**Before I start with my recount of my vacation, I would like to 1) thank you for sticking with me. It takes me a long time to write these posts and I know they are long. I really want a good account of my trip that will last a lifetime in my memories so it\’s important to me that there are so many details. 2) It has now been about 6 months since our trip and I know that my memory may not be as good as my first posts. Also, the experience was very much a whirlwind, therefore I may be inaccurate about details (not always the best with dates and place and people). 3) My heart goes out to all the people in Israel.the Middle East who are affected by Hamas and ISIS. It\’s crazy to think that we were just there and everything went perfectly (no scary drills or threats of violence, etc.) and now only months later we could have easily experienced those things. I am so thankful we had a fabulous and safe trip and I pray our friends continue to do well.**
We knew it was going to be an early day, but that still doesn\’t really prepare you for getting up before dawn when you have been pounding the pavement for an entire week before hand. Getting dressed in my \”Israel skirt\” I had bought the night before and borrowing one of Jessa\’s white tops and getting to the Holy Sepulcher was all a blur. Before I knew it, we were standing in front of Jesus\’ tomb.
The More Holy, The More Lanterns: Private Mass in Jesus\’ Tomb
I don\’t remember what time our mass was scheduled for (maybe 6am?), but I do know it was early enough that there weren\’t very many people in the Holy Sepulcher. There were people, just not the thousands that were there the other times we came. It was quiet and peaceful, but the emptiness also made it ominous and grand. It doesn\’t have the same warm feeling we received at the Milk Grotto church, but it has a more stubborn presence. There is a sense that it is here and will stay here until the end of time, unapologetically, whether you get warm fuzzy feelings about it or not.
|Jesus\’ Tomb: Exterior
Our priest arrived, a very tall and light-colored Irish (or was he Scottish?) man and a couple of Jessa and Rodolfo\’s friends from their church who wanted to participate with us. It\’s not everyday you just get to have a private mass in Jesus\’ tomb. In fact, the priest was a visitor to the Holy Land himself and conducting mass in Jesus\’ tomb was just as special to him as it was attending mass for us.
|Inside Jesus\’ Tomb
Ok, I\’m going to break this down for you. Mass in Jesus\’ tomb isn\’t the most relaxing of events. It\’s actually a bit stressful, to be honest. Do you remember when I said there were police barriers to hold the people in lines around the tomb? Well even at this early hour, they had them set up to keep people out. Jesus\’ tomb is shared among all the denominations that own the Holy Sepulcher and at certain times (like 6-7am for example) it\’s Catholic and then (7am-8am) it\’s Greek Orthodox. The specific candles are lit and the rugs are rolled out. On top of that, if you reserve space for a private mass like Jessa and Rodolfo did, you have to get everyone else who wants to be in there, out. Jessa pushed Evan and I to the front of the line walking guiltily by the pilgrims waiting and begging to get in the tomb. Jessa said we needed to be in the front so we could get the \”best spot\” because they had arranged this mass specifically for us. Meanwhile, you can hear the Franciscan friar yelling at one of the pilgrims \”You have been here everyday this week! There is Mass! You know how this works! You can\’t be in there!\” We file into the space and I realize there are actually two spaces a small outer room that is bigger than the even smaller tomb room. The tomb room fit about six people standing like sardines (which is actually huge considering the other tombs we saw didn\’t even have any place to stand….this is a special rich man\’s tomb). The altar is on top of the stone-bed Jesus was presumably laid on and the priest faced forward the entire time. Not like he could turn around much. I was literally about 6 inches behind him. I was in the farthest corner, Evan stood next to me and next to him was a rotating spot for Jess and Rodolfo\’s guests who would spend maybe 5 minutes in the inner tomb area and then give someone else a turn as the made there way back to the larger area of the tomb. We got to be in the inner section the whole time as we were the out of town guests. I think the friars even let some of the pilgrims into the outer room to participate in mass, but I only saw them filing out at the end.
