantly asking 'where you from, lady, where you from?'  I always had the idea that Moses had the mountain pretty much to himself... oh, but for a moment.

Returning to the monastery, the Tourist Police officer, wouldn't let me leave the monastery except in a car with an escort and directly to the border crossing.  I've grown so weary of trying to explain why I want to go on foot.  The fat man who couldn't walk as far as the gate of the monastery will never get it.  Though I doubt his authority entirely - he just makes up rules that suit him - the fight is out of me and I only gave him enough of a hard time to make him earn an hour of his paycheck.  Deposited at the border town of Taba, I walked the last half kilometer out of Egypt.  Robbed of the weeklong walk through the Sinai mountains, Africa is prematurely behind me.

Ah, but a half-hour interview with the senior officer of the Israeli border guards - refreshingly a woman - was deemed necessary once posed the question of what countries I visited in the last year.  I'm not sure if it was just Libya that sent me up the chain or the itinerary as a whole.  Walking on foot?  No money?? Alone??? okay, in the end, a one-month visa granted.  The clock has begun.

The scene in the Wizard of Oz where the world changed from black and white to technicolor mimics well the emergence on the Israeli side of the border... everything so clean and orderly, tidy gardens, sidewalks, pavement, no taxi drivers chasing me down, courtesy, silence, beauty... the pilgrimage is not over yet - a month to tour the famous historical sites of the Holy Land - but the dangerous part is in the past.  Delivered from dangers, the dangers posed mostly from the security forces.  The Egyptian people were by and large very good to me - where there was good, it was very very good; where the good was lacking, it was very very difficult.  Extremes.  In the first town on the Israeli side, I asked for a Christian church - none I was told - so I found a synagogue and asked a rabbi for some help.  Sure we can help you, but you can go to the Christian church around the corner if you'd like... Catholics.  People who understand about pilgrims.  No explanation needed... of course we'll take you into our home for a place to shower and sleep... ahhhh

A marked hiking/biking trail parallel to the highway... quiet, peaceful, scenic, with informative kiosks describing nature and wildlife management programs in place.. houses in orderly kibbutzes...Maps - real maps, accurate so far... maps for touring Christian sites, Jewish sites, nature trails, water points, rest stations... this is all so promising for a person on foot.  Happy pilgrim...

5 comments:

ksam said...

Hmmmm should Catlicks take offense perchance, that they aren't recognized as "Christian"! To funny. Glad to read that your safe in Israel.

Anonymous said...

"Anna, I am there with you" you paint the picture--I am getting really excited...can you rent a camel?

Amy R said...

I'm glad to read your newest post. Ah yes, alone on Mount Sinai. Not!

Sheila Phelan Wright said...

Lots of my messages from costa rica don't seem to get throug...thinking of you everyday.glad the world is back in living color hugs

gracefilled fool said...

Glad that you are a 'happy pilgram' sojourner ann...