|March 1 –
We have had our first experience today in riding on camels. I did not find
it as disagreeable as we anticipated. The weather was cool and cold toward
evening, a strong wind blowing all day. The camel gait is a steady walk.
They take very long steps. We are now in our tent. Have a good camping ground,
with plenty of brush for fuel and food for the animals. The mountains do
not look as beautiful upon a near approach as they do at a distance.
March 2nd – Wilderness of sin – Traveled on camels the first part of the day after which we were obliged to dismount and climb over rugged ravines and mountains until we obtained sight of Gebel Musa where we sat down and waited for our camels to come up. While watching them winding through the narrow defiles, it reminded me of pictures I had seen of the Andes. We soon found a plain in which to camp. We had a fine view of Mt. Serbal.
March 3rd – One more day’s travel and we have reached the Convert of Mt. Sinai. The plain for some extent before the mountain was very large and we supposed it to be the one before which the children of Israel camped. The convent is situated in a narrow valley on the side of Sinai. It has quite a nice garden in which we saw peach and almond trees in full bloom. The convent was founded in 527, by the Emperor Justinian.
March 4 – Took a walk in the garden where we saw the fig trees just budding, which is said to be an omen of spring. There were olive trees and immense grape vines. After this we climbed Mt. Sinai and Mt. Sufaafeh. This is a good days work. We did not start until eleven o’clock and it was nearly dark before we reached the convent. There we had to wait some fifteen minutes at the gate before we were admitted. I have neglected to speak of our arrival. All travelers are obliged to have a letter of recommendation from the Greek Patriarch. This was put between two hooks and hauled up by a rope and upon being examined we were admitted by the Holy Father or old priest. They give a room and bread and water and a cup of coffee upon our first arrival. The bread is brown, very indifferent. We took this with codfish as lunch when we ascended the mountain. The ascent and descent is almost indescribable, over heaps upon heaps of red granite, in many places looking as if they were placed there to form steps. The ascent and decent of these mountains is far worse than Gibraltar. It occupied two hours and five minutes to ascend Gebel Musa.
March 5th – Passed through the garden in center of which is a low building, partly subterranean, which had been for ages the last resting place of the Monks. Immediately after death the bodies are exposed in one chamber and there remain until the flesh has wasted away; then the skeleton is broken up and the bones conveyed to another chamber, where multitudes are already ranged in two or three piles, first a pile of skulls and then the remainder of the skeletons on a pile. There are first and second classes, according to the dignity of the person. Mr. M. estimated that there were from 20 to 25 cords of bones. The bones of the bishop were put separately in boxes. We saw two skeletons of two brothers, chained together, having died that way. One of the most important buildings in the convent is the Church of the Transfiguration; the floor is mosaic of granite and marble. Behind the altar the tomb of St. Catherine, made of Gold and Silver, on the top of which is an enameled picture of the saint; a jeweled crown of various precious stones was placed on her head, presented by the Princesses of Russia. In the library we saw a beautiful M.S. of the Gospels written on vellum, in double columns, in letters of gold. It was given to the convent in the Eight Century by their Emperor Theodosius; also copy of the Psalter, written in Greek by a female. It is written on twelve pages in letters so small as to require a microscope to read them. Nora and myself have a room in the convent, a monk’s cell, large enough for our trunks and two beds. It is about ten ft. square. There are four distinct parties here at present, one Frenchmen, a prince, and Englishman, with his wife and daughters, our own party and one of six Americans who arrived today.