Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Monastery, an Eco-lodge, and A Day of Exploration.‎

We decided to go exploring yesterday. I had read before about the monasteries of Wadi ‎El-Natrun and had always seen the sign to them when traveling to Alexandria. I read that ‎this group of monasteries, 100 km north of Cairo, were the oldest monasteries in the ‎world – dating back to the 4th century AD (the monastic tradition was born there and then ‎later spread to the rest of the world). And since yesterday was a nice and sunny day, it ‎seemed like the perfect day to go and explore the area.‎

We only had time to visit one of the 4 main monasteries, so we went for the oldest and ‎most famous: the Monastery of Anba Bishoy. My first reaction when we reached there ‎was one of surprise. It was much larger than I expected. It was actually a compound ‎with very high walls enclosing three chapels, a castle, a visitors' centre, a gift shop, the ‎monks' quarters and a garden. I had expected something much smaller. I was also ‎surprised from the number of crowds visiting there. Hundreds of Christians, many ‎coming in groups from all over Egypt, were there on pilgrimage. I had expected a quiet ‎and reflective atmosphere. Inside on of the chapels, religious icons lined the walls, as the ‎pilgrims were praying and getting their blessings. As we stood inside, a couple of ‎pilgrims started on a religious chant – the lyrics were posted on the wall for those that ‎didn’t know them. Gradually, more and more people joined them, and before we knew it, ‎there were like 40 to 50 people, all chanting together. It was such a spiritual atmosphere, ‎that we found ourselves chanting with them even though we’re not Christian (couldn’t ‎help but wonder then what some of our more religious relatives would think about this!). ‎Even my 2 year old son was chanting with us! It reminded me so much of the time I was ‎in Tibet and I went into a Buddhist temple there and attended a session of prayers and ‎chants with around 100 monks – another amazingly spiritual experience. You completely ‎lose yourself. I think that there are so many ways and routes to achieve spirituality that ‎it is just too limiting to try to reach God from the way you were taught to do. As they sy, ‎God speaks many languages.

On the way back from the monastery, we found signs on the road leading to an eco-lodge ‎called Al Hammra Eco-lodge. Naturally, we had to check it out.

Turns out it’s a really ‎nice and cozy lodge built close to a salt water lake by an ex army General. His car got ‎stuck there one day, and he loved the place, so he bought the land and built an eco lodge ‎on it! The chalets there are all built from natural materials and we had a great time ‎walking around, enjoying the scenery, chatting with the owner and his guests, and eating ‎some nice home cooked food. I just love eco-lodges. I would take them any day over ‎fancy resorts. Other eco-lodges I recommend in Egypt: Basata in the Sinai, Zad Al ‎Musafir in Tunis (close to Fayyoum), and I hear that Adrere Amellal in Siwa is amazing ‎‎(but still haven’t been there though).‎

It was certainly my kind of day. No plan, no schedule, but you learn and explore and enjoy so much more than you would if you had one.


LouLou said...


Yes God speaks many languages. I always find church services very moving & spiritual.

And your more religious relatives won't like it. I think you already know that.:)

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