Hidden Treasures: Keeping the (Budget Traveler's) Ten Commandments in Sinai

Joel Carillet's picture




Sinai is a largely barren peninsula connecting Asia and Africa, and it occasionally has problems. It was here, for example, that Moses, angry to find his people worshiping a golden calf when he came down from Mount Sinai, smashed the Ten Commandments to pieces (then he ground the calf into powder, mixed it with water, and made everyone drink it). More recently Sinai has been the scene of bombings in Taba (2004), Sharm el-Sheikh (2005), and Dahab (2006). And just last month the Israeli government, having received intelligence about plans to kidnap Israeli travelers, warned its citizens to avoid travel to the Peninsula.


Not to brag, but I too have experienced a problem in Sinai, and it involved my shorts.


After a two-night stay at St. Catherine's Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai, I headed to the beach town of Dahab, about a 90-minute drive away. It was sweltering in Dahab, and priority one (after finding a cheap hotel) was to pack away my pants and put on some shorts. As the contents of my backpack lay scattered across my bed, however, I was distressed. My shorts were nowhere to be found.


I needed my shorts if I were to properly relax in Dahab, and so i promptly sent an email to a friend in Cairo. We had shared a room there and I asked if my shorts were still hanging from a nail on the wall. No, she replied. And so I turned my sights fully to St. Catherine's Monastery.


St. Catherine's Monastery on the left; the guesthouse is in the greenery on the right


I called the reception desk at the monastery guesthouse and said something like, "I think I left my shorts in Room 2003." To this the man replied, "We cleaned the room yesterday and nothing was turned in. But call back in ten minutes; I will ask housekeeping to look again." Okay, I said, and then for ten minutes I sat by the sea sweltering in my pants, crossing my fingers as housekeeping went about their search.


Dahab, Sinai


When I called back the man said something like, "We have your shorts." Events had taken a promising turn. With the shorts located, all that was left to do was get them from the monastery guesthouse and onto my seaside legs.


So how to do this?


To travel to the monastery and back would cost at least $20 and take most of a day (unless I wanted to pay $60 to do it more quickly). Neither was an option, as it would break one of the budget traveler's fiscal Ten Commandments. The receptionist then reminded me that a friend of mine from back home in Tennessee would be visiting the monastery later in the week and that he could give her the shorts, which she could then take back to the States next week, which I could then retrieve when I was back home in September. This was better than parting with $20, but it was still a poor option as I needed to take my pants off before September, and preferably on this very day. And so I sought a third option.


I still had the cell phone number of the Bedouin driver who took me to Dahab the day before, and I knew he did this route routinely. I called, he answered three seconds later (cell phones can be so nice), and I told him about my shorts. No problem, he said, he was heading to Dahab in two hours and would bring them to me.


The road from St. Catherine's to Dahab


Four hours later, sitting by the sea in my shorts, I raised a half-empty 1.5 liter bottle of water to the horizon and made a toast. First I toasted the telephone, which allows one to call a 1500-year-old monastery and ask, "Have you seen my shorts?" Then I toasted the Bedouin driver, for he had answered his cell and brought me my shorts for the reasonable price of $1.90, which had allowed me to keep that cardinal commandment of budget travel: Thou shall never, ever spend money on Option A if Option B is cheaper and will have the same outcome.


Today my shorts continue to stay with me. Here they rest on the rooftop dorm at the Al Rabie Hotel in Damascus, Syria



Joel Carillet, chief editor of wanderingeducators.com, is a freelance writer and photographer based in Tennessee. He is the author of 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. To learn more about him, follow his regular photoblog, or purchase prints, visit www.joelcarillet.com.




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