Sunday, March 31, 2019

March Trip, Part 3- Back to Israel

We arrived back at the border to leave Jordan and walk back to Israel.  Then we picked up a taxi and headed to the rental car office.  When they brought our car around, it was the first time I have ever wondered if we should request a different car.  I think every panel was dented or scratched.  We video'd the car and pointed everything out to the agency and they marked the paperwork up.  And off we went, we had a busy day ahead of us!

We drove back on the same route we had just driven 3 days earlier on our way from church to Jordan.  But this time we would make a few stops on our way back to Jerusalem.  Our first stop was a the Unesco site of Masada.  The majority of tourists visit Israel on a bus tour, so the tourist sites have plenty of parking for large buses, but parking for cars is minimal.  We parked in a dirt lot off the side of the road with a few other cars.  Because buses full of tourists visit these places, there are usually cafes there, which is nice.  We were able to grab a quick lunch before taking the funicular up the cliff to the Masada Palace.

High on a cliff above the Dead Sea, King Herod built himself a vacation Palace.  It is amazing what they were able to build and accomplish thousands of years ago and without the technology we have today.  They engineered amazing structures in incredibly difficult places.  The view is spectacular and the ruins of the Palace are amazing.  They built cisterns and food storage to be able to live up there for months, it's amazing.

However Masada is known for more than just King Herod's Palace.  In 73 AD during the end of the First Jewish-Roman War,  a thousand Jewish Rebels fled to Masada to hide from the Romans.  The Roman army.   The Roman legion laid siege on Masada and surrounded the Palace below the cliffs.  You can see the remains of the huge Roman encampments from the top of the cliff.  It's incredible.  The Romans then built a huge siege ramp, tower and battering ram to gain access to Masada and the Jewish Rebels hiding there.  But as the day came that the ramp was ready and they were about to breach the fortress, the remaining Jews, all 960 of them, men- women- children, committed mass suicide rather than be taken by the Roman Legion.  In addition they had set all the buildings on fire.

We only had a short 2 hours to explore Masada, so we did not get to see it all.  But what we did see was pretty incredible.

We had a 45 minute drive from Masada to the caves of Qumran.  We needed to arrive before the site closed and we did.  Qumran is also a Unesco site, mostly known as the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  After excavations, nearly 900 scrolls were found in the area.  A long time ago a small settlement lived here of possibly Essenes or maybe Saducees.  They are not completely sure at this point.  But the site is most famous in our family for it's reference in our favorite audio book series  Tennis Shoes Among The Nephites.  My children have listened to these stories numerous times over the years and it was fun to visit a site mentioned in the stories and learn more about the area.

After visiting Qumran we were less than an hour from Jerusalem.  We headed to our apartment to check in and then walked to a nearby fun street to pick up some groceries and find dinner.  We walked a main modern shopping street and happened upon a fun soup shop.  The flavors were local and delicious!  We picked up snacks and food for breakfast and a cake for dessert.  In the morning we would have a long day of touring Jerusalem.

On our way to Jordan I had received an email from the tour guide I had hired for a one day tour in Jerusalem.  He had a family emergency out of the country and apologized that he would have to cancel.  With such short notice I could not find a guide at the same price or that I seemed to connect with, so we decided to find our own way and use the tour books I had brought to read and learn about different sites.  I had already made a list of places we were interested in seeing so that helped. But there is so much history in this city, history of many different cultures and people that goes back thousands of years, history of wars and sediments that still exist in the culture and people of today.  I had wanted a guide to help us understand more.  But we would make due on our own.

In the morning we headed to the City of David, below the old city walls.  In walking there we passed through the Kidron Valley walking outside the old city wall.  It is a very pretty area now.  We also made a stop at the Upper Room, believed to be where the last supper occurred.  The view from the top of the building is beautiful.

From here we continued to nearby City of David.  This area is under excavation and full of amazing sites to see. The Palace of King David, homes of high priests during David's time.   One of them being the tunnel of Hezekiah.  This all dates back to Old Testament times.  The tunnel is an amazing example of engineering.  King Hezekiah was preparing his people for an attack by the Assyrians and wanted to protect the water from the valley, so he moved the spring from outside the city wall, to inside.

