The primary goal of this 230km, camel-supported desert traverse is to cross the southern Sinai, getting back to basics in a nomadic, live-like-a-local manner. This culturally immersive journey is minimalist in style in efforts to foster a deeper connection with the vast desert and those who inhabit it.
The secondary, more physical aim of this expedition is to climb several desert peaks including Mount Sinai at 2285m and Mount Catherine at 2629m (Egypt’s highest peak).
- Trek 230km between the Gulfs of Aqaba and Suez.
- Summit Egypt’s highest peak plus other mountains.
- Travel in a nomadic, minimalistic manner.
- Buy food and trade camels with the Bedouin en route.
- Sleep beneath the desert stars.
- As featured in National Geographic online (Feb 2016).
Leaving behind an often embarrassing amount of kit compared to the locals you will encounter en route, this is a ‘bare bones’ undertaking. All you really need to explore and appreciate the Sinai desert is a sense of adventure along with a base level of fitness and an open mind.
In Sinai, we’ll create an experience using techniques honed by local Bedouin over thousands of years. This trek will be undertaken in a style seldom replicated anywhere in the world. You’ll receive an authentic Bedouin cloak, blanket, carpet and water bladder, carrying a minimum amount of kit (see Practicalities tab for more). Everything else will be left behind to step back in time and to keep within the spirit of this unique adventure.
How you’re helping the Bedouin
Your expedition leader for this trip, Dave, has a very strong personal relationship with the Bedouin of the Sinai. “This exciting expedition has caused a buzz within the Bedouin community of the southern Sinai,” he says. “We’re all about to set off on an adventure that is not just rarely completed, but it’s never been attempted in such a pure style.”
We’ll be using techniques almost forgotten by many local Bedouin and what’s caught the attention of the Bedouin is the way in which we are employing people from different tribes and families and not just from your standard ‘one-stop-shop’ fixer. We’re employing the talents of over 40 Bedouin spread across numerous families from five different tribes and camels will be taken from four different tribes.
Your Farrwa (Bedouin cloaks) are being ordered and sent from tribes in the north of the Sinai peninsula. Bags are being made by 14 different women within the tribes of the highlands. Water bottles are being sourced and sewn into canvas by women within the Jebeliya tribe. Meat will be purchased from shepherds deep within the desert. Fish is being caught and dried by Bedouin in the coastal tribes in readiness to provision the team. Fruit, vegetables and herbs are being grown and picked by numerous families in the mountains and olives are being picked and crushed by others to make our olive oil.
Not much has changed since 1882 when A. H. Keane wrote, in Arabia Petraea: “The Southern most tip is made up of the massive volcanic highlands cut into huge cathedrals of stone watching over the wadis deep below. Here the land derives its grandeur and peculiar charm from the very nakedness of the rocky heights. In some of the wadis the hillsides are scored by countless seams of the brightest hues, their fantastic designs producing an indescribable pictorial effect. What is seemingly the mere outline of a distant landscape reflects a charming and almost magical vista as if the bare rocks were clothed with woods or vineyards, or their summits capped with eternal snows.”
Your team will travel through the many facets of the southern Sinai desert. Expect tight sandstone slot canyons, vast sand dunes, gravel plains and jagged peaks including Sinai’s highest two; expect short sections of easy, ‘Grade 1’ scrambling. There are seemingly endless wadis and oases that give surprising bursts of green and colour.
Your Bedouin guides
Alongside leadership from Secret Compass and Dave Lucas himself, you’ll make this minimalistic yet highly affecting journey with two of the Sinai’s very best Bedouin guides. Their unparalleled desert knowledge, combined with their great command of English and an understanding of different cultures, makes them the ideal teachers on this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The team’s route will cross four different tribal areas, changing camels and their owners as we do so, as per Bedouin law. In this way, you’ll notice the slight differences between the various southern Sinai tribes while meeting more of the fascinating people who inhabit this harsh environment.
Rather than guided tours with set daily plans, Secret Compass runs expeditions with framework itineraries. Read more about Our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this culturally immersive Sinai expedition. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Sinai Expedition Handbook which is available on request or upon application to join the team.
All teammates and Dave Lucas will meet at Sharm-el Sheikh airport on the 22 September 2018. The team transfer to the trailhead departs at 1800 so ensure that your flight allows you to clear customs and collect your bags by this time. The first night will be spent in a Bedouin camp on the shores of the Red Sea. There will be an expedition briefing and a meeting with your local guides. Extra bags can be handed over at the beach camp and will be returned to you at the end of the expedition in Dahab.
Setting off from the Bedouin Camp, you’ll trek west across the South Sinai desert. Expect to collect firewood to roast food or animals bought en route, help the Bedouin make fresh bread in the mornings and to learn traditional recipes for Baba Ganoush. A memorable aspect of this expedition is waking before dawn to the chime of the brass coffee grinder following a night’s sleep wrapped in your Bedouin cloak. There will be early mornings and long days spent walking through varied and challenging terrain but always with a welcome siesta during the intense heat of midday. During this 230km desert trek across the desert, you’ll climb several peaks, including Mount Sinai and Mount St Catherine.
