The Sinai is home to more than 20 Bedouin tribes. Each one has its own territory: some tribes even have two separate territories! To Bedouin eyes, the Sinai is a patchwork of small tribal territories. Most tribes require hikers to use guides when moving in their territory. Usually this guide must be one of their own tribesmen too. In St Katherine, the territory of the Jebeleya tribe, for example, hikers need a Jebeleya guide: Bedouin guides from other tribes are not permitted to work. The Sinai Trail crosses the territories of eight Bedouin tribes: the Tarabin, Muzeina, Jebeleya, Awlad Said, Garasha, Sowalha, Hamada and Alegat. The Muzeina are unusual amongst Bedouin tribes in allowing guides of any tribe to work in their land – even when not reciprocated by other tribes – but at the Sinai Trail we still advise taking Muzeina guides in Muzeina territory. A tribesman of the local tribe will generally know his territory better than tribesmen from other tribes and will always have more local connections. Some tribes are more used to trail guiding than others; levels of English, for example, will vary between tribes. Tribes on the eastern side of the Sinai – the Tarabin, Muzeina and Jebeleya, where the Sinai Trail began – have better English, and are more used to guiding work, than tribes on the other side. Over time, the Sinai Trail is working on building skills and sometimes guides with appropriate skills are assigned to work in the territory of another tribe – solely within the Sinai Trail – under the control of that particular tribe, as part of an intertribal agreement made by the Sinai Trail Bedouin Cooperative.
All hikers on the Sinai Trail, and in the Sinai in general, should take Bedouin guides. This guiding system has been in place for centuries; before hikers, travellers, botanists, geologists, explorers and other visitors all had guides too. Guiding is one of the few ways the Bedouin have survived economically in the harsh, barren desert landscapes they call home. Today, it gives them a legitimate way of earning a living, and a unique niche in the economy, which the Sinai Trail is working so hard to build. Guiding supports communities economically. It also ensures traditional Bedouin knowledge of the Sinai – the ways, the water, the place names, the legends, poems and history – plus the skills needed to move through the landscape safely, from navigating, to keeping camels healthy, remains alive. This knowledge is largely unwritten; much of it has already been lost to younger generations, for whom it is no longer relevant. Guiding makes it relevant again; it makes it valuable and worth holding onto for the future.
Hiking with a Bedouin Guide
Don’t have concerns about a Bedouin guide limiting independence. The Bedouin are a fiercely independent people, and a good, experienced guide will understand exactly what it is to want freedom and solitude in a wild place. Bedouin guides will put the whole trip together: they will organise food, plus camels to carry it and a support team if necessary; the Sinai isn’t easy to hike independently, as there are few settlements, plus few water sources and no shops to get supplies. Bedouin guides will know exactly how to organise a crossing of the Sinai. As well as arranging the trip, showing the way, cooking, and enriching a hike with information, guides will give up-to-date, on-the-ground advice on everything from weather hazards to dangerous wildlife and any political concerns. With a good Bedouin guide, the hike is safer and richer. The Bedouin are exellent wilderness companions who make the Sinai what it is; without them, the Sinai and its scenery would still look spectacular, but the real spirit of the land would be missing.
Finding a Bedouin Guide
Hikers can find Bedouin guides independently, but this is difficult for anybody new to the region. The choice can be limited and even where it’s good, there are good and bad guides and it can be hard to tell the difference in a short meeting. The language barrier gives difficulties too. The Sinai Trail is training younger Bedouin to work as official, accredited guides; by the end of 2016, 20 new Bedouin guides will be working on the trail. They will have received training from older Bedouin in traditional guiding skills plus tuition in modern first aid practice and navigation. The Sinai Trail can recommend Bedouin guides for a hike or help hikers organise a hike. To discuss a hike please contact us at email@example.com
OK, but I still want to hike independently!
We understand some hikers will still want to go 100% independently. Currently, the Sinai Trail team is discussing ways independent hiking can be introduced in the region, on the basis that it can still contribute to supporting communities. Remember though, guiding is an ancient way of life in the Sinai; it is seen by many as a working right and for this reason, quick change is not likely. If change does happen it will most likely see a shift to a semi independent system where hikers walk alone during the day, meeting a Bedouin support team at night, or every couple of days. Check in with us for updates.
When do I need a camel?
Camels are essential for hikers wanting to walk the whole trail, or to do any part of it that lasts more than one to two days. Camels are used to carry water, food and bags: the scarcity of water and the total absence of shops on the Sinai Trail means camels are a necessity to carry all the supplies required for a trip. Hiking with a camel generally works like this: in the day, hikers will go one way, usually a more difficult way; camels will go another way, in big, easy wadis. Hikers will carry a small bag, with water, snacks, warm clothes and other essentials, with everything they need for the day. Camels will carry bigger bags, with sleeping gear and other equipment, meeting hikers at an agreed rendezvous in the evening. As well as using camels as beasts of burden, they can be ridden. Most of the Sinai Trail can be travelled on camel and it is an alternative option to walking. Camels for riding purposes can be arranged by Bedouin guides before a trip.