Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Day 3 - Jericho, temptation hill, Wadi Kelt, Jerusalem

Today we travelled again, being on the bus at 8.00am prompt to head off to Jericho, the mount of temptation and a wadi that was associated with the parable of the good Samaritan. This meant a drive into the west bank occupied territories. Passing the border, the difference was quite striking: the land arid and seemingly neglected, rubbish piled in drifts where the wind had blown it. One of the party wondered out loud how they could want to form a government when they couldn’t even clear away their rubbish, but much more likely one was a symptom of the other.

So Jericho was a scruffy, sprawling town filling the valley that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Turkish hinterland, with the famous ‘walls’ (first ice cream manufacturer in Israel) in a small area by some sand dunes below the hill. TBH the ancient city seemed too small to have been significant, but I was assured that’s all there was of it.

We caught the cablecar up the mountain/hill in front of the ruins to get to the monastery that is built over the spot claimed to be the place where Jesus was tempted. The cars are in sets of 3, and half way up they stop directly opposite each other. The air in the car is stifling, and by the time it has begun to  move again we are all damp with perspiration. When we arrive, the cable car station at the top is like all such places: essentially a cafĂ© and sales area to flog punters trinkets, but the monastery itself  is cool, quiet, smaller than expected and quite pleasant. We are permitted in to see the stone and religious artefacts, on the way out being each given a tiny piece of stone as a memento, before heading back down the stairs to the transfer station. I pass 2 rooms on the way back, one full of orthodox priests in full uniform and the other a small kitchen with microwave and toaster, which seem slightly bizarre in such a place.

Before lunch we have the ‘pleasure’ of shopping for tourist junk. The shop we stop in has various things that might or might not be good value, but it’s impossible to get away from the sales guys, and being English, everyone wants to browse un-hindered. Less is sold than might be, and we buy a small blue & white patterned bowl for 10$ as a token purchase in the hope that it may have been made locally.

Lunch consisted of kebabs made from minced lamb and pieces of chicken, and were some of the best we’ve had, plus chips and token salad. Local beer was fine, but I developed a headache later.

Next stop was wadi Kelt, for an example of what the road would have been like in Jesus time when travelling between Jericho and Jerusalem. For the first time we were in a wilderness, without concrete houses, roads and litter, though there was a junk vendor and his son plying their wares at the start of the path up to the lookout point and from tables at the top. On the opposite side of the road could be seen a track leading off into the hills, and I take a few pictures, wishing I could go that way while everyone else carries on with the tour.

We gathered around the cross at the top (how could there not be a cross there?) and various readings read & songs sung. Below the summit lay a deep valley with the wadi at the bottom, and in the distance some palms and an elegant building – apparently a monastery - constructed in the previous local style. I wandered down the rubble-strewn slope away from the group, unplugging the wireless communicator as I went, and with them out of earshot found the first peaceful place of the trip. Across the valley I could see sheep trails worn into the slope, ancient paths through the dry, amber grass and lower down in the wadi valley the deep green of palm leaves in the distance. The wind was lower here too, and it was a lovely, though rather harsh & barren place.

Another coach ride, another stop.

Jerusalem of grey.

This time the mount of olives, overlooking Jerusalem in the early evening light. Another somewhat scruffy middle-eastern city with an enormous building & golden dome in an old temple area. The area between the old temple mount and the top of the MoO appears to consist of a single huge graveyard, with tombs running in their hundreds and thousands (there are apparently >100,000 Jewish tombs plus Muslim and Christian) across to the lowest walls.

We took photos, had a geography lesson and tried to soak up the atmosphere. The dome of the rock was a spectacle in the evening light, but it was difficult to see anything ‘special’ about the city compared to, say, Bodrum, which it superficially resembled to quite a degree apart from that edifice.

After a while we headed back onto the coach and then on to the Ambassador hotel in north Jerusalem. The rooms were pleasant, but we were disappointed that there was no pool compared to the Ron Beach we stayed at in Galilee. Food was OK – typical buffet – and we had to be ready for a 7.15 start next morning.

There was one bit of excitement. Popped out with one of the other guys to visit an ATM, we found it OK, but then on the way back smelled smoke and thought we saw a bonfire up ahead as part of the Ramadan festival. Getting closer we discovered a burning car, after which Police & the fire services turned up to deal with the blaze. Local kids were playing near the car while all this was going on, presumably as normal.

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