Dru was poorly prepared to spend the night in his one man tent. He didn’t have a sleeping mat and he couldn’t even find his sleeping bag and when he finally found it, I took one looked at the tiny thing and said ‘is that it?’ Taking it from his hand I realise it was only a silk sleeping bag liner. Throwing it back to him, I went to find him a spare blanket for the night.
Typical road on through the Sharm
In the morning Dru introduced me to the Egyptian felafel sandwich and the Turkish coffee while we asked around for a map of the St Catherine’s walking tracks. Returning to our guesthouse, deflated but with seven more felafel sandwiches and three bottles of water in our hands we were as prepared as we were going to get. When we explained to our guesthouse owners what we were planning, they magically pulled out a map with four clear tracks marked on it. Great – now we have a map! When we asked for directions to where the tracks start they then told us we needed a local guide. Both coming from New Zealand and both of us have done many hikes in New Zealand we thought there was no way we needed a guide.
Climbing our first mountain I accidentally dropped our sandwiches in the sand and dusting them off I re-tied them to my back pack. Walking along a clearly laid out track in along the Wadi (Dried River Bed) and passing dried up oasis after oasis, we started to think that this might be harder than we realised. We both expected more people to be living along this Wadi than the desertion that was about us. I guess there just wasn’t the amount of tourist these days with the revolution which was happening within the country’s capital.
We ate a quick snack on top of the stone perimeter wall then headed back down the path to our bags. It was getting late, the sun was setting in just over an hour as we carried on walking down the path to another small abandoned village where we found our first unlocked water well.
Looking down the shaft, we could see rubbish but the water was at least clear. Dipping an old container down, Dru volunteered to take the first sip to see if it was drinkable. Aside from the bugs, Dru said it was drinkable, so we filled our empty bottles and jumped back over the stone fence. Further on in the village, Dru and I looked at a hut wondering if it would be a good one to spend the night in. Hearing voices a bit further on, we decided to walk on, but they spotted us and called us in for a chai.
Walking into a smoke charred stone hut, we sat down on the thin mats on top of the gravel floor around a small fire in the middle. I warmed my fingers on the flames as we watched the farmer make us the chai. He handed us a small glass cup and as I sipped on the hot, sweet tea I felt a lot better. We were about to head off once again, but two more farmers turned up and made pop corn. Then they cooked tuna and beans for dinner. After dinner we once again had more chai before they took us back to the hut we had already scoped out and told us we could sleep here, and gave Dru two blankets to sleep with. In the morning, we had a farewell chai and carried on but today the track dissolved into nothing but the Wadi. We were meant to be turning and heading over a mountain by now, but the hills in front of us showed us something different. We took a left where we thought we might be meant to go, but it wasn’t very clear.
Once we were at the top of the mountain, looking down at the valley floor below at least 2km below us we wondered ‘Where did we go wrong?’ Picking our way down a stony valley, we had to take care on where we placed our feet and hands as we didn’t want anything to go wrong in this dangerous place. At times we had to throw down our unbreakable things and pretty much rock climb over huge boulders or scramble over the scree, trying not to slip uncontrollably. Two hours later, we reach the bottom. It was now 1 pm, we had been walking for hours on no food as we had given the farmers our sandwiches and cakes. At the bottom, we found a clear sweet oasis and filled up all our bottles.
Walking along the Wadi once again we were called out to by another farmer. We asked him how long we had until we would reach St Catherine’s? ‘Two hours he said, but stay with me and carry on tomorrow. No no, we will carry on today as people are expecting us today.’ Walking on, following a basic track above the wadi, we came across two more farmers who told us it was another day or two’s walk to St Catherine’s. Surprised, we pulled out our map and asked where we were but he kept on pointing to a place on the map we thought we had passed hours ago.
Frustrated, we carried on, climbing higher and higher up a stone pass, which was marked on the map. At the top, we sat down to eat a nut or two when we came across two more people. Asking them they said its two hours to St Catherines. By this time we would make it but it would be dark as we are climbing down the mountain, on a path we had already walked. So we carried on, but it just got darker and darker until we couldn’t see anything. Arriving at another deserted hut, we found the door was not locked but just wired together. Untying it, and bringing in some of the wood from inside, we started a fire. In the fire light, I discovered two bottles of sweet water for tomorrows walk. We set up the tent, I gave Dru my camping mat and I unfolded a cardboard box to insulate me from the ground. Inside the one man tent, I found I was cooking and tonight Dru for the first time felt warmer and slept well.
Waking at day break, we packed up, ate a nut or two and carried on. Both of us were feeling the effects of lack of food for a whole day and even the early onsets of dehydration. Not trusting our judgment on where we located, we decided to walk up a mountain to see if anything might tell us where we were and how far away St Catherine’s was. We spent hours climbing a small rocky mountain, stopping constantly because we were exhausted. We finally made it to the top only to find another mountain in our way.
We ambled down to the valley and back up the even bigger mountain, until we were sitting high above the valley floor. Looking down we saw nothing we recognised, until I looked to my left and up. There on the hill sat the Monastery we climbed to on our first day! Dru and I hugged in joy, and sat down to eat the last muesli bar between us. Not trusting ourselves or the map we decided to follow the ridge line towards the monastery and we clambered down the mountain and followed the path back to St Catherine’s.
Four hours later, we were sitting outside the first supermarket we could see ,eating pizza bread, chips, chocolate and cola until we felt way too full. This adventure scared the living daylights out of me. I also learnt how fast a body and mind can deteriorate with lack of food. It took me at least two days to recover. Now I would like to make my own travel warning – Do not travel with Dru Hill, as you do not know what you might get yourself into. Stashing our packs in a unused stone cattle yard, we walked up a side track to an old monastery overlooking St Catherine’s village.
For more photos please visit my flickr