|The Original Rock of Jesus\’ Tomb
Next to me was an icon that the priest opened up like a bookshelf hiding a secret lair. Behind the icon was the actual rock from the original tomb, protected by the structure surrounding us. Evan and I put our wedding rings and our icon on the stone-bed area to be specially blessed during mass. I will always ask for special blessings for my marriage when given the chance. Mass began. We only had like 15-30 minutes. That\’s it. Any longer got you kicked out and yelled at. I tried to take it all in while we were in there. I think the only way to be in there for 15 minutes is either a mass or if you stayed overnight like Nathan and Amelia had done the week before. We were not that hardcore. I tried to drink it all in, really be in the moment and commit everything to memory. This is literally the holiest place in the world for Christians and here I am, standing here and having mass, the most important ritual in the world for Catholics. I mean, if thee is a pinnacle of importance, this has got to be it, right? Mass was straightforward and to the point. No singing, no Gloria, nothing that takes too long. The readings were actually of Easter, where they don\’t find Jesus in his tomb, which is very interesting because we were in the middle of Lent. I suppose being in Jesus\’ tomb trumps the time of year though, and that reading seemed most appropriate for the setting. We took communion. And as quickly as it began it was over. We collected our personal affects and filed out back into the main section of the church being herded and yelled at by the friars when I tried, in vain, to take some semblance of pictures (it seemed a little inappropriate to do so in mass). As soon as we left the premise, the crowds surged in, filling up the emptiness we left behind. It probably wasn\’t empty the rest of the day.
Outside the tomb, in the Greek Orthodox section of the church, they began their public(?) mass of the morning complete with music and grandiose processions. We watched for a bit, but quickly moved to a less crowded area. Evan turned to me \”Did you see how many lanterns were in the inner tomb?\” he asked. No, I hadn\’t. I didn\’t even think about looking up at the ceiling. \”There were 43 lanterns in that small space.\” I was shocked. 43? They can fit 43 lanterns on the ceiling of the space that was completely filled with 6 people. The entire ceiling is apparently covered in them. For the Orthodox tradition, the number of lanterns = the holiness of the place. As holiness of the place goes up so do the number of lanterns. So, like a word problem in math, if there are 20 lanterns at the Church of the Nativity and Jesus\’ tomb is twice as important, how many lanterns will there be? The answer here is apparently 43. (I\’m not saying the math is good, just that there seems to be a correlation).
|Lanterns in Jesus\’ Tomb
Glorious Mystery 1: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
The Stone The Builder\’s Rejected, Literally: Calgary
After mass, we went across the church and up a narrow staircase to where Jesus was crucified. This wasn\’t our only time up there, but it was definitely the only time we were up there where it wasn\’t ridiculously crowded as it was maybe 7am. Like the nativity, there is a small enclave where you can kneel under an altar and reach down and touch the rock that once was the hill of Calgary.
|The Altar on Calgary
It\’s crazy to think that this was, in Jesus\’ time an actual, real-life hill, that probably and it\’s now contained within a church building and is just a large rock which is mostly behind Plexiglas. Here is where the sacrifice was made.
One by one, we knelt under the small altar and touched the rock. The cornerstone. The stone that the builder\’s rejected. No, literally. This place used to serve as a stone quarry (seeing as Jerusalem is 1000% stone, it makes sense). However, when the builders got here, to this particular stone, they determined it kind of sucked. You see, this stone is brittle and soft and completely unfit to actually build things with, so they left it alone. They rejected it and it became a place for criminal executions.
|Calgary in the Holy Sepulcher
I\’ve always heard \”the stone the builder\’s rejected has become the cornerstone\” in church and thought, like so many other Biblical sayings, it was solely a metaphor for Jesus being rejected and then being exulted. However, if trekking around Israel has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that so much of what I originally thought were obscure theologically and philosophically intense euphemisms are actually based in real, tangible, earthly things. It drives the point home to me even more that the locus of Christianity has been moved upwards, into the heavens, into the lofty ideas of our minds when in reality, it is an earthly and visceral religion that is grounded in a very practical reality of the tangible world.
After we were done with out quick prayers at Calgary (and Rodolfo was done supervising our heads, lest we hit them on the altar above us coming out), we decided that breakfast with our new priest friend was in order.
Sorrowful Mystery 5: The Crucifixion of Our Lord
Welcome to the Fishbowl: Breakfast with Father Donal and Father Aemon at Notre Dame
We made our way to a bistro that Jessa and Rodolfo thought would be a good place for breakfast only to find that it wasn\’t open for the day yet. In fact, none of the bistros in the area were open that early and unless we wanted to wait another hour (actually it was very unclear what their hours were, they didn\’t speak much English and despite our attempts at determining how long we would have to wait, we never really did figure it out.) we needed a plan b.
