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Why visit Egypt?

Sharm El Sheikh

The Sinai's sandy desert and rugged mountains

There is no direct flight from Luxor (which was our last stop on our trip around Egypt) to Sharm El Sheikh you have to go via Cairo. However, on a clear day you will see the Suez Canal and the Sinai's sandy desert and rugged mountains from the airplane. Make sure you get a window seat. What a very strange and alien place the Sinai is. A photo of Mars is the first thing that comes to mind; baked, sandy, rocky, and inhospitable. How could anyone live here and why would you want to visit such a place?

Well, Sharm El Sheikh (or Sharm as it is known by the locals) is the SCUBA diving capital of the Middle East. The Ras Mohammed Marine Reserve is just offshore and is said to be second in beauty only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

The Ras Mohammed Marine Reserve

The Red Sea comes right up to the sandy barren land and at this meeting place are miles of luxury hotels like the Hyatt Regency Sharm El Sheikh. So not only can you SCUBA dive and snorkel there on the world famous coral reefs, but you can just relax and enjoy the lavishness of it all. Make sure your room has a view of the Red Sea.

Many of the tourists in Sharm are from Russia; some of the men look like Russian Tony Sopranos with glamorous girlfriends draped from their arms. However, do not let this put you off as Sharm has to be one of the safest and culinary sophisticated places in Egypt.

Saint Catherine's monastery

If you do not know how to SCUBA dive then Sharm is a great place to learn as it has a large community of well trained dive instructors, many of which can speak English. However, if you cannot take the plunge with SCUBA then just take a snorkel from the beach; the view will be well worth your effort. Of course just hanging out by the pool and eating yummy food is good too.

A must do while at Sharm is to take the tour bus to Saint Catherine's monastery. This monastery has been called the oldest working Christian monastery in the world. It is also the home of the infamous Burning Bush; you know the one from the Old Testament. The history of the monastery and the thousands of monks and pilgrims who have visited St Catherine's since Roman times is interesting. One story goes that a historian went there in Victorian times and was studying the ancient bible the monks had in their library, which is second only to the Vatican for ancient texts. Anyway, the historian stole the bible and gave it to Alexander II of Russia. After the Russian Revolution it was sold to the British museum where it resides to this day.

The Sinai sandy deserts and craggy mountains

The bus trip from Sharm to Saint Catherine's monastery takes several hours of driving through the vast Sinai sandy deserts and rocky, craggy mountains. Truly there is very little life in these lands at least when looking from a bus window. In 2007 it rained once in Egypt and this was less than an inch. Given this it is easy to understand why this place is so dry and desolate.

Supposedly the descendant of the Burning Bush

At the monastery you will find the famous skull room where the monks place the bones of their dead comrades. In the skull room is the fully robed skeleton of the monk who was said to have gone up a nearby mountain and found the bones of St Catherine. The story goes the bones had been dropped there by angels after she was killed by the Romans. St Catherine's forearm and head are still in the Basilica and believers come to kiss them and give rings and jewels to the monastery. Not a bad deal for the monks. The rest of her bones were generously distributed to churches in Italy and France. How quaint these myths are.

Fly from San Francisco to Cairo from $1,258 to $1,532 and a flight from Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh from $198 to $288.

This concludes my series on traveling Egypt.


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