On the third day
Surely all that water gone from the Jordan wasn’t used in the baptism!
On the third day it was my sister-in-law and myself. We returned to Bethlehem to meet up with Mohammed as arranged and then head off to the Dead Sea. But when we got to the stop in Bethlehem where we had met Mohammed the previous day, there was no Mohammed. Instead of Mohammed, there was a gentleman who had participated in the conversation the day before. He introduced us to a younger man who was Mohammed’s son. Apparently Mohammed had to look after some other matters and would join us later. Meanwhile we were to travel with Abed.
Abed spoke limited English, but my sister-in-law thought that he was easy on the eyes; Abed thought my sister-in-law was easy on the eyes as well — but that comes later in the day!
Nabi Musa Mosque
Abed had been instructed by his dad to take us to the standard tourist sites on the road from Bethlehem to Jericho, and so it was that our first stop was the Nabi Musa Mosque. It is believed by some that this is where the Tomb of Moses is located.
Palestinian Muslims used to make a pilgrimage from Jerusalem to the Mosque on the first day of a seven day pilgrimage. The pilgrimage has been banned and reauthorized by successive occupying powers with Israel being the latest to ban the pilgrimage. The Israelis have declared the area a military zone; along with the encouragement and facilitation of settlements in the area.
The Sycamore Tree
We left the Nabi Musa Mosque and headed to Jericho, the lowest (230 meters below the sea lever) and the oldest (around 10 000 years) town on Earth. Once in Jericho, Abed decided we needed to see the Sycamore tree. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree informing him that he would be visiting his house. After his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus changed his ways from corrupt tax collector to man of charity.
We learned the story of the Sycamore tree from a local fruit seller who first tried to sell us some bananas as we passed his cart to look at the tree. I told him we would buy some when finished looking at the tree. He took my friendliness as an opportunity to come alongside us and explain the story of the tree. It really was just a tree, a beautiful tree, but nonetheless a tree.
In the course of telling us the story of the tree, he told us his life story. He spoke many languages; had lived in Europe; had a European passport but had decide to return to his place of birth after the death of his wife. He was very interesting to listen to. We returned to his cart for a feast of oranges, bananas and a hybrid grapefruit-orange which I believe was called an “ugli”.
Our initial plan had been to buy some bananas for a morning snack, but after being thoroughly feed by the fruit vendor, I felt a kind of obligation to buy some fruit to take home. So I bought bananas, oranges, uglis and a pomegranate. I made a mistake worse than my sister-in-law at the Bethlehem market. I pulled out a 50 shekel bill and asked how much did I owe. It turned out that I owned 50 shekels. Most expensive fruit I had bought in Palestine or it was a reasonable price for a tour of a tree with fruit!
On to the Mount of Temptation
Our next stop was the Mount of Temptation. Before we realized it we were in a cable car departing from the tourist centre and up into the sky. I don’t like heights and it turns out my sister-in-law does not like enclosed spaces. Thankfully we were the only two in the car and did not have someone who enjoyed rocking.
We never actually made it to the spot where Jesus is said to have wrestled with the devil. Instead we ended up in Monastery of the Temptation. The wrestling is reported to have been done further up the mountain. With the exception of a footpath that did not seem too secure, we did not know how to go further up. So we ended up exploring the monastery.
The monastery was amazing in that it was built right into the side of the mountain. At some points we were inside rooms inside the side of the mountain, and at others, on balconies that hung off the side of the mountain. As the picture illustrates, on one side there is the mountain wall and on the other rooms that monks live in.
We made our way back to the cable car and down to the tourist centre we had started from. I was relieved to be back on the ground.
John the Baptist and the Jordan River
Our next stop was the spot in the Jordan River where Jesus was said to be baptized by John the Baptist. This was yet another site in the West Bank claimed by the Israelis. Unlike other sites the Israelis had military guards at the river’s edge; the river being the border with Jordan. On the day we visited, the guard was more interested in text messaging than watching the border. There was really not much about this particular spot other than to see the river which appeared rather muddy, and to know that a few meters from the edge where we stood, there was Jordan. The most interesting thing about this particular spot was that the water level was very low. On one of the walls, about twelve feet above the platform we were standing on, was a sign that marked where the water level had been only a few years prior.
All things muddy
The last stop on our trip was the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is where you go to have a mud bath and to float. Apparently floating takes no effort as a result of the amount of salt in the water. My wife wanted me to make sure I joined my sister-in-law in a mud massage and a dip in the Dead Sea. I hadn’t brought the proper attire to join in the activities offered in the resort we went to, nor for that matter was I overly interested. However, my sister-in-law was very interested and I was perfectly content watching and photographing those on the beach and those floating in the water.
For most of the time at the beach, I sat with Abed and another driver watching all the muddied tourists. My sister-in-law, meanwhile, was in the capable hands of a local beach masseuse. He muddied her, guided her to the water, helped her onto her back and when she was finished paddling about the designated float area, guided her to the shower and back to his massage table. She seemed to be having a wonderful time. By the time she had emerged from the hut and her massage, Abed had developed a keen interest in photography and gladly photographed her free of mud.
We drove back to Bethlehem arriving sometime after dark. We asked Abed to drop us at the 300 checkpoint so that we could walk across instead of drive. Mohammed met us in the line of cars waiting to go through the checkpoint. We paid him the agreed fee, tipped Abed, thanked both of them for showing us around and bid them farewell.
The checkpoint was a large metal structure. The closest thing to this that I had seen was the structures that housed the animals at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto and a structure from which animals were auctioned. The exit on the other side had a couple of kids dressed up like soldiers sitting behind plexiglass examining IDs and monitoring the items that were passed through the x-ray machine. It took a bit for me to convince them that I did not have a knife in my bag. Other than that, we passed through with relative ease, being relatively white and with international passports.