It was suggested that we go back to Notre Dame for a buffet-style breakfast, much to the reluctance of our local guides. Jessa and Rodolfo go to Notre Dame because it is one of (if not the only) Catholic Church in Jerusalem that has an English mass, however, it is also a guest house for pilgrims to stay at while exploring the Holy Land.
|Notre Dame AKA Jessa and Rodolfo\’s Church!
Throughout the entire trip, we would see large groups traveling together in coach buses with professional tour guides and ear buds in their ears, milling around taking pictures and then wandering off again in their group. Swarms of them, always, at nearly every holy site we graced with our presence. They would be dropped off at the holy site, given an hour or so to tour it, be picked up and moved on to the next one via private buses. They weren\’t allowed to walk around in Bethlehem and get yelled at by the guards. They wouldn\’t be able to go anywhere near Lebanon. Who knows if they even got to eat falafel in the Old City? They are in, as Jessa so affectionately refers to it as \”the fishbowl\”. Many people go to Israel without really seeing Israel. They may go to the churches and take pictures, but they don\’t actually walk around and see the people who live there. If you want to go to the Holy Land with all the comforts of home and with none of the culture of Israel, this is the way to do it. Stay at Notre Dame.
In fairness, I don\’t think this is necessarily bad. It\’s nice to have a Western meal (eggs and bacon, croissants, bread and butter, fruit you can name, etc.) especially if you\’re homesick. But I understand our hosts hesitance. We weren\’t homesick for America, we were still thirsty for Israel and going to an overpriced tourist breakfast buffet filled with middle school Spanish children on some kind of intense mission trip isn\’t exactly \”authentically Israeli\”.
And yet it is. It so is. It is just another facet of the culture that we got to experience (admittedly briefly). The tourist culture. For a brief moment, we weren\’t just looking at the fishbowl, we were in the fishbowl which is arguably just as authentic and true as the hole in the wall falafel joint in the Old City. I\’m glad we went there for breakfast if only to get a sense of how Israel looks like through this lens. I mean this complex has a wine and cheese restaurant in it. The rest of Jerusalem must look downright medieval in comparison.
We ate with our Irish priest and ran into and subsequently ate with the priest that heads up Notre Dame, whom Jessa and Rodolfo are close with. It was such a mash up of cultures, Americans (+ 1 Ecuadorian) surrounded by adolescent Spaniards, are eating a westernized breakfast in a French hotel/church with a couple of Irish priests in Israel.
A Church So Feminine Even the Stones Are Pink: Ein Karem – The Church of the Visitation
|Statues of Mary and Elizabeth
|Mural on the Back Wall of the Church
After I started marking down the rosary locations, it was inevitable that we would have to come here. It was literally the only one we hadn\’t hit in some form or fashion, so while it was originally on the \”nice-to-do\” itinerary, we had to move it up to the \”must-do\” itinerary: The Church of the Visitation.
The Church of the Visitation is in Ein Karem, a small village outside (or more accurately on the outskirts) of Jerusalem. We hoped on the train, went as far as it would go and took a short bus ride down the valley to an adorable and picturesque town. Ein Karem felt like what I would imagine a small town in France would feel like. It was bright and sunny, lush with plants and colorful flowers. We walked by cute little bistros and houses that felt cozy (which I\’m sure are expensive as all get out) on our way to the church and I just basked in all the beauty around me. This beauty was different than the Galilee, which is expansive and panoramic. It was different than the Old City, which was ancient and rough. This is more the kind of beauty you feel when you\’re having coffee with a close friend and the hours pass lazily by without a care in the world. It\’s the kind of place you could live for a couple of months, focusing only on painting and detoxing from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. It gave me such a great feeling that I wasn\’t even upset that the church was on the top of a hill.
|Looks pink to me!
|What is all this desert?
Back when we went to Bethlehem, Maria mentioned in passing that she felt that the Church of the Visitation was extremely feminine. Jessa acted surprised by this observation because she never really thought about it that way. We had yet to see it, so Evan and I had no opinion about it at the time. However, because Maria made that comment, it was all I could see. The femininity of the entire place was outstanding that even Jessa admitted that she could see why Maria felt that way. I mean first of all, it\’s situated in an adorable town that makes you want to, I don\’t know, eat quiche for brunch with some close girlfriends. Secondly, the church itself is devoted to the Visitation which is when Mary treks all the way down here (pregnant, mind you) to see her cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. So that\’s two pregnant females who are honored here, not to mention that one is the Mother of God. So, that\’s a pretty feminine premise to start with. Finally, the church itself has artwork that, to me, exudes and exalts femininity from the statues of the two women, to the sparkly mosaic background of the crypt church, to the colorful floor tiles, to all the painted depictions of women, which culminated with a magnificent mural that took up the entire back wall of the church with Mary holding Jesus on top of the moon. Even the outside walls built of stone were decidedly pink, from what I have no clue at all.
