Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

My Best Travel Mistake: Climbing Mount Sinai for the Sunset

Wendy Perrin | April 7, 2014

We’ve all been through travel nightmares that over time have turned into fond memories. Maybe you were lost for hours in a maze of back alleys in some gritty Beijing hutong where nobody spoke English but you eventually found your way back to your hotel. Maybe a flight cancellation stranded you on a remote Pacific island for three days but you ended up making great friends and learning how to boil kava.

mount-sinai-few-people

My biggest travel mistake happened in Egypt. Tim and I had driven across the Sinai Desert to see St. Catherine’s Monastery—the sixth century cloister at the foot of Mount Sinai—and had decided to climb to the top of the mountain for the sunset. The path was rocky and precarious, but after about two and a half hours we had made it up the 7,500 feet. We were virtually the only people at the summit at sunset. It was one of those perfect travel moments.

Until the sun disappeared behind the mountain and we realized there was no light anywhere in the desert. We somehow had to get all the way back down that mountain in the pitch dark. The descent was treacherous, and the only reason I’m alive today to tell the tale is that I was wearing sturdy shoes and Tim happened to have a Mini Maglite flashlight in his pocket.

 

A friendly Bedouin

A friendly Bedouin

What turned this ordeal into a cherished memory was what greeted us when we finally reached the bottom. It was like we had landed in Lawrence of Arabia. A blanket of stars had come out, and beside the ancient cloister, crouched around a flickering campfire, was a group of friendly Bedouin and their camels, making dinner and telling stories in an incomprehensible but mesmerizing tongue. We were, again, the only travelers around. That movie-set finish to our day is seared in my memory, and somehow over time that harrowing Mount Sinai descent has turned into one of the highlights of my travel history.

Mount Sinai after sunsert

Mount Sinai after sunsert

Three lessons learned:

1. The next time I climb to the top of a mountain, it will be for the sunrise.

2. No matter what time of day, I’ll be carrying a Mini Maglite.

3. Don’t let State Department travel alerts cause you to misperceive the real risks. As is often the case, the risk of death by violent human attack or explosive device is far less than the risk of death from simply wearing the wrong shoes.

St. Catherine's Monastery

St. Catherine’s Monastery

The Sinai Desert

The Sinai Desert

What was your worst travel mistake that turned into an amazing memory? I just might collect the best stories and share them with everyone.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Janice Schacter Lintz

    Not putting my reading glasses on to check my transit visa through Belarus. My Belarus visa which was supposed to be for (2) one-way transits was instead for (1) one-way visa for two days. I saw a one and a two and thought it was correct. The visa company’s error wasn’t noticed until the Belarus Customs Officer noticed it on our return train ride from Moscow to Germany.

    We were ejected off the train in Belarus with strict instructions to go directly to the police station to pay a fine. Everyone on the train was telling us to pay the train conductor a bribe but memories of the movie, “Midnight Express” ran through my head. We proceeded with the proper course of going to the police station.

    Now imagine traveling with two young children to the police station in Belarus. This was shortly before the revolution began which was not on anyone’s radar but very apparent to us as we pulled our expensive luggage though ripped up streets. The police and the local people were very helpful to us as we exchanged our money and paid the fine. I luckily for some unknown reason, had taken out sufficient American dollars from an ATM in Moscow right before our journey. They did not take credit cards at the police station…

    Of course this was the time, my son decided to have a meltdown in the train station. At the time, the entire experience was harrowing but it is now just a funny story…

  2. Cacinda Maloney

    Similar experience, only my husband and I had climbed over the rocks/mountain to reach lover beach in Cabo, not taking into consideration how long we had been there and not paying attention to the tide, until we had to return. As you can imagine, where there was once a sandy beach in which we walked across against a mountain backdrop was now where 10-12 foot waves were coming in and out with the tide. We had to time it just right to run across the wet sand to get to the other side of the beach. Unfortunately, my timing was off, when he yelled “run”, and I wasn’t ready to go yet, I hesitated, but went anyway: Big Mistake! That wave hit me like a ton of bricks and slammed me into the sand and drug me out to sea. As the tide was going out away from the mountain wall, my husband spotted me, ran out and literally yanked me up from being face down in the sand (almost stuck). I had sand 2 inches thick in my bathing suit, had lost my bag, my hat, my sunglasses and a flip flop, but I survived! I won’t ever do that again!

