Today we left Jericho and drove along the Dead Sea coast to Masada, an ancient Jewish fortress and the
site of Herod the Great’s palaces. It is also the site of of a mass suite by 960 Jewish rebels and their families when the Roman troops were overtaking the city. The Jewish rebels chose death instead of slavery to the Romans. Masada is an important symbolic site for Jews and the State of Israel. It should also be mentioned on behalf of the group that it was HOT. We were red faced and sweaty by the time we finished our trip to Masada. Thankfully, we didn’t take the snake path up or down the hill, but instead took the relaxing cable car.
After Masada, we went to Qumran to learn about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes. Then we made our way over to the Dead Sea to float in salt and rub Dead Sea mud on our skin, leaving us feeling smooth as can be! The Dead Sea was packed, as was Qumran, as was Masada. We learned that October and November are the high months for tourism because the weather is a little bit more “mild”. Even with the “mild” weather, the humidity and temps above 80 and 90 have been a killer for us spoiled San Diegans!
We said goodbye to sea level and made our way up the mountain to go through Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The whole group gasped when we saw the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. We’ve finally made it! More than one person started singing songs about Jerusalem, as we could sense the climax of our trip was just around the corner. But first, Bethlehem!
While driving through the different Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, we drove by a group of Jewish and European protesters holding Palestinian flags and signs against the occupation, in support of Palestinian human rights. That was our first taste of the conflict here. Arriving in Bethlehem, we checked into our hotel RIGHT next to the Church of the Nativity.
We were told the Nativity Church was PACKED with tourists and we had no idea what we were in for. Walking into the church looked like Disneyland with lines of pilgrims waiting to get down to the cave/manger. We waited for 30 minutes or so and then realized we would miss dinner completely. Instead we walked around the market, buying little trinkets and scarves and then went back for fish dinner (it’s a Friday at a Franciscan’s guesthouse). A few went out afterwards and Katherine happened to run into the Popemobile behind an ice cream store. Many locals confirmed that it was for Pope Francis on his visit six years ago. She asked if she could stand on it and they said no but go fast.
After multiple warnings from Katherine, many in the group were finally awakened by the call to prayer from the mosque in manger square. Others woke up early, trying again to get down into the manger/cave but no luck. We’ll try again tomorrow!