Sunday, April 13, 2008

Remembrances of the Holy Land (To J-Town)

PHOTO: Robert Marshall

Not sure about others, but when it came time to leave the kibbutz I was a little saddened.

It wasn't the most posh of accommodations, and now we were heading to Jerusalem. However, the place had a wonderful casual atmosphere, which I know would be absent once we got to the city so central to three major World religions.

We passed through Tiberias and climbed up a steep road, leaving the Sea of Galilee behind us. As we came near the top, we left the main road for Mount Arbel National Park.

From here you're afforded with a breath taking view of virtually the entire Sea of Galilee. Over half of our group was satisfied with relaxing under a tree at the top. The rest of us were drawn over the edge to a precarious trail where you held on to a metal cable and metal hand holds drilled into the rock.

Fortunately, I'd decided to leave most of my camera gear tucked inside the bag, keeping my 17-40mm walk around lens on the camera. Still, it became a big challenge when it came to a few of the holds where it was more like climbing a ladder than hiking a trail.

We were safely down the first part of the trail, and then meandering on a slow downhill slope, when I felt a sharp pain on the bottom of my right foot. I hadn't felt anything like that since I'd stepped on a rusty nail when I was young.

At nearly the same time, StL said, "Hey, you lost the bottom of your shoe!" Sure enough, the glued on outer sole of my hiking boot had literally came off in mid stride. If I'd been on soft ground I probably wouldn't have even noticed.

I tried to keep walking, but the soft inner sole was no match for the rocky trail. Unfortunately, I had left my roll of duct tape in my main camera bag. Doron used his army training and fabricated a bandage to tie the sole in place. It worked briefly, but I had to keep retying it every 100 feet, or so.

Along the way there were all sorts of caves. Plus, the local cattle had free range up and down the meadows of Arbel. I'd never imagined we'd be running into cattle all the way up there.

Besides the problem with my shoe I had also left the bus without nearly enough drinking water. I was in the Boy Scouts for years, and should have known better. As we rested at a fork in the trail, I drank the rest of my water, along with some extra StL brought along. Some of the more youthful trip members took this opportunity to explore the ancient Druze fortress.

We heard a yell from above, and were able to look up to see DK and CG waiving. It would have been cool to have checked it out. But, at this point, I didn't want to climb up, just to climb back down to the main group.

TS offered to let me use his shoes, while he switched to his sandals. However, I really didn't like the possibility of his busting an ankle on my account during the climb back up.

Little by little, people started heading up the trail. I had hopes it was just going to be a steep walk. However, we ran into yet again another pitch of metal hand holds. Fortunately, it was maybe 20-30 feet at most. I was the final person to the summit and can remember the relief as I saw the rest of my fellow travelers lounging under the shade tree.

Due to my footwear malfunction, and the extra long wait below the fortress, we were behind schedule. Unfortunately, this would cost us seeing the aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima  - one of the things I was really looking forward to seeing.

When I got back to the bus, the first thing I did was dig out my duct tape to secure the loose boot sole. It looked really funny with one brown boot and one silver boot.

It was now time for lunch at Mount Carmel. The Druze run a restaurant, which does a gangbuster business. Surprisingly, the long line moved fairly quickly once it got inside the building. Outside, there was a poor little dog, which greeted everyone cheerfully in hopes of mooching a morsel.

Once again shawarma was the lunch of the day, and was welcome after all the climbing and walking earlier in the day. I had kept a little for the little dog, but he seemed to have wandered off by the time we came out.

Before leaving, TS wanted to give a sermon from an outlook near the Muhraqa Carmelite Monastery, which has a commanding view of where Elijah battled the Baal worshippers. Unfortunately, to get to this overlook one had to hike up a steep paved road. While the climb, itself, was not difficult, the first few feet wreaked havoc on my duct tape job. I had to turn around and ask Adi to open the bus' luggage compartment to get my sports shoes.

Understandably, Doron was none too pleased, suggesting I should have done that during lunch. Though I really didn't need someone to wait with me SH held back until I could get changed, and we walked up the hill together.

(This is the area which would see tremendous forest fires in 2010. They were so big they could be seen from NASA satellites.)

The walk down from the monastery was probably worse than going up because it put stress on the back of the calf. Almost all the way to the bottom I heard some noise coming up from behind, only to turn around and see SK and GC in some type of foot race. They just barely stopped before careening into the road gate at the bottom! (For the record GC beat him, though DK said he gave her a head start!)

Once we got back to the bus, it was a long wind down the road towards Megiddo. We stopped briefly so Doron could point out an old tomb by the side of the road, complete with rolling stone. He said this was an example of Jesus' resting place may have looked like.

Changing biblical topics, we fast forwarded to Revelations with our stop at Tel Megiddo. Lord was it HOT!! This was the first really hot day we'd experienced on the pilgrimage.

We wondered through the ruins before stopping at a covered overlook which has been built for groups wanting to stop and give lectures. As TS and Doron spoke of the End of Days battle, it was eerie to look out and see the crossroads, which served as an "X Marks the spot" in many a television documentary.

