Unlike many other young women dreaming of having their wedding photos taken at one of Cairo’s famous hotels, Asmaa Mahmoud, a 32-year-old business analyst, was dreaming of the top with her life partner Mohamed Selim, a 36-year-old software engineer.
They thought of doing an extraordinary thing they both love and enjoy and decided to hike all the way to the top of Mount Sinai (Mount Moussa) in Sinai accompanied by 25 siblings and friends to have their photo shoot 2,200m above sea level.
“It all started when we were chatting with friends and explaining that we wanted to do a different photo shoot and that we were already thinking of a mountain as a destination. A lot of suggestions were put forward, and we decided on Saint Catherine’s, specifically Mount Sinai, as one of our favourites,” Selim said.
“We are a group of mountain hiking lovers, and we used to hike a new mountain every two months. It wasn’t difficult for most of us to go on this adventure: it’s the 15th time I have been up Mount Sinai since I began in 2003. The mountain has so many ways to hikeit, and the view is really awesome. We love to travel in general, and we have visited most of Egypt to get away from Cairo’s hustle. The closest places to our hearts are Saint Catherine’s and Dahab where we first met,” he continued.
A first glance at the photos gives you the impression that the wedding ceremony took place on the mountain, but in fact it did not. The wedding ceremony was celebrated in Cairo. But they took into consideration the fact that Mount Sinai is a holy mountain where there is a church and a mosque at the top, and most visitors hike all the way up to pray. Thus, the couple and their group packed after the wedding ceremony on 15 March and started their journey on the 21st.
“We left Cairo at midnight and arrived at Saint Catherine’s at 7am. There was a lot of us, and we were divided into two camps, Moonland and Masoudi. We were supposed to rest so we could start the next day. But Mohamed and the others went for a six-hour hike, and I stayed at the camp cooking for almost four hours,” Mahmoud said.
“Cooking is Asmaa’s passion, and she cooked a whole lamb before hiking up the mountain for the photo session,” said Mai Fathi, a 32-year-old banker and one of the bridesmaids. “When the idea was first mentioned, all 25 of us were extremely excited. I recall that nobody hesitated or made a reluctant comment. We went right away to buy the dress fabrics and decided to make something we could separate so it would be easy to put on the upper part under a thermal jacket and take only the skirt in our backpacks in order to save time. But for Asmaa, there was no escape from carrying her wedding dress up 2,200 metres.”
The trip up started the next day at 2am and took four hours. On the way up, Selim rented a camel to carry the gowns so he could save some energy for the shoot. “My biggest fear was not being able to find a camel. Also, it was supposed to be a rainy day, but thankfully I found a camel and it only rained for five minutes,” he said.
“The adventure was not without its challenges, the most prominent of which was that I had to carry a bag of Asmaa’s and my suit and some of the camera equipment on the mountain’s 750 stairs as camels couldn’t go up there. That was in addition to the riskiness of hiking after it had rained and the rocks had got slippery,” he added.
“When we arrived before dawn, we caught a view of the sunrise from the top. It was very cold, maybe five degrees, and it was a little bit windy. We stayed to rest and warm up for a while and waited until all the visitors up there had finished their visit so we could have our photo session,” said Yehia Al-Zeini, the photographer and a friend of the bride and groom.
“It’s my sixth or seventh time to hike this Mountain, one of the best and easiest to climb in the area. We waited until 7 am to start the photo shoot. The bride took her dress to one of the toilets on the Mountain to change, and of course there were no mirrors or lights. She and the girls succeeded in putting on their makeup and dresses, which I considered to be a kind of miracle. The groom changed his clothes behind some rocks and made up his hair with hair cream without a mirror. The photo shoot lasted until 9 am, then we took the route down the mountain for another two hours to reach the base by 11 am,” Yehia commented.
“Yehia is a really creative and talented photographer. He knew how to illuminate the beauty of the mountain range and showed us looking very elegant despite our tiredness and the hiking shoes we were wearing. He even chose the colour of the dresses to make a contrast with the mountains. Yehia was keen to show the spectacular view of the Saint Catherine’s range and how it embraced the bride,” Mai added.
The couple didn’t then seek some rest, however. After they had got home at 11pm, they slept for a few hours before waking early to catch a flight to Lebanon to spend their honeymoon. “If we were to repeat this experience, we would maybe choose a harder mountain, such as Abbas or Bab Al-Donia,” Selim said.
While the couple received very nice comments on their adventure, such as praising the idea of doing whatever they loved to do on their special day and documenting it in a unique way, they also received some disappointing ones. “Some comments on Facebook accused us of wasting money, when actually we didn’t pay a penny. Saint Catherine’s is one of the cheapest destinations in Egypt. The average cost for accommodation is about LE80 to LE120 with meals per night,” Selim said.
“I guess spending LE100,000 on a wedding ceremony at a five-star hotel is the real waste of money. Each of us only had to pay LE600, and our friends paid that for us as a gift,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Wedding at the top