Standing on top of Mt. Sinai, a trekking guide looks over the St. Katherine’s Protectorate, situated about a two hours’ drive from Dahab, Egypt.
He is a member of the Jabaleya tribe, one of the seven tribes of the South Sinai region. This unique tribe is a mixture of Arab and Eastern European blood, descendants of the soldiers of Emperor Justinian, who brought them in to guard the Monastery of St. Katherine. The Jabaleya continue to be passionate about the monastery, one of the oldest continually inhabited monasteries in the world and home to some of the oldest icons and most precious early manuscripts of Christianity, including the oldest bible in the world.
St. Katherine Protectorate is a delicate, high-altitude desert ecosystem that was established in 1988. Over 300 different species of flora have been recorded in the area, including 20 found nowhere else in the world. Covering about 4,350 square kilometres of land in the southern Sinai Peninsula, the protectorate also supports mammal species, including the rock hyrax, Nubian ibex, Dorcas gazelle, red fox. It even hosts about 35 different reptile species, the majority which are endemic to the region.
Today, pilgrims come to climb Mt. Sinai (2285 metres) and see the place where, according to the Old Testament, the Prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments. Most travellers come to experience the sunrise, so partaking in an afternoon ascent allows trekkers to have the mountain nearly all to themselves.
A truly unique experience puts travellers in touch with the local people, including during an overnight just near the base of the mountain. Here, travellers set up camp with a Bedouin guide. The Bedouin are very honest and gentle people who are ‘at one with nature’ and expert gardeners. Visitors have the chance to walk through an area called Wadi Itlah, which is charmingly sprinkled with Bedouin- and monk-owned gardens from which are sourced the ingredients for lunch. The tour through the fields includes instruction about almonds, apricots and some authentic hybrid fruits crafted by the locals.