Crossing the Sinai

Al `Arish Travel Blog

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Dusty road into the Sinai
 

Scott and I were thrilled that the three Australians roamed with us toward Israel. Traveling east - away from the Nile - the desert immediately became a wasteland of drifting sand. The region contained dry river beds (wadis) but a lack of oases rendered the land unsuitable for agriculture or human habitation. Our Mercedes minibus hurled past mile after mile of silky yellow dunes. Hot dry winds called khamsins kicked up a dust storm. Sheets of fine sand reduced visibility to less than a hundred feet and shallow drifts crept onto the road. It was like a blizzard in upper Michigan without the white or cold.

 

We approached the Suez Canal at Ismalia.

War damage near Al Qantara
That man-made waterway connected the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It shortened the distance between Europe and Asia by more than 5,000 miles by eliminating the need for ships to sail around the African continent. After guzzling cold 7-Ups, we rode in a smaller taxi north along the canal for another hour and a half. Its green waters hardly seemed wide enough for supertankers to navigate. Opened in 1869, the Suez had remained a strategic hot spot ever since; evident by heavy war damage in the area. A motorboat ferried us across somewhere south of Al Qantara.

 

After the crossing, we were on the Sinai Peninsula - the desolate piece of desert connecting Africa to the Middle East. Israel had occupied the Sinai since the Six-Day War in 1967. Egypt launched a surprise attack on the Israelis in October 1973 - known as the Yom Kippur War - which began the chain of events leading to the Camp David Accords.

Sinai oases
The peninsula was open now but still in the process of being handed back to Egyptian control.

 

The small town at our crossing was deserted and mostly leveled. The few buildings still standing were severely damaged. Hulls of burned out tanks and other army vehicles littered the roadside for several miles to the east of town. We could only guess to which 'side' the tanks belonged by the direction their rusting turrets pointed. Twisted heaps of metal and barbed wire transformed a one-time battlefield into a military scrap yard. We passed countless miles of more sand dunes. Date palms rose at the occasional oases. The few people we saw lived in makeshift shelters built from tangled scraps of war. Just after dark, we reached the temporary border a few miles from Al Arish. The border crossing was closed for the night so we pitched our tents in soft sand about ten feet from the heavily guarded chain link fence.

 

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Dusty road into the Sinai
Dusty road into the Sinai
War damage near Al Qantara
War damage near Al Qantara
Sinai oases
Sinai oases
Tank in the Sinai
Tank in the Sinai
Shacks in the Sinai
Shacks in the Sinai
Al `Arish
photo by: rotorhead85