In the last blog entry I made reference to the price you must pay if you want to do it all. We paid the price and are still "suffering" with the aches and pains. But we wouldn't have it any other way. We gave up almost a whole night's sleep to spend about five hours ascending a high mountain. People who take camel rides normally think it's great fun, but not when you are on his back for nearly three hours. We both have blisters in places you should not have any. And they have nasty temperments. They don't make good pets and they don't have endearing personalities. For humans they exist to get you from point A to point B, and that's about it. But the reason they are so important to people who live in the desert is that they can carry heavy loads for long hours and long trips, especially when you are going uphill. My camel was the lead one, since he had good concentration and didn't get lost. And we were doing this trip in the dark. But we were especially blest that night since it was a full moon, so we didn't get lost either. These bedouin folk who inhabit the Sinai region give their camels names, but they are mostly derisive ones, like Mickey Mouse, or Desert Bus. So I decided to raise their status a little by calling mine Socrates. Why? Because he was the smart one. He didn't get lost. He knew the way and didn't deviate from the path. He was all business. But when I tried to pet him and whisper my appreciation he only growled at me. So I'm keeping my dog, but only renting this camel.
Jebel Mousa, or the Mountain of Moses, has a very long tradition in the Sinai region. There are debates that have been around for centuries whether this was the actual place. So how can we know for certain that these very important events happened right here? Well, of course we can't be totally sure about that. But the tradition is very old and the names of regions, deserts, wells, trees, and a whole host of things associated with the desert wanderings are also very old. So the events spoken of in the Bible involving Moses, a multitude of people, Pharaoh's army, miracles and all of that can't be completely dismissed as fabrication or legend. So climbing this mountain and viewing this place is on a very large number of "bucket lists" for many people, and not all of them religious. So, back to the camels.
The reason we take camels (and not everyone chose to do so) is simply because it saves your energy for the last part of the climb. The camels can only go about two thirds of the way to the top, and from there each rider has to climb the last 700 steps. Since camels can't climb steps each rider is on his own for the very last part of the journey. And that is the most grueling part. About one thousand years ago a monk from the monastery built these crude steps as part of his penance for whatever he did in the sight of God. All the steps are different sizes so your legs have to adjust to each one, and the angle of the steps is very steep. Fortunately, the bedouin leader of the group saw that I was having difficulty with my balance in the dark and offered me his arm for stability.....all the way up and all the way down. Thank the Lord for Eid (his name).
At the top of the mountain of Moses is a rather crude chapel and right beside the chapel is a crude mosque, one of the few places in the world where you will find that scene (another place is in the monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai). The monastery itself was built around the year 550 or so, by the Roman Emperor Justinian, who happened to be a Christian. The monks that lived here at this place were experiencing danger from marauding tribes and thus appealed to the Emperor for protection. He provided that protection for them by building a fortress, inside of which they could live and minister. This is an impressive place at so many levels and after the investment of so much energy and pain, it is one of those experiences you will remember for life.