(CNN) – Finding a way in 2019 to experience a country apart from other tourist groups is a challenge. It doesn’t take long for unexplored areas to become popular when the word comes out.
With the growing interest in long-distance hiking trails, long-standing hikes like the Camino de Santiago in Spain and even parts of the vast Appalachian Trail in the United States are clogged.
New, multi-day hiking routes open up dramatic and largely pristine landscapes for hikers, hoping to escape the crowds and challenge themselves in wild terrain.
In Egypt, two long-distance routes, the Sinai Trail and the Red Sea Mountain Trail, are among those new trails that offer different adventures in a country that is already on the tourism map.
They are the work of Ben Hoffler, author of “Sinai: The Trekking Guide” and founder of the Sinai Is Safe initiative, which aims to bring tourists back to the region between 2011 and 2013 after the revolution.
Hoffler helped open the Sinai Trail in 2014, which initially crossed three tribal areas and covered 220 kilometers, before being expanded to include land of eight tribes in 2018 and stretching a total of 55 kilometers.
It takes 54 days to complete, and tribes bring hikers through their land.
In 2018 Hoffler and his team helped open the 170-kilometer Red Sea Mountain Trail, which will take 10 days to complete. It is the first long-distance hiking trail in mainland Egypt.
Both routes can be completed in stages or all at once, depending on how much time hikers have.
According to Hoffler, they are an opportunity to give an insight into the largely misunderstood traditional methods of the nomadic Bedouins of the region.
“If the pyramids were a monument to the Egyptians, the way, the way, would be the best monument to the Bedouins as a traveling people,” he says. “For me, there is no better way to show who the Bedouins are than to walk a path with them. ”
How do you create a new path that tourists can follow? For Hoffler it was about getting down to earth with the Bedouins and understanding the routes that were already crossing their country.
“In every Bedouin area there is always a landscape that is criss-crossed by old paths,” he explains.
“Our work was about going into the area, exploring it and seeing what was already there – old trade routes, Roman routes, routes where monks went to hermit cells, old hunting routes, and shepherd routes.
“Our job was to find as many trails as possible, including those that had passed into faint lines, and then turn them into a walking route that worked for modern times.”
Jebel Gattar is one of the tallest and most remote peaks on the Red Sea Mountain Trail.
Hoffler explains that both ways are the property of the local people.
“They are 100 percent owned by the local communities and managed by organizations that represent them.
“On the Sinai, the route is administered by a tribal cooperative. Every tribe has the same voice, voice and power. They make decisions together about everything that happens on the trails. “
For those who take the journey, a tough but rewarding odyssey lies ahead of us over a spectacular, panoramic, and largely empty corner of the world.
The days are spent climbing on sometimes difficult trails through steep rocky terrain. Sometimes hikers need to carry their own food, water, and sleeping gear.
A Maaza Bedouin guide in the rugged highlands of Jebel Gattar, one of the highest and most distant massifs on the Red Sea Mountain Trail.
“The path leads us deep into a beautiful wilderness that most outsiders have never seen,” says Hoffler. “It’s like entering the gates of a new world where everything feels wild and undiscovered.
“It has an adventurous feel from start to finish that is hard to find in other places.”
On the way, hikers encounter rugged peaks, hidden pools of water and deep gorges adorned with ancient rock art.
Different travel routes are available so that hikers can complete shorter circuits.
“It’s not just the path itself, but the community that is out there for a few days without our phones and needs to connect with the Bedouins,” says Mary Girgis, a Cairo-based literacy worker that runs through parts of Cairo both have traces with their daughters.
The Bedouins, she says, are special. Their knowledge of the land and nature makes hiking unique on each trail, while the routes themselves are the ideal way to boost tourism in a country that has struggled to attract visitors in recent years.
“There was a time around the revolution when people stopped going to Sinai because it was a very dangerous place,” says Girgis.
“I hadn’t hiked much by then, but I took the first Sinai is Safe trip that Ben ran and fell completely in love with. The land, nature, and spirituality all add to the experience, but the people are the cherry on top. “
It’s a feeling confirmed by Sara Ghanem, a medical intern at Alexandria University Main Hospital who grew up in Hurghada under the shadow of the Red Sea mountains. She went through the latter a few times.
Ignored by tourists
Mohammed Muteer of the Maaza tribe – main guide on the Red Sea Mountain Trail – looks south over the desert lowlands from the summit of Jebel Um Anab.
“Being with the Bedouins gives you a sense of security because they know the desert so well,” she says. “When I had the chance to watch them observe nature and find their way, I felt more connected to nature, which we lost due to our urban life.”
Ghanem adds that the trails themselves have an impact on helping communities that would otherwise be ignored by tourists who tend to focus on Cairo and Luxor or the Red Sea dive resorts.
“One thing I had always thought of was how their rigorous culture and traditions remained unchanged over the years, and why supporting this path would help such a real community thrive.”
Motaz Elewa, a former commercial banker and avid hiker who has walked the Sinai and Red Sea and met the Bedouin tribes in both regions, says that the development of the trails is crucial for promoting culture, an example of tourism Meaning was power to do good in Egypt.
The rugged peaks of Jebel Um Anab with Wadi Abu Abid below. This is the first summit hiker to cross the Red Sea Mountain Trail.
“One day I asked one of the people from a tribe in South Sinai about their dreams,” he says. “Your ultimate dream is to just do what you do. Take care of nature and greet people. The paths are a really good opportunity for them to introduce others to their country, their culture, their traditions. “
The development of new long distance hiking trails is fast becoming an important tactic outside of Egypt, allowing visitors to see places where tourists have not been welcome for many years.
Sam McManus, founder of Yellow Wood Adventures in the UK, has helped develop new routes in Ethiopia. And like Ben Hoffler, he said his experience focused on meeting and learning from local people.
“I went to Ethiopia alone with a backpack for three months and just walked through the mountains to explore the country,” he says. “I would take guides with me.”
Culture and history
Maaza Bedouin guides tell stories by the fire on a cold winter night on the Red Sea Mountain Trail.
The local tribesmen in the Gheralta Mountains helped him find a new multi-day trail, one step further than the usual day hikes tourists took in this remote region.
“I met a local guide and he said, ‘There is a route you can take through the valley for five days, as long as you have a support vehicle and donkey to go around and take the camp gear with you.'”
This has become one of Yellow Wood’s most popular trips, along with a nine-day trek over the Bale Mountains and on over the highest plateau in Africa. McManus has developed routes through the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, helping local people to open up old routes for intrepid visitors.
Traversing drowned canyons of the Jebel Abul Hassan Massif – a remote series of rugged granite mountains – after a rainfall on the Red Sea Mountain Trail.
“There’s nowhere new on the planet, but there are places that aren’t mainstream. You can find these hidden gems because the world is a big old place. You just have to get to know the locals and find out about their culture and past. “
Back in Egypt, Ben Hoffler is optimistic about what his Sinai and Red Sea Trails can do to strengthen the country and boost its tourism industry. They offer the Bedouins a new opportunity to develop.
“It shows who they are, how they lived, and maybe that path can also be part of the story of where they are going in the future,” he says.
It’s easy for Motaz Elewa.
“I didn’t think it would be so great to hike in Egypt.”
By Joe Minihane and Gisella Deputato, CNN