We left Jordan the morning of the 16th, heading from Amman to the border crossing at King Hussein Bridge. When we finally got to the border crossing, we had to take our luggage to be x-rayed, then put it back on the bus, drive a bit further and get off again for the actual passport control. We all waiting in line based on our visas and had our passports checked and our irises scanned. That took at least an hour. Then, after unsuccessfully trying to cross the bridge in our bus, we had to go back to passport control and switch ourselves and luggage to a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus had no a/c and was swelteringly hot. We crossed the bridge and had to sit on the Israeli side for at least 45 minutes waiting to get the all clear; they must have looked under the bus with mirrors at least 3 separate times. Finally, we got to passport control on the Israeli side. Again, we had to take out luggage to be x-rayed and go through metal detectors and answer questions. I made it through without any problems, but when I looked over, I saw James' stuff come through the x-ray, but no James. I had no idea what happened to him and was starting to freak out. No one seemed to know what had happened to him. He finally appeared, pissed off, but ok. Apparently, the guard questioning him decided he didn't look like his passport photo and took him aside for more questioning. I can understand that a little; after all he didn't have a beard when his passport photo was taken almost ten years ago. Still, when he gave them his driver's license (which does look like him), they said that wasn't him either and had him take off his shoes and patted him down, felt the soles of his feet and waved him over with a metal detector. They wouldn't believe him that he was there for a pilgrimage. He wasn't in a good mood when they finally let him go through the metal detectors, but apparently they tend to profile young men as activists. After another hour in line, James got questioned again before getting his tourist visa. We finally me Iyad, our local guide and got on the bus to Nazareth. We were at least two hours late, but the convent had lunch ready for us when we got there around 2:30. We had to change some things around, but we saw the Roman Basilica of the Annunciation, where the Roman Catholics believe the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with the news she was pregnant. We were lucky and got a tour of the archaeological site next to the basilica, which included a little museum that housed the earliest found "Ave Maria." It also included a grotto like the one where Mary would have lived. It was interesting to hear our guide talk about it because it had an impact on the birth story. The "stable" was really a back room of the cave, where animals were kept, as opposed to the front room where people slept. We had some free time and I managed to cut open the bottom of my toe on a protruding pipe. Unluckily, I was wearing flip flops, which led to the cut, but luckily I wear flip flops often and have calluses that prevented the cut from being too deep. I am also up to date with my tetanus shot, so I was good. We raided a pharmacy and then found sumac in a spice shop. We headed back for dinner: soup, salad, rice, turkey, gravy and fresh fruit. It was delicious.
Thursday was another long day: on the bus by 7:15 ready to go to the Jordan River to renew our baptism vows. We went to a spot no other tourists go to, which was really nice. We renewed our vows and I waded out into the river to get water for people, including a large bottle full for Wallaby's baptism. The water was cool and refreshing. We went to Capernaum, where Jesus' headquarters for his ministry was located. We saw the synagogue and Peter's house (a church is built over it, with a window in the ground you can look through to see the house). This was also our group's first encounter (of many) with feral kittens: they were playing down in the ruins of the synagogue and were so cute! We headed to the church at the Mount of Beatitudes, which was a beautiful octagonal church. James hadn't been able to go in last year, but we were able to do so this time; it was a truly beautiful church with mosaics and stained glass and a gilded dome. The views from outside of the Sea of Galilee were also beautiful. We saw a lot more of that after lunch as we headed out for a hike to the actual "mountain" (it was more like a hill) to have Eucharist. It was HOT, but it wasn't too bad of a hike. I stopped plenty to take pictures because the scenery was so gorgeous. Mark also stepped into a cave where it's thought Jesus preached from. The amplification of his voice (we were quite a ways away) was amazing, and you could definitely understand how Jesus could preach to so many people; it was a natural amphitheatre (ruined only by the 18-wheelers driving by on the road). After that we went to the Primacy of Peter church, right on the Sea of Galilee (also more like a lake...apparently the Gospel writers exaggerated a bit). We picked up some rocks and a seashell from the sea, but the highlight (for me, at least) was seeing a hyrax, which I'd only seen in the zoo before! We ended the day with a boat ride on the "Jesus boat" on the sea (there were HUGE catfish in the shallows) and I managed to sleep a bit on the bus ride back. After a bit of a rest, James and I went over to the Church of the Annunciation again, but got to go inside this time. We arrived right before they closed the doors to tourists. When we walked into the church, we were just walking up to the altar area (which is in the grotto) and this beautiful singing and chanting begins. It was so eerie, but so beautiful. Apparently there was a French mass going on, and that's what we were hearing, but the timing was amazing. We walked around, heading up to where they were having the mass and looked at all the mosaics before heading back for dinner. I did not feel like eating any meat; for the rest of the time in Nazareth, I somehow became a vegetarian--I just wasn't interested at all. After being assured tomorrow would be less busy, I agreed to not stay at the convent (I was feeling pretty sick) and I realized that my belly had popped out overnight: I barely recognized myself in the mirror from the day before.