The tunnel is 583 yards long, and was built by two teams, working from each end of the tunnel to meet in the middle.  When the two groups met up, they were not off by much.  We walked part of Hezekiah's tunnel, until we reached the water.  They allow you to continue through the tunnel in the water, but we were not prepared for that so we choose to finish our walk through another tunnel nearby that was dry.

After visiting the City of David, we walked up into the City Walls of Jerusalem.  While it seems like an old city, we should remember that so much of Jerusalem has been through many wars.  Some very recent, and so much of the city has been rebuilt.  It has been expanded throughout the ages as well.  In fact not too long ago, the Jordanians occupied old Jerusalem, and the Jews moved out and across a nearby valley.  The Jordanians would stand on the walls of the old city and shoot with their guns at the homes of the Jews just across the narrow valley, that eventually the Jews even left their homes there.  This was in the 1970s.

But since that time, the Jews have returned and traditional Orthodox Jews, and hassidic Judaism can be found all over the city.  So can the Muslims.  The city is still divided.  We visited the Western Wall fo the Temple also known as the wailing wall.  It was Thursday and this was Bar Mitzvah day.  Many Bar Mitzvah ceremonies occur all day long at the Western Wall.  We did not know until we arrived and passed through security that the wall is divided.  On the right side only women can enter the area and approach the wall, and the left side is for men.  Between these areas is a wall.  Women, I assume mothers or family of the boys having their Bar Mitzvahs, would stand on chairs to look over the walls to watch their sons perform this sacred ritual.  This was fascinating to watch and learn about.  Savannah and Calvin asked about the separation of women and children and I imagine it may stem back to the Temple.  In our temples today women go to one side and men to the other.  We had a great family discussion about this.

We were unable to go up on the temple mount.  They had closed for the day.  The entrance to the Temple mount is close the Western Wall.  Jewish people are currently not allowed upon the Temple mount as it is owned by the Muslims and they do not allow it.  This is why the Jews come to the Western Wall and why it is referred to the Wailing Wall.  The lower portion of this wall is in fact the same wall of the second temple period built by Herod the Great.  The Jews consider this the closed they can get to their sacred Temple site, and therefore this is their holiest site where they can pray.

After lunch we visited a museum over homes being excavated.  These homes were in a richer area, homes were high priests maybe lived, those considered upper class in society.

As we walked the streets of old Jerusalem and through it's markets we found the vendors to be more aggressive in many cities and countries we have visited.  The kids were still able to buy souvenirs they wanted, but we needed to have a bit of a thicker skin, because if you walked away after looking and even some bartering, the market stall owner could turn quite mean.  In several areas we realized we must be close to the Temple mount in the Muslim quarters because we would get turned around and sent away by military soldiers with guns, telling us we were not Muslim and we could not go further.  So we quietly turned and went back another way.  The spices and food were lovely to see.  Olive wood and Hebron Glass is everywhere.  Fruits and juices, and Dates and Figs, Hummus and Pita were also every where.

In the afternoon we walked along the Via Dolorosa, the route which many believe Jesus walked to his Crucifixion, however this route is just a guess, but mostly unknown.  As it was growing late in the afternoon, we headed over to the Garden Tomb.  This is one of the possibilities for the place of Crucifixion and burial.  Inside the garden it was peaceful, and not too busy.  We were able to walk the beautiful grounds in a quiet reverence and sit and read the account of the burial and resurrection of our Savior, as he appeared to Mary Magdalene in the Garden near his tomb, and ponder the significance of these pivotal events.  There were a few tour groups sitting together, also in quiet reverence nearby.  It was beautiful as they started singing I Stand All Amazed.

The next morning, we headed to Bethlehem for the morning.  Bethlehem is in Palestine territory so it is a little complicated to get there.  It is not very far from Jerusalem, maybe 10km, but with traffic it takes about 25 mins to drive there.  However, you can not drive a rental car into a Palestine controlled area, so we took a taxi to the border crossing.  Our driver was not able to drive us across the border, so we got out and walked through the wall and border building to the other side.  Once we cleared the building in Bethlehem, we were bombarded by taxi drivers.  Instead of negotiating with one approaching us, David picked one sitting in his car, and approached him and offered him the going fair to the Church of the Nativity, just a couple miles away.

