“It’s a part of Egypt that’s ignored and we know nothing about, to some extent,” Ms. El Samra said, motoring through the gravelly sand. “This is a part of Egypt where you feel very safe with the people. It’s very nice, it’s pristine, it’s undiscovered. It’s very different than most of what we do all over Egypt. And I like building some muscles.”
Ms. El Samra was among 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 subsequent military takeover early last decade. Many saw the activities as a way to release frustrations and exert 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 the trails closed for most of 2020. Numbers dwindled to the dozens in 2021 because of travel restrictions. But more hikers returned this year, including 70 people from around the world who arrived for a weekend hike in October tied to the United Nations annual climate conference, known as COP27, held the following month in Sharm el Sheikh. If all goes as planned, the Sinai Trail will host its first end-to-end hike of the 350-mile route next October.
Returning to traditions
For the Bedouins, 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 Bedouins moved to coastal cities or farms in the Nile Valley for work, said Youssuf Barakat of the Alegat tribe, who spent two years with Mr. Hoffler mapping out the trail’s South Sinai routes and served as a guide during the COP27-related hike in October. Modernity and the collapse of tourism early in the last decade also pulled Sinai Bedouins away. Mr. Barakat, 36, returned to the mountains to work on the trail after working as a cook in 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 sheep and vegetable soup, which was followed by Mr. Barakat singing a traditional love song while thwacking a tabla 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 Trail, though, Mr. Barakat and his fellow tribespeople have an opportunity to return to their time-honored way of life.