A Travellerspoint blog

Jericho and Bethlehem

Jill was working today.

storm 62 °F

Another early morning, for Jonathon to catch the tour pickup this morning. After a big breakfast he was on the bus and headed for Jerusalem with just one other passenger. When we passed through Jerusalem we actually stopped to pick up another 12 passengers. On a familiar route we headed east toward Jericho. On the way we stopped at the Sea Level monument. Our driver had made. Call on the way and I suspect it was to let the Bedouin know to have their camel ready. He suckered a few people into paying for picture before we continued our trip.
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Just before Jericho we stopped at a gas station to change vans and get our new guide. I’m not exactly sure how this works or why it’s necessary, but our driver simply rode along while in Jericho. Our new guide was from Jerusalem but can guide in Jericho according to the Palestinian Authority. Two things were abundantly clear as we approached Jericho, a city of 40,000 people: we’re now in Palestine and the the National Security Force is enforcing the laws. The sign states that it is hazardous to an Israeli life to enter and it is illegal for Israelis to enter the area. These four fine gents carrying AK-47s were not the only NSF in our area. I should note here that I never felt unsafe and the people that we interacted with were very welcoming.
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The next thing noticed after the guns was the amount of trash on the ground. It looked like New Orleans the day after Marti Gras. It’s not hard to imagine how quickly this could happen without established trash management services.
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It did appear you could buy ANYTHING from street side vendors. The produce looked amazing!! They grow oranges, pomegranates, tomatoes, bananas and dates in this region. Next to the produce you could also find toilets, sinks, stroller, chairs, tables and just about anything else you can imagine!
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Our first stop in Jericho was at the grand-daughter tree from the sycamore that Zaccheus, the short tax collector, climbed in the Bible. It is growing in the same location as the original tree and falls under control of the Russian Museum in Jericho.
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We boarded the “World’s Longest Cable Car Below Sea Level” and rode it to the Mount of Temptation (aka 40 Day Temple). The ride was smooth and the tour guide said we had nothing to worry about, “It’s made in Austria, not China.” At the top is a Greek Orthodox monastery built in the 1800s on the site believed to be the location of Jesus’ temptation by Satan.
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Inside we found the temptation stone. A group of Georgians (country not state) were holding chapel in the small room so we waited while they finished up. This is believed to be the stone that satan used to tempt Jesus into making himself bread. After scripture reading in English and a Spanish we made our way back from the monastery.
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Before getting back on the cable car we enjoyed freshly squeezed fruit juice. I tried the pomegranate and orange mix and was amazed the it only took 2 of each to fill the glass. The restaurant also had some very nice hookahs but we did not try them out today.
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Upon arriving at the bottom of the cable car we proceeded to the old city of Jericho. This is an active archeological site also. Just three years ago they discovered the remains of a 14 year old girl and a palace that dated back to 2500BC. The claim that Jericho is the world’s oldest city stems from the remains of this watchtower dated to 10,000BC. 23 civil actions have built on this site.
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The mud walls seen in the background ONLY date back to 2700BC. The next wall is from 1700BC and the third is even newer. You can see the cooking locations as well and living quarters. It’s amazing to me that this site remains uncovered and open to the elements.
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This photo shows Elijah’s fountain spring. The people of Jericho complained about their water so Elijah added salt and shook vigorously praying the entire team. Since that day the spring has provided clean water to the people of Jericho. Our group snapped a couple photos of the camel and then headed out of town.
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This camel didn’t get the same attention apparently. He seems to be pouting similar to the look I get from Barkley when he’s been ignored for too long. We dumped our first new guide and headed out for Jerusalem. We dropped off one passenger and made the journey to the outskirts of Bethlehem.
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We traded in our Israeli plated van for two Palistinian plated vans with new drivers. We entered the city and found our two new guides waiting for us.
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Our guides took us to a large open restaurant. It was a buffet style meal with many delicious options. I tried the “Product of Palestine” beer and found it to be very light (it was a blonde so maybe they make better). I spent the meal getting know a very nice Chilean judge named Carolina. Her son attended Marquette at one time and I loved getting to know her and talking about Chile.
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We walked the short distance to Nativity Square which holds a huge Christmas tree through January 19th. Because of the several churches in the same location they celebrate Christmas on three different dates: December 25, January 7th and January 19th. It doesn’t really matter since the celebrate Jesus’ birth daily here.
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On our way to the Church of the Nativity, we encountered the final moments of a local funeral. They carried the casket out and placed it in the hearse before the most nets came to the street to walk behind the car.
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The church was updated by the crusaders by closing off the main entrance to keep the animals out of the birthplace and to force people to bow as they entered this holy place.
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The church was very ornate and had the feeling of Christmas with red balls and candles throughout. We waited in line before seeing murals of Palm Sunday, the transfiguration and other events. We saw beautiful mosaics that have recently been restored and took in the splendor of this church belonging to three religions.
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In the “basement”, Constantine’s mother built over the site of the manger in 325AD, we witnessed the manger’s original roof and the spot where they swaddled baby Jesus long ago. It’s a really cool feeling to stand in a place that has so much meaning to so many people around the world. The physicality of the roof really helps bring a full feeling as you stand in the current church.
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Finally, this is my pose with St. George. He was busy slaying a dragon but I think we have a bond!!
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We walked back to our vans and went to a Christian shop. Christians were the majority in Bethlehem at one point but that is no longer true. The shop supports the now minority people. I bought a baby Jesus carved from olive wood to replace the one Sloane dropped this year. I liked the idea of having a baby Jesus from Bethlehem for our Nativity. Our van left slightly after the first van so our driver was trying to make up time. It felt like I was in a scene from the “Borne Identity” series. We were spinning our tires up hills and sliding around corners, through the narrow streets of Bethlehem. We switched back to our Israeli van before Jonathon and one other person got dropped off for the Tel Aviv bus and headed home for the night. Jill got home late and it’s time for another night of sleep.

Posted by cornelljjs 12:16 Archived in Israel Tagged #israel

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