Today we are in Petra, the "red rose city half as old as time". We made our trek up to the top of Mount Sinai, had a communion service at the top, and then reconvened at the monastery. The monastery itself is quite a wonder. The monks make the claim that it is the oldest continually operating monastery in the world, dating back to the fourth century. Inside you can see a leaf of the Codex Sinaiticus - the oldest fragment of the New Testament in the world, as well as the "Christ of Sinai" - the oldest icon in the world.
The trek up to the top is either on foot or on camel. I opted to walk up with Salaa', a local Bedouin who was helping guide our group onto their camels. Sinai is quite a popular pilgrimage spot, and we heard languages from every continent as we ascended. In any given day there might be up to 2000 or more pilgrims, tourists, wayfarers and seekers of all kinds coming to the top of mountain to be in a place which has been called holy for many generations.
The local Bedouin tribe have a monopoly on the Sinai camel ride business. It has been that way for generations, ever since the Emperor Constantine commissioned them for the task of looking after and protecting St Catherine's monastery. After their conversion to Islam during the time of Islamic expansion, the local tribe continued to offer their services to the monastery. Inside there is a letter of "protection" said top have been granted by Mohammed himself: the original document is still on display in the monastery, with Mohammed's hand print on the leaf of paper as a seal.
Later that afternoon we turned off the beaten path and headed out into the desert. Our first stop was the site of some nawamis. Those who have read "Walking the Bible" may recall them from a description in that book. It is believed that these are the oldest free standing roofed structures in the world, dating back to 3500 BC. We also met up with some local Bedouin who still live the traditional life of the pastoralist-nomad. "A wandering Aramean was my father".
We arrived in Jordan last night , after taking the local ferry across to the Jordanian port of Aqaba from Neweiba. The ferry is used by the locals: out of several hundred passengers, there were maybe 20 westerners on the boat. Sharen and Evelyn got invited by a Jordanian lady to come and sit with her. I got invited a few moments later, and we had a great conversation between the three of us and her family: brothers, sisters, friends from Amman. In the end we exchanged emails and cell phone numbers in case we have some free time while we are in northern Jordan.
One of the benefits of leaving Egypt and heading over to Jordan is the new freedom to have prayer. While we were in Egypt we were informed of a recently enacted law that prohibits Christians from having a "religious meeting" in "unapproved" places and at "unapproved" times. So for example, we were not allowed to simply gather in a room to pray together. This law is rather new, apparently in response to the growing conservative movement within Islamic Egypt. Sinai has an exemption from this law, given that it has a rather special status with it's exemption and protection letter from Mohammed himself. I will have a few more bits on this as we go along.
Breakfast is calling.