  3. Marge Wilaby

    Hi Wendy,

    I hope you enjoy this story regarding your question: What was your worst travel mistake that turned into an amazing memory?

    My BEST travel mistake occurred on a beautiful June morning when my daughter, husband, and I went on an overly ambitious day trip to Florence from our agriturismo near Vico d’Elsa.

    I purchased tickets for us in advance to the Museum of the Renaissance and to the Uffizi. My plan for the day (all self-planned via the internet back in 2000!) was to make the drive in our little Fiat, park at the Florence centro storico train station, get to the Museum of Renaissance by 10am, and then tour the Uffizi with our special back-door tickets starting at noon. Turns out this was a hugely ambitious plan – especially for a week day!

    Traffic was a nightmare starting less than 5 miles from our agriturismo, and only got worse the closer we got to Florence. Never had we seen traffic like this, nor since! What were regularly only 4 lanes of traffic became a mob of commuters making as many lanes as possible – that is if someone could even count lanes within the mob of vehicles. Scooters fighting with trucks, truck mirrors and scooters brushing our little Fiat; complete mayhem! Horns honking non-stop. My basic navigating capabilities were stiffly tested just keeping us going the right direction.

    The roundabout just before the train station was the worst part (best part?) of the drive: white knuckles on the steering wheel we entered the roundabout and fiercely battled for the outer position so that we could exit right away towards the train station.

    We were already late for our first museum reservations at 10am, and feared that the priceless parking under the train station would be gone. Amazingly we found one tiny parking space – must have been the very last one that morning!

    Once we parked and realized we made it, we became hysterically happy that we survived the journey, got a parking place and were still going to get to the Uffizi for the noon reservations. Hollering and laughing we gave each other high fives, so pleased were we to have met the challenge. We turned to our 11 year old daughter in the backseat to give her a high five, only to discover she’d been asleep the entire time!

    Some people when hearing this story question our sanity, but then they have never rented a car and driven in Italy, much less self-planned their trip, They can’t understand that this experience has become one of the most treasured memories of the entire trip, and actually of all the trips we have ever taken as a family.

    Ciao!

  4. Ann Gronow

    Similar experience climbing Ayers Rock, Australia. While we embarked on the climb early in the morning to avoid the mid-day heat we were not really prepared for the trek. I had regular running shoes on which did not have enough traction and we were carrying a bag containing our water, hats, etc. A backpack would have been a smarter choice as you needed to be hands free for the climb up and to hold onto rocks at the top not to be blown off from the gusts of wind. Having said all this the experience was great and we were not the worst off. A poor Italian girl was ahead of us, also with improper foot & clothing attire and no hat or water. We ended up helping her to the bottom for which, despite the language barrier, she was eternally grateful. Mother nature is definitely treacherous.

  5. Melanie House

    When studying in Paris at the Sorbonne, some friends of mine jumped on a train to Vienna for the weekend. We couldn’t find seats on the train, but found a corner where luggage was being stored where we could sit down and ultimately fall asleep. Imagine our surprise when we were awakened by immigration officials… in PRAGUE! This was in 1984, so things were not so friendly for Americans in that part of the world. After explaining our mistake through tears, we were allowed back on the train to Vienna. However, one of the immigration clerks who was very kind to us became a friend. He had to travel back to Vienna with us to be sure we didn’t get off the train in Czechoslovakia. We still exchange Christmas Cards!

  6. Bob Payne

    Something very similar happened to me! The lesson I learned is that some camels are more reliable that others, because if I hadn’t had to keep getting off and pushing mine we would have made it to the top in plenty of time.

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