Friday was much more relaxed. We headed to Zippori in the morning, which had been the capital of Galilee in the first century, and would have been where Joseph and Jesus would have plied their trade. Which probably wasn't carpentry: the actual translation is "master builder" and there's almost no wood in the region, but plenty of stone, so they were most likely stone masons. The ruins were neat, but my favourite part was the Nile mosaic, which showed the measuring of the Nile to predict the prosperity of the coming year. It was so neat to hear the explanation and see the corresponding parts of the mosaic. I was having a real problem with the heat, but Anne noticed and wet down her overshirt to put over my neck, which really helped me cool down. The Greek influence was strong: mosaics portrayed centaurs, Amazons, Dionysus and all the writing was Greek. They had enormous cisterns to accommodate the entire town and some of the houses had their own private mikvehs (ritual baths, private ones were a rarity). There was also a crusader fortress and you could see the recycling of the time: one of the stones used was an empty sarcophagus. I didn't go to the top because of the heat, but Dad headed up there to see the view. We then headed to Shefa-Am'r, whose population is a mix of Muslim, Christian and Druze. I would have liked to hear more about the Druze religion, since I'd never heard of it, but we went to an Episcopal church and the rector gave a long, uncomfortably political speech (for me, at least) and then sang for us and showed us the cultural centre the Diocese of LA helped build and the parish hall. My blood sugar had crashed and I was more than ready for lunch, and what a lunch it was. It was more like a feast fit for a king; they just kept bringing out dishes! My favourites were a fried cauliflower, chicken tenders in a honey glaze and a fresh cucumber-tomato salad. After stuffing ourselves, we had ice cream at a famed establishment. We headed back to Nazareth, getting dropped off at Mary's Well (where we were supposed to go the first day) over which a Greek Orthodox church is built. Even though they were having a baptism, they allowed us to go in and see the well, with a beautiful icon that shows Mary with the baby in her womb (I think our guide said only two of these exist). Dad got some water for us; it was pretty good water. It was the only well in Nazareth, so it would have been where Mary had gone to draw water. It wasn't too bad a walk, but I'm glad it was downhill and we weren't carrying our family's water supply. After dinner, we took Mom and Dad over to the church, since they hadn't seen it yet, but we left for Jerusalem the next day, so we tried to get some rest.
(Last day of this post, I promise!) We headed to St. George's Monastery on the Mount of Temptation in Jericho. We were waylaid for about an hour by a cycle race that was passing through; just hanging out in the bus, watching people in fan-powered gliders with seats go by. It's believed that this mountain is where Jesus went after his baptism and was tempted by the devil. We had to take a cable car up to the monastery and then hike up even farther. I can't imagine how the old monks who lived in caves up there reached them, but the mountain was riddled with tons of caves where monks had gone to live like John the Baptist. Women had to cover their heads while in the monastery and no pictures were allowed in the church, but it was beautiful (like most Greek Orthodox churches seem to be). We saw the cave that's venerated as Jesus'; the concept of truth and Truth is very different here than at home. It's as though the veneration itself offers some Truth to the legend, even though it might not be factually true. We had lunch with a very friendly cat who kept rubbing against my legs. On the way to the Dead Sea (YAY!) we stopped at a shop and to see the Tree of Zacchaeus. We got an hour to float in the sea and it was amazing! You walk out to about knee height, then squat down and sit back and boom! you FLOAT! You can actually sit completely upright in the water without touching the bottom! It was soooo cool! There was plenty of the therapeutic mud/clay to rub on ourselves. It really does make your skin smoother, and Dad and I mudded ourselves up good. James was a bit reluctant, but I got him a bit! I could have stayed forever, but the saltiness started stinging my skin after a while (especially my legs; I probably shouldn't have shaved the night before...) and I got some water in my eye, which was horrible! I guess my skin is just too sensitive since no one else's skin had started stinging yet. In my search for the clay, I even found some cool little crystals. I'm not sure if they're salt crystals or what, but the were beautiful and clear. We took quick showers and headed back to the bus. We stopped by the Wadi Qelt, which overlooks the road the good Samaritan story refers too. It was a beautiful view and we read the story and took pictures before heading to Jerusalem! Our driver dropped us off at the Damascus Gate and we walked to Herod's Gate, which is right across from the hotel. He showed us the post office, a spice shop, an educational (English) bookshop, coffee shop, etc. Two twin beds in our hotel room again, but the view makes up for it: we could see the Dome of the Rock and the walls of Jerusalem; it was gorgeous! We were pretty exhausted, so we headed to bed right after dinner and a real shower.
|At the Jordan River|
|Icon in the Church of the Annunciation|
|Monastery of St. George|
|The view from our balcony!|