Historically, the Sinai is a land of the Bedouin. The Bedouin settled here from the deserts of Arabia many centuries ago and they remain scattered across the peninsula today. The Bedouin are a people of tribes and there are about eight tribes in South Sinai today, depending on how you count them. Every tribe has its own territory and when it comes to trekking – or anything, for that matter – most tribes rule that trekkers need guides within it. It’s also usually specified that the guide must be one of their own tribesmen: not one of another tribe. In the HIGH MOUNTAIN REGION of the Jebeleya tribe, you need a Jebeleya guide, for example. In WADI FEIRAN, the guide has to be from the local Gararsha tribe, and so forth.
This guide requirement goes back centuries. Before trekkers, traders, pilgrims and explorers had to take them too. Guiding is one of the few ways the Bedouin have been able to make a living out of their lands. It’s not a modern money-making scheme rolled out purely for tourism.
TREKKING WITH A GUIDE Some trekkers will be put off to discover they need a guide in the Sinai. They might feel a guide will limit a sense of personal freedom, achievement and adventure. But the Bedouin are a fiercely independent people and a good guide will understand exactly what it is to want freedom, challenge and adventure in a wild place. As much as keeping you on track they’ll tell you about wildlife and history, explain place names, legends and Bedouin culture, enriching the whole trek. The Bedouin really make trekking here what it is in the Sinai. They are very different to trekking guides you might find in other countries and they can become companions that live in the memory as long as the scenery. Without them, you’d miss out on a big part of the trekking experience.
WHAT ABOUT CAMELS? Camels carry water, food and bags. They’re essential for every trek in THE DESERT, where water is scarce (you’d struggle to get between wells carrying all your stuff). The mountains have more water, meaning treks can usually be done unsupported, at least over a couple of days. Camels become essential again on longer routes, when you’d need more supplies than you could possibly carry over the course of your trek. The Sinai is a wilderness without villages and shops where you can re-stock on the way. Camels can be brilliant fun to ride too, especially on long, winding wadi treks. If you want to ride a camel, take one per trekker; they walk about one-and-a-half times the pace of people – faster on sand – and if everyone rides, the expedition can move at the same speed. If you trek with a camel in the mountains, you will usually need a guide AND a cameleer: you’ll go one way with a guide, carrying a small bag during the day; the camel will go an easier way, with bigger bags, meeting you in the evening. In the desert, camel and trekking routes are usually the same; your guide will usually act as the cameleer too. This means you only need one person, so it’s cheaper.