Once we arrived at the Church of the Nativity, it was fairly quiet outside.  It is Friday, and this evening would begin Shabbat, or the Sabbath for the Jewish community, and I think many of the shops were closed because of this.   Inside the church we found a fairly short line, waiting for the "cave" to open.  In our traditional version of the nativity we picture the manger where Jesus was born in a barn like structure, but in actuality it was more like a cave carved out of the rock beneath the home or inn where the animals were kept.  Here a church was built over the very spot where it is believed Jesus was born.  In fact they have marked the very spot with a star in the stone.  We waited with hundreds of people for this cave to open, so we could all push and shove our way through the door way to walk down the few steps into the cave to push to the star, to then be yelled at by the security guard to move along.  This was a stark contrast compared to the beautiful peace in which we walked the grounds of the Garden Tomb the night before.  There was no reverence in viewing this spot, yet many were there with great faith, dropping to their knees and reaching to touch the star with their hands.  It was an experience we discussed as we walked the empty streets outside in the drizzle of rain. 

After leaving the Church we walked to a few nearby Olive wood shops to watch them carve.  Everything I read said that Bethlehem was the best place to buy olive wood souvenirs for the best price.  However we did not find that to be true.  Prices were listed in USD, not local currency, this is a big tip off that they price high for tourists.  We did pick up a couple of items for good prices after bartering.  But as we left the shop owner included extra bracelets as "gifts" to us, which had me guessing our good price was not so good.  But I was happy with the price, and that is the goal.

We then found a taxi to take us back to the border crossing to head back to Jerusalem.  As we passed through the fence and into the border patrol building, there was a line.  David went to check for a shorter line and the security guards told us we could pass, however they would not allow any locals that tried to use the short line to pass.  They had to wait in the longer line where they were thoroughly checking everyone's documentation.  All we had to do was hold up our US passports, and we were waived through.  It was interesting to discuss these border crossings and the ones going in and out of Jordan with our children, especially as we now live in a country drastically divided over whether or not to erect walls around our country borders.

Back in Jerusalem we did more souvenir shopping.  The kids went from shop to shop bartering to get their desired price for a few things to take home.  I wondered when the shops would start to wind down as the afternoon grew later, but there was no sign of the Sabbath approaching. But maybe the shops were owned by Arabs or muslims, rather than Jews.  I don't know.

As the afternoon grew later we headed to one last stop on our must see list- the Orson Hyde Garden on the mount of Olives.  As we walked towards the city gates near the temple mount, the Muslims had just finished their prayer and worship services and came flooding out.  The streets became extremely crowded and loud as we all tried to exit the city gate.  While we were not on the temple grounds, the crowd was mostly still divided, men on the right side, women on the left heading out of the city gate, similar to the Jews at the wailing wall.  As we reached the street outside the gate the sidewalks were lined with vendors selling food and clothes, this must be a busy sales time with so many people crossing this path each Friday.  We made our way down the hill and the crowd thinned out.  We headed over to the Mount of Olives and found a few Gardens, one being the signed as the Garden of Gethsemane, so we stepped inside to walk for a few moments.  No one knows for sure where exactly on the Mount of Olives our Savior prayed and suffered for the sins of the world, but this Garden was full of Tourist groups visiting the church attached to the Garden, so we decided to exit and make our way further up the hill to the Orson Hyde Garden and as we exited a man looked at my hat and said "BYU- Brigham Young University"  This was the first time anyone had commented on my hat the entire trip.  I asked him if he knew it, and he responded "Yes, I knew it, before you"  He went on to tell us he helped with the construction of the Jerusalem Center and would sometimes drive the tour buses for the student tours.  We told him we were looking for the Orson Hyde Garden, and he said he would walk us there and show us the way.  He was very friendly and kindly led us to the gate of the garden.  We probably would have passed it on the street.  He had told us about an Olive wood shop in town that his friend own that sells LDS carvings.  He said if we would like to go, he would drive us whenever we were done in the Gardens.

The Orson Hyde Garden is beautiful.  It is filled with Olive trees and overlooks the Temple mount and the old city of Jerusalem.  I imagine the place where the Savior prayed for our sins must have been somewhere like this.  We walked along the paths and enjoyed the beauty of the Garden.  Together we read of our Saviors Atonement and listened to the Primary Song Gethsemane and pondered the gift our Savior has given us, to repent and made whole from our mistakes in life.

