“It’s a part of Egypt that is ignored and that we know nothing about, to some degree,” Ms El Samra said, rolling through the gritty sand. “It’s a part of Egypt where you feel very safe with people. It’s very beautiful, it’s virgin, it’s unknown. It’s very different from most of what we do all over Egypt. And I like to build muscle.
Ms El Samra was part of a small but growing circle of Egyptian adventure travelers and endurance athletes who turned to hiking, running and competing in triathlons after the failed revolution and the seizure of military control that followed at the beginning of the last decade. Many saw the activities as a way to release frustrations and exercise their independence, or simply to discover their country.
Hiking is still a niche activity in Egypt. The Sinai Trail hosted a few hundred hikers before the pandemic forced the trails to close for most of 2020. The number dwindled to dozens in 2021 due to travel restrictions. But more hikers have returned this year, including 70 people from around the world who arrived for a weekend hike in October linked to the annual United Nations climate conference, known as COP27, which s was held the following month in Sharm el-Sheikh. If all goes according to plan, the Sinai Trail will host its first end-to-end hike of the 350-mile course next October.
Back to traditions
For the Bedouins, the trails are a way to find their roots and earn a living in the mountains.
During a drought in the 1990s, many Sinai Bedouins moved to coastal towns or farms in the Nile Valley to work, said Youssuf Barakat of the Alegat tribe, who spent two years with M Hoffler mapped routes in South Sinai and served as a guide during the COP27 trek in October. Modernity and the collapse of tourism at the beginning of the last decade have also driven the Bedouins away from Sinai. Mr Barakat, 36, returned to the mountains to work on the track after working as a cook in his family’s restaurant in Abu Zenima on the west coast, he said.
The Bedouins were forced to change, Mr Barakat told us after a dinner of grilled mutton and vegetable soup, followed by Mr Barakat singing a traditional love song while beating a tabla drum.
“We have the internet, we have phones,” he said. Soon he and his people “became like the Egyptians,” he says.
With the Sinai Trail, however, Mr. Barakat and his tribesmen have the opportunity to return to their centuries-old way of life.
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