The austere beauty of Egypt’s long-distance hiking trails

“It’s a part of Egypt that is ignored and we don’t know anything about it, to some extent,” said Ms. El Samra said, driving across the gravel sand. “This is a part of Egypt where you feel very safe with the people. It’s very beautiful, it’s unspoiled, it’s undiscovered. It’s very different from most of what we do in all of Egypt. And I like to build some muscles “.

Ms. Samra was among a small but growing circle of Egyptian adventure travelers and endurance athletes who took up hiking, running and competing in triathlons after the failed revolution and subsequent military takeover earlier in the decade past 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, which forced trail closures for most of 2020. In 2021, numbers dropped to dozens due to travel restrictions. But more hikers returned this year, including 70 people from around the world who came for a weekend trek in October linked to the annual United Nations climate conference, known as COP27, 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 route next October.

For the Bedouin, the trails are a way to return to their roots and make a living in the mountains.

During a drought in the 1990s, many Sinai Bedouin moved to coastal towns or farms in the Nile Valley to work, said Youssuf Barakat of the Alegat tribe, who spent two years with Mr. Hoffler mapped the South Sinai routes and served as a guide during the COP27-related trek in October. Modernity and the collapse of tourism at the beginning of the last decade also drove the Bedouin away from the Sinai. Mr. Barakat, 36, returned to the mountains to work on the trail after working as a cook at his family’s restaurant in Abu Zenima on the west coast, he said.

The Bedouins have been forced to change, Mr. Barakat told us after a dinner of grilled lamb and vegetable soup, followed by Mr. Barakat singing a traditional love song while playing a table drum.

“We have internet, we have phones,” he said. Very quickly, he and his people “have become like the Egyptians,” he said.

With the Sinai road, however, Mr. Barakat and his fellow tribesmen have the opportunity to return to their traditional lifestyle.

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