Day 11, June 10
(Matt) Good night. 2am comes early! (4 hours before the "crack of dawn"). Joe was feeling sick and stayed in bed to recouperate. The first thing that struck us was the stars, the number and quality of which none of us had seen before (but all hope to again.) (But they were the same stars that we all see back in the states - big and little dipper, etc.) We were in the middle of a pack (small throng) of people walking up and I began moving out. Passing where the narrow confines of the rocky trail allowed. I mistakenly thought I was the only T-weed doing this and as I reached the very front person, a huge man passed me by and the fella behind him said, "nice body" (referring to my open shirt,) then I realized that Sam was passing on my right - the "nice body" guy was Chris and the huge guy was Greg Bodoh! No we were in the lead.
But where was Dave? We kept pushing ahead to stay in front but thought we had left poor Dave way back with the crowds of pilgrims, but Presto! Dave cruises by, walking with speed we did not know was in him. Now united at last in the place where we belonged! The lead. We walked and rested till we could hear the other people catching up. Then with a cry, "None shall pass!" we leapt forward with vigor renewed and put some distance behind us. This went on for some time, all of us basically sticking together, waiting at rests for the last person to catch up and catch his breath.
However, at one such stop we heard the other people coming but Dave did not come. Suddenly, we were caught in a dilemma - should we wait for Dave or be passed by others or stop the strangers and then wait for Dave as well. So we sat gnashing our teeth as two guys with backpacks passed us by. We waited still longer and no Dave. Finally, before we were passed again by even more people, we began trudging up the mountain again, despairing of ever catching the guys that had passed up and weak with the sense of loss from Dave's disappearance.
As we forced ourselves onward, our hearts leapt within our breasts (little though they were)as we perceived that the backpackers had stopped only 50 feet from us and had yet to resume the journey. Our feet flew as we passed them and regained the lead. But, alas, we were to match steps with those hearty men the rest of the climb. Strong they were and mighty in spirit to keep pace with the likes of the T-weeds.
On another rest, we perceived that another stranger approached. As we rose together to block his path, we saw that it was The David of Brown walking with redoubled speed. Amazed at his strength and virility after hiking for so great a distance, we questioned him greatly to find the source of his strength. He replied, "Sprite, the breakfast of ex-champions." So onward once again (with a quick stop at the next Beduin booth to get Sprites all around on Chris) to the top.
We hit the "stairs" after 1 1/2 hours hiking and the top was supposed to be about 1/2 hour from that point. Supposedly, a monk from St. Catherine's had built these stairs but there were so many and it was so far I'll wager it was alot more than one monk and one lifetime. I had been walking without a flashlight (remember 2am) the whole way, but on the stairs (which were built to a different set of standards and building codes) had only one thing in common: they all went forward and up. How much forward and how much up differed greatly from step to step. It was kind of like snow flakes - no two were alike. All that explanation was to give background info on the next statement. Dave loaned his flashlight to a girl called Alison. So we all walked close together. We eventually made it to the top (2 hours flat) and found a spot to sit and wait for the sun. (It's supposed to take between 2 and 4 hours to get to the top.)
As we sat and the sweat dried, we realized that it was COLD up there. (We guess around 50 F) Greg, Sam, Dave, and I huddled together trying to stay out of the wind. Chris was in a rock crevice snug and out of the wind. Sam, Chris, and Dave had worn pants and were trying not to be too smug. Sam kept asking if I thought my goosebumps would be permanent. After an hour of struggling to keep warm, a guy sat on a rock above us and his sleeping bag hung over enough for Greg to cover his legs. (He said he felt bad for Sam and I and thought about trading places with us - but didn't.)
Finally, about 45 minutes before sunrise (5am), Dave felt sorry for me and asked if I wanted to walk around to try to get warm. I quickly assented and up we went. We immediately saw 4 people in old blankets, stared at them for a minute, and at the exact same instant stepped over and asked where they had gotten them. They told us they had borrowed them from a Beduin after buying some tea. We walked to the booth they indicated and asked, "How much to rent blankets?" 1 1/2 pounds each he said - I was happy to pay it.
We reunited with out buddies with our treasures and generously shared them. Then all was good. Between blankets (that smelled of camels) and body heat, we were snug and cozy. The sun came up as usual. It was a nice sunrise, but I have to say the dawning of light before the actual sunrise was my favorite part. The light came slowly, sneaking up on us, revealing gradually the rocky landscapes that had been before veiled in darkness. It was very quiet despite the number of people scattered all about. The actual rising of the sun was very quick. I first glimpsed its edge, told the others, and seconds later, it was up.
We sat for awhile, wondering at the harshness of the mountains around us and soon began our trek back down the mountain.
It was a nice walk back down, no longer cold, but not too hot yet either. We spoke mostly of religious matters and enjoyed a lively discussion. Upon arrival at the bottom of the mountain (7:30am) we learned we still had 1/2 hour till breakfast and that the monastery did not open till 9am. So we went to the room and sat and talked with Joe (who was feeling much better) about Father Feeney and the Church doctrine "no salvation outside the Church," till breakfast time.
We had a nice breakfast of bread, cheese, butter, and something new: a hard boiled egg!! We ate and sat and drank hot tea till the monastery opened.