I really loved it. I loved that femininity felt so honored here, in this space, because in most of the world, it\’s not. I mean, I live in one of the most \”progressive\” countries in the world and even here I can\’t think of any place like this that elevates the place and feeling of women in America in such a touching and profound way. I\’m a woman in a man\’s world, but for just a moment in time I felt like I was a woman in a woman\’s wold and it was absolutely life-giving.
The only issue I had with this church were the representations of Mary in the Desert. I looked around at the actual lifespring of flora around me and I shook my head. All my life I had this image in my head about what biblical towns looked like (thanks in part to depictions such as this one), being dirty and gross and drab and boring and dead. As I look around me, I think to myself that picture is a lie. This is the truth.
|What Ein Karim actually looks like.
Outside the Church of the Visitation is \”Mary\’s Spring\”, a well that, tradition states, Our Lady stopped here to drink. It seemed reasonable enough to me (a girl\’s got to stay hydrated!) So we snapped a picture and went on our way to the other main church in Ein Karem.
Joyful Mystery 2: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
Somebody Really Likes Wedgewood: Ein Karem – St. John the Baptist Church
|Where John the Baptist was Born
Seeing as this is where Elizabeth lived, it makes sense that it was where John the Baptist was born and grew up, so obviously there is also a church to honor him. It is supposedly built on the site where he was born, and like the Nativity Church in Bethlehem the spot itself is commemorated by a sun.
While the Church of the Visitation looked a bit pink and girly, the walls of this church were covered in blue and white Wedgewood patterns (you know the blue and white china that\’s really popular in, say, Holland?). I told Evan that it reminded me of the guest room at his parent\’s house (or the \”blue room\” as they call it).
We didn\’t stay in the church for very long (there was a huge group of tourists that came in after us and it was crowded). Besides, we had other things on our agenda for the day. Do you ever have those moments when your timing is just a little bit off and that one teeny, tiny couple of minutes makes a huge difference for the rest of the day? We had one of those moments. We barely missed the bus back into Jerusalem. We saw it leaving and knew we had no choice but to sit and wait for the next one which took quite a bit of time. By being off schedule by a couple of minutes probably put us behind about an hour which I will get to later.
Top Chef Making Falafel: Shwarma with Mike Voltaggio
By the time we got back to Jerusalem, it was lunchtime, but we didn\’t really have a lot of time for lunch. An executive decision was made, we would stop at a great falafel/shwarma stand at the front of the Old City and take our food to go and eat it on the way to our next destination. I can eat and walk at the same time. Good plan! We make it to the Old City and go to the food stand that Jessa recommended when I notice out of the corner of my left eye that someone is video taping something. I turn and see that the camera man is recording what appears to be an Israeli teaching a couple of Americans (a male and female) how to make falafel. The owner of the stand was exceptionally friendly and jolly (an unusual sight here in Jerusalem) and the Americans were laughing and having fun, like you should if you\’re going to be on TV. Then I heard the woman say, \”Mike, now you can make falafel like a pro!\” and I realized who the man was. It was Mike Voltaggio (if you watched Top Chef Season 6….he won). I couldn\’t tell at first because his back was towards us and I can\’t just go over there and interrupt the show or anything. But I totally see it now, the hair, the tattoos. That\’s totally him! I geeked out just a little bit (although none of my companions watched Top Chef, so they didn\’t care nearly as much). Doing research when I got home It\’s probably (most definitely) for a show that will be premiering on the Travel Channel in 2015 called \”Breaking Borders\”.
Unfortunately, we couldn\’t stay long and watch what they were doing more. We had to order and get our Chicken Shwarma wraps quickly so we could go. But we did get food from the same food stand they were filming at, so I take that as a win!
