I plan to be short and sweet tonight: determined to finish before 10:00 p.m. and get more than 4 hours of sleep!
We had a few monkey wrenches thrown our way today. Nothing insurmountable, but enough to throw us off schedule a bit. And we have laughed a lot, because when you’re beyond the point of exhaustion, everything is funny!
We were up even earlier than usual because we knew we had quite a ways to travel. Our hotel is at the southern end of the Dead Sea, but today we had plans to travel north and east again, this time into the country of Jordan to visit Mt. Nebo, where Moses looked out over (though he was not allowed to enter) the land God promised to the children of Israel.
As we traveled, Tsvi told us how the Dead Sea has been receding because of over pumping to irrigate fields. In fact, the Jordan River doesn’t even flow all the way into the Dead Sea anymore. The sea reminds me of Lake Travis at home: Austin friends will know what I’m talking about. The areas that were formerly covered in water are dry and cracked. One place, the Ein Gedi Spa, was built in the 1980’s right on the water’s edge. Today, it is at least 300 to 400 yards from the water level. It’s quite sad to see. There is a plan to build a canal to connect the Dead Sea with the Red Sea in order to help with water levels. It is a joint venture with Jordan.
The Dead Sea is made up of 33% salt and other minerals including magnesium. Nothing can live in it except for some bacterias. Locals quarry and sell the minerals. One brand of skin care products, called Ahava, is very popular (and expensive!) The minerals in the Dead Sea are said to be so healthful that German insurance companies will pay for their clients to fly to Israel, stay here and receive treatments for a week, and fly back to Germany!
As we drove north along the edge of the Sea, the same drive we took last night in the dark (except going the opposite direction,) I was a little uneasy because of the high, towering rocks to my left and the drop off to the Sea on my right. The jagged rocks looked to be crumbling and sliding downhill. I couldn’t decide which direction to avoid looking! The slowing down, speeding up, whip around the curve, and slamming on the brakes wasn’t sitting too well with my breakfast. (And speaking of breakfast, I am missing my Hazelnut, even though I’m hoarding the little portable coffeemate that I have!)
The Judean wilderness on the west side of the Dead Sea is very forbidding: dry, desolate, high, steep, and hot. It hurt my heart to think of Jesus, alone in this area for such a long time.
After about 45 minutes we made our way out of the twists and turns but continued north. All of a sudden we heard WHAM! Kabunkabunkabunkabunk…. I wondered which piece of camera equipment had fallen and broken. But it turned out to be a blown out tire. Thankfully, there were two different sets of tires on that back side. Thankfully, it didn’t happen in the dark last night. Thankfully, it didn’t happen while we were on the curvy, hilly roads. Thankfully, we had a spare.
So the men jumped out and found the spare, loaded it on and 45 minutes later we were back in business.
Until we got to the border between Israel and Jordan. Tsvi had given us great instruction about how to handle things (which is what made me nervous. I didn’t really know to be nervous until he started talking about checkpoints and border control!) With all of our camera equipment I feel a little bit conspicuous. But as we approached we could see a long line of tour buses ahead of us. (And by the way, no bathroom in the van…it was a long wait!) After inching forward for about an hour, we finally made it to the Israeli checkpoint. A beautiful young woman was walking around cars with a mirror, checking underneath cars. Trailing behind her was a young Israeli soldier, who looked as though he was greatly enjoying his job of escorting the pretty girl.
She waved us through, and we headed on another mile, over the King Hussein bridge and into Jordan. Tsvi and Jossi would not be accompanying us. They are Jewish, and do not have permits to drive or guide in Jordan. But they gave us great instruction about how to handle questions that might be asked of us by the border guards. A Jordanian guard and driver would be waiting for us just on the other side of the border. It felt a bit like a hostage exchange!
At this point, Tsvi said, “Guys, when you come back, eets gonna take a while, ok? So theenk about Moses… (smile) it was forty yeeears!
To which Jon replied, “That’s not a good analogy, Tsvi. Moses never made it.” We couldn’t help laughing.