(Chris) We were among the first to enter the monastery that day. Soon, however, there were many tourists there because it's only open 15 hours a week. The monastery was pretty large but most of it was closed off to the public. To do the normal Tumbleweed quick tour would have only taken 1/2 hour. But we stayed from 9 until 11:05. Here is why:
We were able to - by being polite, asking questions, and latching on to tourist groups - see area normally closed to the public. First we saw the chapel, but knew there were smaller and more interior special chapels. The main chapel had many ancient icons (they are Greek Orthodox) and many things hanging from the ceiling. There were sideways wooden seats for the monks to sit in and the center was open. Ropes closed off the areas behind the altar.
One of the monks in the back of the church began speaking to us about the monastery and the items in it. This monk, we believe, was American (there is only one non-Greek monk here according to "Let's Go" and he sounded American.) But like the other monks, he had a long, shabby beard and mustache and long hair beneath a high round black cap. He wore a long black robe. His mustache was so profuse that it completely eclipsed his mouth - I wondered what it was like for him to eat with such a bombastic cookie duster. These monks eat less than most, though. No meat or wine allowed.
Anyway - he told us about the icons housed here: some dated to the 400's. He told us about the elusive library which housed pages from the Codex Sinaticus, the oldest known complete Bible (5th century.) The library was open ONLY to the special guests, but he pointed us to the librarian in case he was feeling generous. He told us about the chapels behind the high altar. They contained the hand of St. Catherine of Alexandria and the Altar of the Burning Bush. Again - these were closed off, but he pointed us to the man who had the rarely used power of letting people in.
After seeing the ACTUAL burning bush next to the chapel and trading travel stories with Sloan, a West Pointer who Sam dubbed "cool," "A really cool dude" (Sam thought he was so cool that he invited him to journey with us the rest of the trip - Sam did this without consulting the rest of us, but Sloan was just a little too cool to go with us - he had to pick up his friend from the Pot-town of Dahab), we asked the monk to let us see the special chapel.
Dave worked his charm (even with the goatee) and got us in! They were charming chapels with nice OLD art and big gold coffins and small rooms with Sacred histories. and that's all. Then we latched onto a tour group and were ALSO allowed to see the library.
(Joe) The library was definitely a treat. Was it the fact that we did a lot of research at Christendom? Or was it knowing that some of the collection (actually, most of it) was very ancient corroborative evidence of the truths of our Faith that made the library so fulfilling or satisfying? At Christendom (and Seton) we learned about those ancient texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls that date the writing of the Gospels to the 1st century AD. In this library, there were actually 12 chapters of the Codex Sinaticus. It seems that after a fire in the monastery, it was necessary to renovate some of the walls. Upon taking apart a couple of the burnt walls, they found the 12 pages.
Dave and Sam stayed behind (even though we were already late for our taxi) and were able to see the actual original 12 pages of the Codex. So, we waited for 20 minutes outside our rooms to get our stuff while they brisked thru more texts of antiquity. Finally, we were en route to the border of the Holy Land - the Land of Milk and Honey. I'm not sure if it has been said yet, but this taxi driver was the best we've had so far. He actually spent the night near St. Catherine's to drive us the next day. So we were off and again going thru awesome terrain. We hit the coast of the body of water south of the Dead Sea and stopped to take a picture of a fortress out in the water. It was cool (like Sloan.)
Upon arrival to the border of Egypt/Sinai and Israel, we were going to give our driver and additional 40 pounds as a bonus, but there was something else that he wanted. Apparently, he had been very impressed by one of our American products and asked if he could have it too. He wanted Greg's Platypus - along with the extension to suck out the liquid. Greg - which means a generous heart - gave it to him and we stepped over into the unknown. We left Egypt behind and ventured into Israel. The debate is still continuing at this moment if we prefer Graecian women or the Israeli. We have 8 more days here, so we'll see.
We made it to Eilat or Elat or Eliat. No one really knows how to spell it (which is good for Sam) because they themselves use different spellings on the street signs. Also, 2 signs meters apart from each other also gave conflicting distances of approaching cities. No wonder there is so much conflict and chaos in this country. One kilometer could make all the difference in the world! Anyhow, Eilat is the equivalent of Ft. Lauderdale, so the debate continued. Of course, the rental car couldn't go smoothly.
(Matt) We arrived quite late (2pm) according to our rental agreement, which was supposed to be pick up at 10am. This did not strike us a particularily serious problem. After all, we paid for it, it should be our loss. Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly the case. The problem was that that particular day was a Jewish holiday and everything shut down at noon. Whoops. But you can't plan for everything... can you?
To make matters worse, the next day was a holiday as well so would be stuck in Eliat for 2 days! That, surely, would be a disaster to the well laid plans of mice and men. However, the good thing is that Chris was the party of the first party that did the rental car arrangements in Israel. So he whipped out the emergency number and they ring it and Presto! Problem's solved. The guy would bring the cars.
They guy tried to put Chris on the spot and make him feel bad (the guy was angry) accusing him of making several reservations, etc. But Chris, naturally had all his paperwork with him and fought right back. I guess everything worked out in the end. They gave us the cars to keep and each of us a slave to carry our bags.
So off we sped in our cars, north to Masada. It was about 1/2 way up Israel but that is
only 150 kilometers. So it was an easy drive. We got to the Masada youth hostel at 7:15
(it closed at 7) and Sam and Greg talked some poor soul into opening back up so we could
check in. We all enjoyed a few hours rest and shower and hit the bed early. (What a day!!)