We returned down the hill and found the man waiting for us.  We accepted his offer for a ride to the Olive wood shop.  There we found many carvings of the Savior, bible characters, and book of mormon characters.  They were beautiful to see.  We purchased a few more items and then headed back to our apartment.  This evening for Shabbat we would attend a traditional Shabbat dinner within the Jewish community.

Back at our apartment we had been having trouble with the washing machine.  The manager had sent a few repair people to try to fix it, but we ended up having to hand wash what we need, and hoped it all dried so we could pack up in the morning.

At 8pm Friday evening we headed to the home of a Rabbi for dinner.  We found several traditional Orthodox and Hassidic Jewish students were also there for dinner. Many Jewish young men and young women spend several months to a few years studying their faith.  Many of them come here to Jerusalem to do this.  Throughout the evening they explained many of their traditions as they went through them.  They sang and danced traditional Shabbat songs.  The meal was delicious.  We thoroughly enjoyed our evening and getting to know this faith.  They in turn asked us many questions about our own faith and we found that we have many similarities, especially in morals and values.

The next morning, Saturday, we packed up early and headed to Church at the BYU Jerusalem Center for our Sabbath Worship Services. It wasn't as crowded as the week before, less tour groups.  After church we headed to Tel-Aviv for lunch and then to the airport- it was time to head home!  We would arrive in London late at night.  I had booked an overnight stop for sleep at an airport hotel.  Then the next morning we would make the rest of our trip back to home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

March Trip part 2- Jordan

Warning! Picture Overload! Jordan is beautiful!

In the morning we looked around and thought- this looks like southern Utah!  But then we hiked into Petra! And wow! This place is amazing!!!!  And while much of the scenery does look like Utah, this place is more intense  than Utah.  Some of the rock and colors are so beautiful and we have never seen before.  There's camels, just hanging out in the desert.  I've never seen a camel in Utah.

And then there's Petra the city!  Wow!  It's amazing what they built here 2500 years ago.  They were clearly a smart people that did tremendously well serving the trade route through the desert.  They offered safety and shelter if you were traveling through the desert on this route.  The Nabateans built the city, carving caves and buildings out of the red rock.  Knowing water was a necessity to live in the desert, they built cisterns, and water paths to route water to the cisterns from throughout the city.  It's incredible.  The Romans eventually caught up with them and built a few roads and buildings though out the city as well. In it's heyday, more than 20,000 people lived here.  It's fascinating.   In the end the Romans found the Nabateans weren't interested in being overtaken and instead of continuing to work with them, the Romans moved the trade route to go by sea, and so the reign of the Nabateans in the desert came to an end.  Until the 1980's the site was still occupied by many Bedouin families living in the desert.  Most have been relocated, but there are still some Bedouins living on the outskirts of Petra.

After eating breakfast, we headed into Petra with our local bedouin guide for a 10 hour tour.  We asked to push a little faster so we could hit the road before sunset.  They like to finish the tour at sunset at a great viewing spot, but we were planning to catch a desert sunset tomorrow night and wanted to see the beauty of the area that we drove through in the dark last night.

We hiked in to Petra through one of the back entrances.  Using this entrance we were able to hike to the Monastery.  When you enter the main entrance of Petra, many day tours don't make it to the Monastery as it is at the far end of the city and a long climb up.  We spent an hour hiking to arrive at the Monastery and since it was still early in the morning, it was not crowded at all.  We were able to enjoy the beauty of the structure.  Our guide pointed out cisterns that had been dug nearby and through out the day showed us many water routes and remains of clay pipes built throughout the city. This was fascinating to see.

From the Montasery we hiked down into the heart of the city. Here we found mounds of ruins not yet restored.  We were able to explore some of the ruins from the Roman Era, and many from the heyday of the Nabateans.  The coliseum, the caves and tombs of the rich, and the caves and tombs of the not so rich.

We hiked to the high place of sacrifice where animals were sacrificed to the Gods.  The view points were spectacular.  Then we hiked to an overview of the Treasury.  And then down to the ground in front of the Treasury.