The Children Are Coming: Hezekiah\’s Tunnel
Up until this point, our traveling has been mostly to religious sites, which is really the bread and butter of the trip. But by now we had seen pretty much everything Biblical I could think of. We finished the mysteries of the Rosary, had out private mass, traveled through the Galilee. It was time to start seeing some more cultural / less religious sites. We bolted with our sandwiches across the Old City to Hezekiah\’s Tunnel (one of Jessa\’s favorite attractions in Jerusalem).
Before going on this trip Jessa and I both read The Source by James Michener and one of the stories in the book was about the engineer that came up with and implemented the building of tunnel from the town to the water source. Keep in mind this is forever ago. They didn\’t have the sorts of tools and technology that would make this task easy, but they did it, largely by using flags above the surface to project which direction they were going and listening to the tapping of the chisels. I\’m pretty sure that tunnel was based on Hezekiah\’s tunnel.
This is a legitimate attraction and is connected to a park of sorts and a small archaeological museum. It was very clear (after paying our admission) that this was a popular place for field trips because there were a bunch of children (like 100 maybe, in different groups) sitting on the deck and eating lunch. We changed into our swimsuits, attached hands-free flashlights to our heads and we were off.
I think we started to mosey around the museum, but quickly decided that the copious groups of children made it painfully slow and we didn\’t feel like we had the time for that. Besides, I read about how they probably achieved such a feat already, so I didn\’t mind too much when we skipped it.
There are actually two tunnels: one is a walking tunnel, like in the book, where women walked through it to get to the water source and fill up their water jugs and bring it back and one that is more like an aqueduct (water flows through it). We didn\’t walk through the \”walking path\” (because what\’s the fun in that?) We waded through the narrow aqueduct section with our headlamps on and fresh flowing water up to our shins.
|Hezekiah\’s Tunnel Source
Where we entered was pretty much the size of a person. It was cramped, but you could definitely walk through it and stand. This was mainly because the people who dug it out had to be able to fit through. The further we went, the less we could hear the children and the more alone we were. At a certain point (maybe half way through) we decided to experience the darkness in all its glory. Each of us turned off the headlights and we were submerged into pitch blackness. Not even a bit of light was visible. I felt like I was inside a stream in a mountain. After the vision experiment we did an audio experiment. Like St. Anne\’s and the Cistern, we wanted to listen to the acoustics inside this place of isolation. Bonus: We weren\’t in a church, so we were able to pick secular music (we chose The Beatles – Let It Be for this monumental event).
It was about that time we started hearing other voices, small voices. Oh no, the children are coming. I can just picture a few feisty boys trying to run through the tunnel and running smack dab into us. We hurried along. Along the way, we looked at the walls which had the markings of the pick axes so you can see what direction they were headed. At a certain point it switches and the marks go the other direction and the small tunnel at the beginning turns into a giant cavern at the other end. The reason is, when this tunnel was built, two groups of workers started at either end and had to find each other in the middle (using tapping noises through the earth). The workers at the end of the tunnel started higher than the beginning of the tunnel so they had to go down to meet each other and they hollowed the area out. If you read The Source there is a chapter on this and how it probably worked.
They\’re Not Wearing a Head Covering. Those Are Wigs: Bus Ride Through the Ultra Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood
After our tunnel excursion we took a bus to a major bus station. The cool part about this bus ride though was the fact that the main bus station is surrounded by an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Now, we\’ve been seeing Hasidic Jews all over the place, but never in this concentration. It truly felt like we were looking into a different world. Everyone wears black (suits for men, dresses for women), the hats and beards and curls are distinctive for the men and the women (at least the married ones) all wear scarves or other coverings. Wait a minute, many many women do not appear to be wearing any covering at all. What gives? \”Those are wigs\” Jessa replied. I did a double take and all of a sudden my eyes opened up to this new reality and I could see the exact same hair / hairstyle on many of the women. Covering up your hair with other hair just didn\’t occur to me as an option I guess.
