As a student in a country with a bustling tourism industry like Egypt, you inevitably reach a point in between the tourist and the expatriate resident. You’re haggled by shop owners, but you already know the tricks they use to get you to their shop. You’ve ridden the metro and the microbus, but still get charged foreigner prices. You’re comfortable speaking Arabic at the juice stand, but still might drink a beer in a hotel bar.
It is, of course, a situation produced by one’s having lots of expendable cash and a desirable passport, but the feeling of being a tourist/non-tourist has lead to a lot of fun insights. The past two weekends I’ve done some very typical excursions to the Western Desert and Mt. Sinai. Both were marked by disarmingly intense experiences with the natural world, with the mushroom rock formations that give the former an otherworldy desolation and the religious connotations that give Sinai’s sunrise such epic proportions.
This all occurred to me as I was riding a camel with several bedouin guides up the side of Mt. Sinai. It was evening, though the hour was much earlier than it felt out in the middle of nowhere, and the quiet clicking of the camel hooves accompanied my brief, romantic flirtation with how similar to the ancient tradition my journey felt. Up ahead, my friend Caitlin was trying to figure out why her camel was named “Mars,” pondering which Arabic words she had learned like it or if bedouins knew about Roman gods. When mine turned out to be “Snickers,” the candy bar reference made sense just as we got to the rest stop, halfway up what is still called Mount Moses, where both were for sale.