Despite the predilection of this being the battle site, the Israeli park system put up a white column, with "May Peace Prevail on Earth" written in multiple languages. Everyone in our group saw the irony.

As we were heading back to the bus I slowly walked across the overlook and took about 15 shots with the intention of stitching them into a panorama. (Hopefully, one of these days I'll actually get around to doing that).

While walking I took the opportunity to call my sister again. Not sure why. I felt the urge to. She said it was really creepy to think about where I was calling her from and as I thought about it, she was right.

Once again I was disappointed to later learn what we saw barely scratched the surface, as there was an underground complex to the park which we never saw, plus lots more the of city. It would have taken quite some time to see all that, and it just wasn't in the cards.

It was now time to turn our sight west. After what seemed like forever, despite only being 18 miles as the crow flies, we arrived at Caesarea Maritima, the famous port built by Herod, the Great.

We quickly went to an overlook of the Hippodrome, where Romans would race chariots around the u-shaped track. The sand looked so manicured as if nobody had ever set foot on its surface.

It was here that we also had our faces kissed with the cool Mediterranean breeze. You can only imagine how much of a relief it was after the heat of Megiddo. As we looked towards the south, we noticed several wind gliders sailing on the breeze near the Orot Rabin Power Station. I slapped my big zoom lens on, but they were still pretty much small specs off in the distance.

Doron said we had to move quickly because we had less than 10 minutes to get into the amphitheater before they locked the entry gate. Along the walkway we saw the Pilate Stone, which is the only archeological find confirming Pontius Pilate by name.

The amphitheater is truly amazing. In a day long before electronic amplification, performers could capture everyone's attention simply because their voices were echoed by the shape of the building. Israel still uses this amphitheater, holding rock concerts there on a regular basis.

We held a short concert of our own after TS spoke about the Apostle Paul addressing Herod Agrippa II. As CM and RC performed They'll Know We Are Christians (Peter Scholtes, 1968) I had to, once again fight back tears. It's one of those songs whose melody and wording stirs something up, even today.

Leaving Caesarea Maritima, we headed south along Israel's Hwy 2. Nearly everyone seemed knocked out from the day's activity. As I looked out the left side of the bus we passed mile after mile of what we might call Suburbia here in the USA. There were malls with movie theaters, stores, gas stations, etc. Except for the Hebrew writing, it could easily be mistaken for any medium sized California coastal town.

Twilight came on near Tel Aviv as we transitioned to Israel Hwy 1, and headed inland. I remember vaguely passing Ben Gurion Airport at one point, and then starting to climb into some rolling terrain.

Adi had long ago shut off the overhead video screens. I may have been one of the few awake to see them pop open start playing The Holy City  (Stephen Adams, 1892). We had arrived!!

When we pulled into the driveway for the Jerusalem Gate Hotel, nobody moved. We were all so tired, and it seemed all so surreal. Without much fanfare we checked in and received our room assignments.

I can't honestly remember whether we got there before the dining room closed at 8pm. If we did, we probably grabbed something and headed up to our rooms for the night. I drew Room 525, a single room, tucked right in the middle of the hotel. It faced the southwest so didn't have a view of the Old City.

Despite have such a long day, and feeling dog tired when coming off the bus, most people seemed to catch their second wind after checking their rooms out.

People started to congregate about 30 minutes, after having a chance to clean up. I ran into ED and RV asking what the plan was? RP walked up a couple of moments later, basically asking the same question.

They answered they'd planned to check out the mall downstairs, looking for ice cream. The delivery was sort of as if to say, "how about it be girl's night out" which I caught on to almost immediately. Others, not so much. With that thought in hand, I said "Have fun" and took the escalator leading into the basement level of the hotel.

Turns out the hotel was built on top of a small mall. There were two levels of restaurants and shops. Wondering around, it was amazing how packed it was. Almost, to be compared to a weekend during the holiday shopping season. 

I noticed a store selling men's suits. Considering how late at night it was, all the salesmen and tailors were hard at work. There was lots to choose from…as long as it was black, traditional looking, and paired with white shirt and thin tie. Not exactly my look.

Ironically, as I passed by the shop's font windows I ran into ED and RV again. They'd apparent;y found their ice cream after all. At this point it was so stuffy in the small hallways that the idea was getting better the more I thought about it.

I was about to call it an evening when I ran into RP, RF. We decided to take a walk around the block. I figured how long could it actually take? I hadn't realized we were on top of a shopping center which just happened to have the Central Bus Station inside of it!!

We walked and walked and walked. Then took a left up a dimly lit block. RF reminded us about not getting lost, but I figured if we kept the building to our left, sooner or later, we'd come back to where we started!!

At the next street we turn left again. This block has a neighborhood on the right side, and we even walked by a monument to Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, the conqueror Palestine. It looked out of place on that back street.

I think we all felt relieved when the front door of the hotel finally came into view.

Once back it was nighty night because the morning would come fairly early.


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