Park Your Camel: Bus Ride to the Dead Sea
Our final destination for the long day was a trip to the Dead Sea. We almost weren\’t able to go. Jessa had some engagement that would have prohibited us from going, but the other person cancelled. I am so happy they did, because I feel like if I didn\’t go to the Dead Sea (which outside of the religious sites is the only tourist attraction I can even think about in Israel), I would have felt like I missed out on a crucial Israeli experience.
|The Long Awaited Desert
To get there we had to take a substantial bus ride (like a charter bus). Unlike the city trains and buses we had been taking the whole trip, our bus comprised mostly of foreign tourists, so, people like us. Soon we were off into the desert. Yes, it took me 8 days in the Middle East and I finally got to see myself some semblance of sand. It\’s a pretty stark difference from Jerusalem to the desert. It\’s pretty barren because people don\’t generally live in the desert because it\’s hard to survive there. There are exceptions and we got to see them. There are places that look like shantytowns: scrap metal that have been rearranged to look like a dwelling. It looks utterly destitute and poverty-stricken. Are these Israeli\’s homeless population, forced out of Jerusalem to live in these dwellings? Not likely. Jessa told us that the people that live out here are actually modern-day nomads or desert people. These people have been living in the desert for thousands of years, generation after generation, wandering around and setting up these temporary settlements where they are. I wonder how these people feel about the political drama in Israel and the fighting that has gone on there. Do they even subscribe to any kind of \”nation\”? How do they survive? What does the government think about these presumably undocumented people? The questions go on and on and I have no idea what the answers are. All I can say is I think you\’d be hard pressed to find this in the United States. I mean, every bit of land is owned here and I would say its pretty near impossible to be completely off the grid in America if only because if you don\’t do certain things (pay taxes, obey laws) you end up in jail (distinctly part of the grid).
A trip in the desert wouldn\’t be complete without seeing camels (which were parked outside shops and homes) with all their gear on. For someone who had a very clear idea of what this part of the world is \”supposed\” to look like, I felt like I got my money\’s worth.
City of the Desert: Jericho
I know I\’ve been talking a lot about the desert and how surprised I was by how fertile most of what we saw was, but I guess it never really occurred to me that the areas that the populated areas were distinctly NOT the desert because like I said before hand it\’s hard to survive there. The exception to that rule is Jericho.
|It\’s that city, randomly over there. See the building?
Technically, Jericho is built on an oasis, so there are tons of springs that can be found in and around the area which has sustained human civilization for thousands of years. However, when our bus passed by the city, it looks like it just spontaneously formed in the middle of the desert. There is really nothing around it, but it\’s a decent sized city (~20,000 according to Wikipedia). My biggest association I have of Jericho is my mom singing an old African-American spiritual \”Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho\” when I was younger, which is all I thought about when we passed on by the city.
The Tallywacker Show: The Dead Sea
We missed our bus stop. Rather, when we asked the bus driver if he stopped at Kalia Beach and he said yes, we (probably naively) assumed that he might inform us when we got there instead of driving right on by considering we TOLD him where our destination was and clearly did not get off at the appropriate place. A slight verbal altercation, annoyed hostess and a couple more shekels later, we had to improvise. Kalia Beach was long behind us at this point and the only beach that we had a hope of getting to was the Public beach in Ein Gedi. This did not make Jessa happy as she had heard horror stories about the public beach and was already upset with the bus driver.
Our spirits brightened when we arrived. It was already beginning to be early evening and the sun was starting to set, so we wouldn\’t have a whole lot of time. We went to change into our swimsuits in the public restrooms (still not as bad as the bathrooms on Mount Tabor) when Jessa realized she had forgotten hers at home, which compounded with the drama with the bus driver, probably didn\’t help her mood. I felt bad she couldn\’t join us in our float, but it\’s times like this you have to try and make the best of things, so she offered to take pictures of us floating with our cameras so we actually have physical evidence of having been there.
In case you don\’t know, the Dead Sea is called that because there is so much salt in it (it\’s the lowest elevation on land and thus nothing flows out of it) that nothing can live in it. No fish can sneak up on you in this sea. If you ever go to the Dead Sea this is what to expect:
The first thing you will notice are all the scratches you have on your body, because they will become irritated with the salt and sting. \”But I don\’t have any scratches\” you say, \”I am a perfectly specimen.\” to which I respond….\”Yeah, sure…\” Seriously, scratches you didn\’t even know were there suddenly become painfully obvious. But don\’t let that stop you, it\’s still worth it.
Then you will want to float (that\’s why you\’re there after all). There is a specific way you should do this because it\’s not super intuitive and all the physics you thought you knew about water don\’t really apply the same way here. When you get to where you want to float, sit like your sitting in a chair. With your butt being forced down (sorta) your legs will float up and voila, you\’re floating.
|Hook \’em Israel Style!
It was a weird experience, just floating there, made weirder whenever you tried to swim anywhere because everything just keeps floating. It was nice because you could be in pretty shallow water and still be able to swim on the surface without hitting the ground.