Having successfully crossed the desert, your team will reach the road along the western shore of South Sinai, bordering the Gulf of Suez. From here, you’ll drive to Dahab for some well-earned luxuries (showers, beds etc) and for an afternoon spent relaxing by the beach before a final celebration. The expedition officially ends in Dahab after breakfast on 07 October 2018 with team members free to extend their stay or to make arrangements for return flights. Please be aware that Dahab is approximately 75 minutes’ drive from Sharm el Sheikh airport so do factor this in to your planning. Transfers back to the airport are each teammate’s responsibility.
Secret Compass expeditions are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Team members should be willing to be part of a team working together to achieve the goal of the expedition. On this expedition you won’t be carrying heavy bags but the desert environment offers a very different style of living that can prove physically and mentally challenging.
Teammates who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the expedition’s goal so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go. Teammates must be comfortable with the following.
Minimum fitness requirements
- Trek: up to 30km per day for 13 days.
- Carry: up to 5kg per person.
- Terrain: through sand, across rocks and on slopes up to Grade 1 scrambling
- Climate: daytime temps up to 40°C, cooler at height and at night.
- Swim: not required.
- Age: 21+
Your first night is in bamboo huts at a Bedouin camp by the shores of the Red Sea. On the trek, team members will sleep under the stars in the sand and gravel of whichever place is home for the night. Everyone will clean away the obvious stones and make a slight dip in the sand to help direct the winds over you. A carpet to sit and sleep on will be given to each team member similar to those used on the camels. You’ll also be given a Farrwa (a heavy Bedouin cloak) to use as a sleeping bag for the night. There are no tents on this expedition.
You’ll eat some incredible food. Everything will be purchased from the local Bedouin who still use local methods to dry food in order to preserve them and to lighten the load carried by their camels. This will vary from dried meats, fish and locally grown vegetables to herbs, fruits and cheese. You’ll consume vast amounts of flour, as you’ll be making fresh bread cooked in the embers of the fires or on large metal plates known as Saj. One of your guides keeps bees so no doubt you’ll be dipping your fresh bread into fresh honey. Dates, almonds and other locally produced high calorific foods will keep your legs going during the day.
With luck you’ll find fresh eggs to buy or barter for along the way. If possible you’ll also buy goats from the shepherds we meet. The traditional method to cook goat is to bury it below a roaring fire and to slowly roast it for several hours. Your coffee will be the traditional green coffee, roasted and ground around the same fire the water’s boiling on. Bedouin coffee is far more traditional than the more clichéd Bedouin tea. It is a brave person who declines the offer of coffee from a Bedouin…
Transport on this minimalistic expedition involves desert trekking (on foot) with camels carrying most of the equipment, plus road transfers at the start and end of the expedition.
A recommended kit list is detailed in The Sinai Expedition Handbook, provided to all potential teammates upon application to join the team.
- Professional Secret Compass leader with full communications and medical kits.
- Specialist local guides.
- Bedouin blanket, farwa and headscarf (for you to keep)
- Handmade water bladder and knitted satchel.
- All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
- Internal transport as outlined in itinerary.
- International flights/ travel to and from Egypt.
- Transfers from Dahab to Sharm el Sheikh airport at the end of the expedition.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas if required.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
- Personal equipment (kit list in Handbook).
On application to join this culturally immersive expedition, potential teammates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some expedition-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
What do you mean by minimalist?
In contrast to many of our kit-heavy expeditions, the style of this trip is very different. Most of the key items will be provided by the Bedouin and Secret Compass will provide a (very short) kit list for the remainder. Team members are encouraged to relax and leave behind the distractions of modern life.
Can I charge all my electricals?
This is a minimalist style expedition so we are encouraging team members to unplug and unwind. If you have to bring electronics with you, please be aware that there will be no access to power throughout the 13 days of the trek.
Will my camera work in the desert?
Cameras should not be that affected by the heat and dryness (if it reaches over 45 degrees they might struggle but this would be unseasonably hot). Your best bet is to keep your camera in its bag until you use it and don’t keep in the direct sunlight for too long. The main problem is the sand itself. Grains can easily get into the lens systems, particularly compact cameras with zoom lenses. Ones with electronic lens covers are most at risk. The best cameras to use are sealed waterproof cameras which have no external working lenses so no sand can egress them. If using an SLR, then take care to prevent sand getting into a lens housing. Using Prime fixed focal length lenses can help. Take a small paintbrush, a puffer bottle or, even better, a compressed air canister (probably bought in-country if flying in) to blow away sand and grit from moving parts. Take care around the sensor and never wipe this if sand is on the sensor. Take particular care if the wind is blowing or where the sand is very fine.
Will there be telephone signal?
There will be signal in Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab and at various points throughout the trek (usually partway up a mountain).
I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?
Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying, Secret Compass may ask for further details or call to discuss your requirements. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition team using the button on this page to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the team. The Handbook contains a kit list for this expedition.