Soul Therapy in the Sinai

The soul, so the Bedouin saying has it, travels at the speed of a walking camel. Unfortunately one of Suliman Yemani’s two camels had been taken ill three days ago, so Mohammed, his son, had loaded it into the back of a truck and taken it away; that left Suliman, myself and one camel to make the journey back to Wadi Ghazala in the South Sinai Mountains. We alternated with one of us walking while the other rode. Fortunately at the height of the summer we didn’t need much equipment, sleeping as we did in the open on warm sand. We walked slowly at swaying camel pace to conserve energy and water.

Our major concern was to ensure a supply of water, bottled for my western stomach. This was Mohammed’s task; he’d find us in the pick-up at the end of each day and deliver a little food and three 1.5 litre bottled of water for me with a jerry-can of well water for his father and to boil for tea and coffee.

Our days fell into a gentle rhythm; wake at 5am, make tea and bread, eat then saddle and load the camel. By 8am we’d be walking through the mountains as the sun rose in the sky. Walk until around 11am when we had to shelter in whatever shade was available to preserve my temperate latitude body from the scorching sun. We’d spend the next six or so hours sleeping, reading, drinking tea and simply enjoying the silence. I had brought a book on Bedouin poetry, which had both Arabic and English text, Suliman would read over my shoulder and comment upon the poetry. The book also had maps of the Sinai and photographs of poets and performers which provided Suliman with the raw material for several long tales of the old life. At around 5pm we would pack up for a further two hour walk to the night’s campsite and our rendezvous with Mohammed followed by a meal of bread vegetables and Bedouin tea around the fire before falling asleep under the starry desert sky.

In this fashion we made a circular journey from Wadi Ghazala to Jebel Makroom, on to Nuwamis, where we crossed the tarmac road and on through a low mountain pass to the oasis of Ain Khundra, where I drank Sprite and sat in the cafe’s small cool plunge pool. We walked on through the wadis and passes to Jebel Malakas. From the springs at Malakas we traversed two demanding passes in one long evening to reach Wadi Mohammed where I had a minor collapse due to heat exhaustion which was cured by much tea, hot sand bread, Babaganush and re-hydration salts in lukewarm bottled water.

On our final evening Suliman explained his desire to stay in the desert and resist the lure of the local tourist resorts; ‘It’s simple’, he told me, ‘the desert’s better for the soul than the town’. I’ll be returning for more therapy!

P McGreavy

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