Inside, more waiting since the computers were down. Ironically, they had free WiFi, so we passed the time with that, and John stretched (picture for you, Erin!)
But we finally made it through, a couple of hours late, and our new driver, Mahmood (who didn’t speak much English), and new guide, Hussein, were waiting. Naturally, John asked Hussein his life’s story, and we found out that he was born to Bedouin parents but was educated in England. He was a nice guy, but he almost felt like more of a comedian with practiced lines than a guide.
The new van was larger and more spacious but smelled like smoke. The windows inside were covered with curtains, which we pulled back in order to see. At this point, Hussein said “let me haf your passports.” It never seems like a good idea to hand over your passport; in fact, Jon said “do y’all have any idea how valuable those passports are on the black market??”
Hussein was gone for at least 20-25 minutes and we began to wonder if we’d been “taken”. Of course, the jokes started flying, because sometimes you have to laugh instead of crying! Micah said “I never thought I’d be homesick for Israel!”
Eventually he did come back, WITH our passports and WITH a tourist policeman. We didn’t know he was along for the ride, but apparently it’s fairly common. His name was Ammas, and he was one of thirteen children; his father had three wives and he was not married yet (information courtesy of John, who asks everyone about themselves.)
Jordan did have a very different feel. My first impression was not great – it was dirty with trash everywhere along the roads. Dry and brown, with Bedouin tents and “gypsies” (as Hussein called them) everywhere. Hussein said it was easy to tell the difference between a Bedouin and a gypsy – the gypsies dress colorfully but the Bedouins dress in black. Narrow roads with extremely tall grass – almost looks like wheat fields – rising on either side of the road.
We eventually turned off of this main road and started heading up the mountain. Guess what: more switchbacks, slowing down and speeding up. And I couldn’t get air conditioning to work. I just had to endure, and 45 minutes later we were atop Mt. Nebo.
First we ate lunch at the restaurant on top. It looked like this:
Then we headed up a little path to the spot where tradition says that Moses stood, looking out into the promised land. Of course, we have no idea if that is true or false. But we know that he was somewhere on the mountain!
Jon filmed here, got all of his A-roll and some good B-roll footage. And we saw some women dressed head to toe in burkas, but underneath I spied blue jeans, Coach sneakers, and one was carrying a Michael Kors purse. An interesting mix of modesty and vanity!
Down the mountain we went. An uneventful trip, but we still had to go through Jordanian customs. It was fine even though we had to show our passports five (yes, five) times and Micah’s bag got searched again.
Getting back to Yossi felt like home!
Our next stop was at Jericho, touted as the oldest city in the world. It is under Palestinian control, so it didn’t seem that they placed much emphasis on this old city. But here is where the story of Rahab took place. It is where the children of Israel marched seven times around the city and then blew their horns and the walls fell down flat (not flat, like a flat line, but they fell in such a way over the retaining walls that the warriors were able to climb directly into the city rather than having to scale the wall. An ancient tower exists there too, but evidently it had been built there before Rahab’s time.
It’s much easier to understand and picture the parable that Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. The road to Jericho must have been so dangerous. There are so many places to hide out and attack travelers as they made their way through rocky paths.
After leaving Jericho, shop owners twisted our arms into visiting the gift shop “because you are such good customer”… The salesmen were pushy, though nice, but I didn’t enjoy the attempted persuasion to buy things I didn’t want or need.
Dinner at hotel, where we were so tired that we were silly. One of our guys unwittingly ate some tongue. Gary said, “Try not to remember that while you were tasting your food, your food was tasting you!” He shouldn’t have made such a tasteless joke, but he meant it all tongue in cheek!
Now back in room. 10:00 p.m. and I can’t keep my eyes open. Sorry this post isn’t much, but at least you know where we’ve been! I’ll try to be more descriptive and detailed tomorrow. I’d describe our hotel, but we really have only briefly seen it in the daylight since we haven’t arrived until after dark both nights, and left early in the morning. Tomorrow we will drive back up the same road (!) again to Masada and Qumran. Dewayne should be arriving within the next couple of hours. Thank you for the prayers!