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The Secret Gardens of Sinai

Sometimes, the greatest treasures lie in plain sight


By Bishoy Beshara

The mountains surrounding Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula look deserted and devoid of life, but hidden between the crags and crevices, small groups of trees stand guard around fresh water wells: the Secret Gardens.

A visit to these gardens involves a steep climb that lasts until sunset and passes by several wells and ends up on a wide plateau with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.

Spending the night in the mountains allows visitors to enjoy an unparalleled view of the stars, and on moonless nights, even the Milky Way itself. Rising with the sun, seeing the colours creep back onto the surrounding stones is another moment not to miss, and after a quick breakfast, the road down only takes a few hours.

Hiking in the Sinai Mountains is an experience that lasts longer than the few days the trip takes, as its effects linger once you return to civilisation. While the climb itself keeps the body busy, your mind wanders and the majestic surroundings put whatever you are thinking about into perspective, and this you bring back down the mountain with you.

 

The group arrives at the campsite around midnight the night before; all the bigger gear, like sleeping bags and tents, are left behind for the camels to bring up. Every climber carries a backpack with two large bottles of water, some insect repellent, trail snacks, like dates, and a cotton scarf to protect your head and neck from the sun. Here the climbers are starting on the steep trail.  (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The group arrives at the campsite around midnight the night before; all the bigger gear, like sleeping bags and tents, are left behind for the camels to bring up. Every climber carries a backpack with two large bottles of water, some insect repellent, trail snacks, like dates, and a cotton scarf to protect your head and neck from the sun. Here the climbers are starting on the steep trail.
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The group slowly makes its way up the mountain, following a trail that snakes to the top. A group of climbers moves together at the pace of the slowest member. Besides carrying your basic needs, it is important to wear the right clothes. Hiking boots are a must and should be worn one size too big and with two pairs of cotton socks. Shorts or light pants are fine but jeans are too heavy to climb in (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The group slowly makes its way up the mountain, following a trail that snakes to the top. A group of climbers moves together at the pace of the slowest member. Besides carrying your basic needs, it is important to wear the right clothes. Hiking boots are a must and should be worn one size too big and with two pairs of cotton socks. Shorts or light pants are fine but jeans are too heavy to climb in
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

Halfway up the mountain, the previous night’s camp location seems far away (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
Halfway up the mountain, the previous night’s camp location seems far away
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The luggage is brought up the mountain by a different route and is carried on the backs of steadfast camels (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The luggage is brought up the mountain by a different route and is carried on the backs of steadfast camels
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The way nature painted the colours on the rocks beside the path is breathtaking (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The way nature painted the colours on the rocks beside the path is breathtaking
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The trail disappears at points or is interrupted by boulders and rocks that have been deposited during flash floods when it rains. These waterways offer a nice challenge for the climbers to clamber over as they find their way up the mountain (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The trail disappears at points or is interrupted by boulders and rocks that have been deposited during flash floods when it rains. These waterways offer a nice challenge for the climbers to clamber over as they find their way up the mountain
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The Secret Gardens are often not more than a few trees surrounding a fresh water point. They offer a moment to catch your breath, freshen up, wash your hands and face and buy some local Bedouin crafts (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The Secret Gardens are often not more than a few trees surrounding a fresh water point. They offer a moment to catch your breath, freshen up, wash your hands and face and buy some local Bedouin crafts
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

Where there is water there is tea, and at every garden, you are invited to spend a small amount, of both money and time, with the locals (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
Where there is water there is tea, and at every garden, you are invited to spend a small amount, of both money and time, with the locals
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The challenge of surviving in the arid deserts of Sinai, even close to a fresh water point, has made trees adapt their root systems (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The challenge of surviving in the arid deserts of Sinai, even close to a fresh water point, has made trees adapt their root systems
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

The wide plateau, high up the mountain, offers a beautiful view of the surrounding peaks during the day and the stars at night (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
The wide plateau, high up the mountain, offers a beautiful view of the surrounding peaks during the day and the stars at night
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

As the day passes, the shadows become longer, making it important to keep track of where you put your feet as you scramble over the boulders (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
As the day passes, the shadows become longer, making it important to keep track of where you put your feet as you scramble over the boulders
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

A tree in one of the Secret Gardens  (Photo by Bishoy Beshara)
A tree in one of the Secret Gardens
(Photo by Bishoy Beshara)

 

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