The weirdest thing about it, which I was not at all expecting was how the water felt. I thought it would feel like water. No. It doesn\’t. It feels like oil, very slick. I have personally never swam or bathed in a vat of oil before, so this was a very strange sensation. We floated for a bit and Jessa took our stereotypical \”reading\” in the Dead Sea pictures.
|Black Mud = Good For Skin
Now that I can check off Dead Sea Activity: Float off the bucket list, I wanted to experience Dead Sea Activity: Black Mud. There didn\’t seem to be an obviously easy way to do this. The shore of the beach was rocky, not sandy (or muddy) and you couldn\’t see any visible signs of any on the ground in our vicinity. However, we were not alone on the beach and I kept seeing other patrons walking around covered in black. Now we just needed to find the source. We swam/floated to our right, around part of the shore and sure enough there was a small cove of mud. Jackpot. There wasn\’t a whole lot, but there was enough to smear all over our bodies. I\’ve heard its good for your skin.
Around this time it started getting darker and we thought it best to get out and head back to Jerusalem (considering we hadn\’t eaten dinner or anything). We went to wash ourselves off (the salt just cakes on if you don\’t) in the beach showers. It just so happens that while we were rinsing off, a group of Australian (or British? Those accents sound so similar to me) male tourists (in their early 20\’s probably) decided they too would rinse off…only they rinsed off without their swimsuits on. Nudity doesn\’t generally phase me (especially if it\’s the standard protocol in the situation), but what they were saying while in the nude made me shake my head in awkward amusement. Here\’s some advice: if you don\’t want someone to \”watch the tallywacker show\” (FYI I have never heard anyone actually use that term before) then you probably shouldn\’t strip down right in front of them. We left to the cries of \”I swear it\’s normally bigger, but it\’s soooo cold.\”. There is no way an orthodox Jew would come here and witness all this debauchery, but after being in churches for a full week, it was a little relieving to be able to let your hair down and see another more touristy side to Israel. It just felt like a more complete experience. This is not just a land of Kosher Jews, devout Muslims and Pious Christians. It\’s also a land that includes tourists who just want to float, relax and walk around sans pants.
|Classic Reading in the Dead Sea Photo. Karen: The Source, Evan: Lonely Planet Guide to Israel
40 minutes in the Desert: The Bus Back to Jerusalem
When we were getting ready to head back to Jerusalem I noticed the other people at the park. There were a significant amount of people camping out and Evan saw a topless girl in a tree. I got the vague sensation that this is not only a popular destination for touring foreigners, but also a more liberal hippie crowd. We made our way to the bus stop and waited……and waited…..and waited. I don\’t know how long we actually waited for the bus (the 40 minutes reference is from the Bible and not a literal 40 minutes). It was probably at least an hour. At any rate it was long enough that I started to get legitimately concerned there would be no evening bus and we would have to find a group of hippies to share a tent with.
Down the road from us was a group of Jewish teenagers (maybe 16-17?) who were trying to hitchhike their way somewhere. I think there were 4 of them and they didn\’t have any luck. Occasionally someone would stop, they would talk for a bit and the person would drive off. A secular Jew even tried to help them because people are loyal to their particular group and he thought some people might be more unwilling to help them if they saw their yamaca and curls up close. No such luck for that either.
The bus did finally arrive. The group of boys didn\’t get on it. I have no idea how long they might have stayed there.
Clam Hair: Malawach Again
I\’m impressed with the fact that Jessa and Rodolfo don\’t have cell phones. We had no real control over the bus (which I think took a very long time) and thus had no reference to give Rodolfo of what time we were supposed to meet him. I guess it must have been earlier than I thought because even though I slept on the bus ride back to Jerusalem, we found Rodolfo calmly sitting in front of our predetermined meeting place (the Malawach place) for dinner.
Rodolfo had gone to a lecture on some artifact that was supposedly found in Jesus\’ tomb. It was not the Shroud of Turin, but I don\’t remember what it was. All I know is that they claimed it was made with clam hair, which I didn\’t even know was a thing. Rodolfo was not impressed as the scientific facts were missing from the presentation and he felt that in situations like this you need to be able to back your point up with facts. We discussed this, as well as our own day, over the malawach, but this time I realized I was more tired than hungry so it didn\’t settle nearly as well this time around. At this point we called it a day.
Next Up: Last Call in Jerusalem