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Egypt: Sinai Trip

I awoke outside on a cold sleeping bag on top of a crunchy pile of sand. Then I asked myself, "Where am I?"

I gazed around, looking for my bedroom furniture. Instead, I found the sleepy-eyed faces of my companions drooling on their sleeping bags. In the air was the smell of Bedouin tea and smoke from the fire, lit the previous night. All around there were only sand and rocks. We were camped behind a huge rock used as a windbreaker. I felt the gentle but chilly morning breeze on my face. Then I remembered that I was on the second day of my Sinai school trip.

It had been only about 2 weeks earlier that I had started preparing for the trip. I was living in Cairo, Egypt, at the time, and I was going to its American School called Cairo American College. Every grade in the middle school went on one big trip each year. When I was in the sixth grade, we went to Luxor to see the tombs in the Valley of the Kings; when I was in the seventh grade, we went to the Red Sea at Nuweba; and now, in the eighth grade, we were on a camping trip in the Sinai Desert with the Bedouins. I was really excited about this trip because it was my first real adventure away from home and in an exotic place. Of course, to go on the trip, I had to bring all the supplies that I would need, including a sleeping bag, four sets of clothes, and a trash bag. So all of the students were like Moses, but with a lot more gear.

I realized that my legs and arms were sore from hiking the first day of the trip as I struggled to put on my clothes in my sleeping bag. Then I joined the others in my party on the big red mat to eat breakfast. I grabbed a piece of unleavened bread that the Bedouins ate at breakfast (it resembles pita bread). I also took an orange juice box. That morning we ate breakfast silently.

Our class was divided into six groups. Two of the groups went on water trips as well as desert trips, while four of us were the desert groups. I chose to be on one of the desert groups. Our  physical education and history teachers were our group leaders. The title "group leader" made me think of the German general Rommel and the British General Montgomery, who fought each other in the desert in World War II. We were more ecologically conscious than the World War II soldiers, who left mines and destroyed vehicles all over the western desert, or the Israelis, who left mines in the Sinai. The teachers told us that since we were moving to a new site that day, we would have to clear the area of trash after breakfast. After we had swept the area clean, we packed our bags and prepared to leave on the camels to go to our next site.

There were enough camels for everyone to ride one, but some people chose to walk. Inspecting the camels, students had to choose one that they could ride. I did not want a small camel, but I didn't want a large one either, since I'm afraid of heights. I chose a calm, medium-sized one. The camel kneeled down so I could get on it. As soon as I was seated, one of the Bedouins shouted some words in Arabic. Suddenly the camel rose, and I automatically clutched onto the harness. Soon afterward, the camels slowly walked out of the campsite across the red Sinai sand.

After 5 minutes imagining myself as Lawrence of Arabia, I realized that riding a camel for an extensive period of time could be extremely uncomfortable. In fact, a couple of students decide immediately to get off their camels and return to the cruel reality of the ground. I could see why people made disparaging remarks about camels --horses created by committee. There was supposed to be a way of riding the beast comfortably. Riders could put one leg around the front of the harness on the camel's neck, almost riding side saddle. I tried to sit that way, but it was even more uncomfortable. Since I was wearing shorts, my skin rubbed against the camel's coarse skin; I, therefore, had to endure 2 hours of pain. The camels walked pretty slowly, so the Bedouins were able to control them by walking in front of them and holding onto them with ropes. They could handle about five camels each. When we eventually reached a spot to rest, my behind was extremely sore from riding that camel. As quickly as I could, I managed to reach a spot where I could lie down on less tender parts of my body. Probably riding gets easier after doing it for 40 years or so. The sun had risen, and the day was getting quite hot. The desert has the widest range of temperatures. During the day, it can soar to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit; but in the evening it is much colder--perhaps around 50 degrees. Two other boys on my trip asked me to give them some of the Wet Ones tissues I had brought. In the desert we did not have much water, so the only way that we could keep clean was by using wipes. After eating lunch (white rice and chicken), we progressed to the next campsite. For that portion of the trip, I decided to walk to avoid another painful camel experience.

The second campsite of the trip was definitely my favorite because it was a good hiking spot, and we got the most free time there. There were actually two different campsites--the girls and the boys. That evening we made a large fire and ate S'mores while listening to Bedouin music. Later at the boys camp we made our own fire and kept it flaming upward with aerosol cans. We managed to entertain ourselves without help from our teachers for the rest of the night.

The next day, we moved to another campsite. Immediately after we arrived, we gathered firewood for the campfire for that night. Then we ate lunch, which was hamburgers and fries, a treat prepared by the Bedouins. The Bedouins were good cooks. My only problem with eating in the desert was that the food was extremely dry. Luckily, I had brought plenty of snacks, which I shared with my friends.

On the last day's hike, we had to walk about a mile toward the hiking spot. Then, we went through a fairly steep area of large rocks to reach a nice pond. I was hiking with three other boys, and we were ahead of the rest of the group as we hiked back. Then we reached a crossroad, we didn't know which way to go. I was pretty sure that the way back was to the right, but one of the others seemed positive that we were supposed to go straight; so we went his way. After about a mile of walking, there was no sign of the camp or anyone at all. He had no idea where we were. Since we were lost, we panicked a little and quickened our pace. Luckily one of us was intelligent enough to climb up on a small cliff to look out into the distance. He spotted the camp, which was a couple hundred feet to the right. We all sprinted all the way back. I let out a sigh of relief as soon as I spotted one of the Bedouins preparing dinner. Surprisingly, we arrived at the camp before everyone else. Tired and hungry, we settled down by our sleeping bags to eat Pop Tarts, Slim jims, and candy, which I had in my bag. The boy who got us lost took full blame, but eventually we forgave him and laughed at the experience.

We got up at 5:30 am to prepare for departure (much earlier than our usual 7:00 am wake-up call). During breakfast tried some of the Bedouin tea. I enjoyed it so much that I had three cups. Since it was the last day, the Bedouins were selling the tea for 20 pounds (about $5) per bag, so I decided to buy two bags, about a month's supply. After breakfast, we packed our bags and loaded them onto the minivans. We took the minivans out of our campsite, a bus to the airport, and a plane back to reality in Cairo.

As I turned the key to my house door, I felt a sigh of relief; yet I was also a little bit disappointed that my trip had gone by so quickly. As I looked at myself in the mirror for the first time, Icould hardly recognize myself. My lips were sunburnt and had turned completely purple, my complexion had gotten much darker, and my hair was full of sand. Maybe I had been in the desert long enough.

Back in the comfort of my home with running water, a refrigerator, and air conditioning, I thought of the simplicity and beauty of life in the desert. For many centuries the Bedouins have lived much the same way, resisting the attraction of cities and the comforts we think are essential. The Sinai trip, in particular, was one of the more profound adventures I experienced and will forever remain clear in my memory; for it was not only a trip but also a window on a completely different way of life.

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