It can be fun to go on a hike or safari with a group, but the ultimate adventure is to go alone; only you and a friendly Bedouin guide – who, at the end of the trip, will be a Bedouin friend. You will see more, learn more, have an authentic Bedouin experience, and discover the magic of the silence of the mountains and desert.
Depending on the area and the length of the hike, you might need a camel to carry water and other supplies, or two camels, if you also want to ride. According to the Bedouin, you only know someone if you walked or worked together – and you will do both. This is not a tourist event, and you won’t be catered for as you would be on an all-inclusive safari. A good Bedouin guide will always treat you as a guest and do most of the chores, but a bit of help might be appreciated at times. But that’s how you learn – you are an intern, if you are open for it. Chopping onions without a chopping board is an acquired skill, and you can learn a lot about the water soures, plants, fire building and other age-old desert survival techniques. If you have a camel with you, it takes two people to load and unload the beast. And if you get in closer contact with the “beast,” you might learn it’s just a dumb but lovable animal. You will learn about grazing habits, and realise that hashish in the Bedouin language is not what you think. You might meet and sit with other Bedouins along a trek, and you won’t be seated away from the Bedouin circle, as a group would. You will take part in the talking, although mostly it is not about you. They will ask where you’re from and all that, but mostly it is a Bedouin meeting. Sit back, an observe, it’s all a well defined choreography; the greetings, the tea and coffee, the exchange of small gifts like cigarette or biscuits, the business discussions and small talk. It is a privilege to be part of it, something only lone travellers experience.
This is the real thing. No cosy bed, no bathroom and hot water, no beer and no hafla into the night – no luxuries at all. But you will have all you need, the way the Bedouin live. Water tastes better after a hard day’s work or walk, it tastes like sugar, the Bedouin say. And at the end of the trek you might discover more than the places you visited, more than the people you’ve met – you will also discover a little bit more of yourself.
South Sinai is safe, far from the troubles of the North. It is deemed safe by local authorities, more and more foreign countries, and locals. Hiking and safari activities have never stopped, although sometimes some restrictions might be in place. Many excellent local operators exist, they know all that is to know, and you are safe with them, either as a group, couple or individual.
You can find a good Bedouin operator on the internet these days, or, just as in the past, in Bedouin camps and local cafés of tourist towns. There are also a number of cafés and camel stations along the St Catherine road, possibly you can find a guide and camel in one of these spots too. Younger guides tend to speak English better, some even exremely well, but if you speak some Arabic, an old man can also be a good choice. In fact, they have the knowledge and wisdom younger guides often lack.
If you organise things independently, you have to buy food and other supplies yourself. But do ask the Bedouin guide what to get, after all he will be doing the cooking. He will also provide the pots and utensils, flour to make bread, and water from local sources. Local water from wells is safe to drink, but boil it first if in doubt or use purifing tablets. Carrying a lot of bottled water is an unnecessary extra weight, and the empty bottles are a burden on the environment.
You can organise a hike or safari throughout the year, although winter might be too cold in the mountains and summer too hot in the desert. It is still possible though: in winter you can seek shelter in one of the stone huts in the mountains, while in summer in the desert you do the walking very early in the morning and late afternoon to avoid the mid-day heat. The best seasons, however, are spring and autumn, both in the mountains and desert.