A Painful Boarder Crossing and First Stop In Egypt – Saint Catherine’s Monastery

My whole Middle East trip was safe, no gun shot, bomb scare or anything like that. Security check was very stringent in Israel but you can still travel solo freely without being harassed. So I really appreciated Israel and consider it was the most enjoyable part of my trip.

If you ask me what was the scariest incident during the trip, it has to be the boarder crossing into Egypt. The most practical way to travel between Israel and Egypt is overland via the Taba border crossing. According to Smartraveller website ( Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official travel advise site), Taba area is the red, “do not travel zone”. “Within 50kms of Egypt’s border with Libya and Governorate of North Sinai, including the Taba-Suez Road, do not travel”, it says. That really concerned me. But then again, the whole Egypt is orange, “reconsider your travel” zone. Does that mean Travel to Egypt is not an option at all? I really wanted to go to Egypt and the need to get Egypt travel out of my system was increasingly urgent. So after months (even years) of deliberation, I booked the trip any way.

“I will have a driver and a tour guide accompany me all the time. The tour company will organise my visa and send someone to pick me up at the boarder. ” I was assuring myself over and over again. It’s just that due to the security situation in northern Sinai, the government does not allow tourists to ride the bus from Taba to Cairo, and the route between the two cities can be dangerous even for private vehicles. So I was a little bit scared about the safety of travelling with a private tour vehicle.

Thanks God I didn’t see any riots, military bombing or gun held robbery during my entire trip. Only thing was, I was stopped at the boarder terminal and denied entering Egypt. It was past 10pm at night. As you could imagine, being stuck at the boarder between Israel and Egypt during that hour is a little… scary.

The boarder officer wouldn’t allow us pass because you’d need a guarantee letter to enter Egypt. Our travel agent didn’t prepare the letter, my visa wasn’t ready. I was not informed any potential problem. There wasn’t anyone to pick me up at the other side of the boarder!

Without a sim card to call anyone in Egypt I asked the boarder officer to call the travel agent. But it appeared the one who picked up the phone had no idea what’s what. Long story short, I finally got in Egypt just before midnight! After being persistent and kept calling different people, someone finally turned up and prepared my papers. It could be worse right? I could get stuck at the boarder like Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal and have slept on the hard bench right? So that was the most scary part of my trip.

We stayed at a charming resort right at the foot of Mt Sinai and went to visit Saint Catherine’s Monastery the early next morning.

Built between 548 and 565, the monastery is one of the oldest working Christian monasteries in the world. The site contains the world’s oldest continually operating library, possessing many unique books. We were not allowed to take photos inside the buildings but here are some photos from outside.

It was quiet peaceful in the early morning then all of a sudden arrived bus and bus loads of tourists. You see, some people are not afraid of security warnings.

To the left of and below the altar is the monastery’s holiest area, the Chapel of the Burning Bush, which is off limits to the public.

The most popular spot has to be where what is thought to be a descendant of the original burning bush in the monastery compound. Due to visitors snipping cuttings of the bush to take home as blessings, the area surrounding it is now fenced off. Every tourist from those big tour buses wanted to take a picture there. So it took me about 30 minutes to finally take a picture of this hot spot without anyone in the frame.

Hot spot. Had to wait for nearly 30 minutes to take a photo of this particular corner without anyone in the frame.

At that point I was still in Asia, next we were going to cross continent along the Red Sea and continue my journey to North Africa. How exciting!

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