This is the carving you see in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and many pictures of Petra.  This was the entrance to Petra, and here travelers and traders would pay their fees to the Nabateans, hence the name "the Treasury".  In front of the treasury is a 1 km long narrow canyon with tall cliff walls, know as the Siq.  Through this canyon is how most travelers entered Petra, and today it is how most tourists enter Petra.  We hike about halfway through the Siq along the Roman paved road, admiring the beautiful towering walls overhead.  Our guide stopped to point out the carvings of Camel Caravans in the walls.  They are faded and most tourists passing us by didn't even notice them.  Along the walls edge are rock carved posts for Camels to be tied up to, and Rock carved shallow water cisterns for the camels to drink from.

We then turned around and hiked back to the end of the Siq to get the "traditional" view of the entrance of Petra.  It was beautiful, even in the slight drizzle of rain now falling on us.  Our guide offered to walk us out through the Siq and get us a ride back to our B&B to pick up our car since it was raining.  But we opted to continue our tour and hike out on the Bedouin trails back to the Bedouin village.

Luckily the rain lightened up as we hiked and we were thrilled we choose to continue as the trail back to the village, called the Rainbow trail, was absolutely spectacular.  The rock along this path was truly beautiful, striped and swirled with several different colors.  Even after hiking a mile we found more caves and roads.  Clearly those not lucky enough to live in the city of Petra lived in it's surrounding areas.  It was an incredible end to a spectacular day.  Just as we reached the road we were using to exit Petra, it started to rain harder.  Luckily the gate had an overhang we hide under as we waited for a car to pick us up and drive us the mile or so back to the B&B in the rain.

As we checked out of the B&B, the owner mentioned Little Petra and explained it's history to us.  It was the first city built by the Nabateans and is a much smaller scale.  As they realized the extent they could build their city they moved it to where Petra stands today.  In Little Petra they found a tile mosaic and colored plaster, giving us hints of what the inside of these caves were decorated with.

We then made the drive back to Aqaba, and a few miles south along the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba off of the Red Sea to Tala Bay Resort.  We checked in to our small condo within a huge resort.  After the long hike today, the short felt heavenly!  And we were grateful to do laundry in the condo!

The next morning we were up and going again! This time we were off to drive an hour back towards Petra, but turning off to head to the Wadi Rum desert.  Another UNESCO site, this area is beautiful!  We drove to the village and found the guide service we had hired for the day.  We had planned to hike Burdah Rock Bridge, but the weather was forecasting rain today so the guide service was concerned the rock and trail would get slippery if it rained and altered our plans to their typical one day desert tour.  While I was disappointed, I was also exhausted and sore for the day before and willing to accept the altered plan.  While the only rain that fell that day was short lived, it was chilly and very windy, all day long.  The kids were happy the day had less hiking too.  And the truth is-- it was still a great day!

Our guide was very friendly and promised to teach both Calvin and Savannah to drive his stick shift truck in the desert.  Our first stop was a tall sand dune which we hiked to the top.  After getting pelted with wind and sand and watching the clouds go by and making a few time lapse videos, we headed back down the dune.  We watched a couple try to surf the dune, but they didn't make it very far on their snowboard.  But I'm sure it was fun to try.

Our next stop was a narrow rock canyon carved by thousands of years of wind and water.  On the walls were several petroglyphs from long long ago, marking water and animals for those who might come to the area.  The Nabateans also roamed these deserts, and knew it's secrets.

And this was how our day went, drive then stop and view, then drive more and stop and view.  About every other stop we were offered Bedouin tea, and the guides would all take smoke breaks and visit.  There was no rush, an easy day of nature and beauty.  Since we don't drink tea, our stops were maybe slightly shorter than others.  Our guide was happy to go at any pace we desired.  He answered all our questions about life in a Jordan Desert, and the business of raising camels for milk or racing.  We learned a lot.

For lunch we stopped near a canyon wall with another group and the 2 guides made us a delicious local lunch.  They built a fire to warm up, and to cook over. Pita and hummus and cheese, oh yummy.  And a local sort of bean stew was warm and yummy.  my favorite spread is the baba ganoush, it is so delicious.  It was also nice visiting with another group of travelers.  A older couple and their son from the Netherlands, and a solo traveler- an American currently living in India as a teacher.  We enjoyed chatting with them and hearing their experiences.

The kids favorite part was driving in the desert.  Our Guide Habis, was very patient with each of them (of course, he promised to be the best teacher- boasting of teaching his 9 year old nephew).  He told them how to use the clutch and did the shifter himself for Calvin.  But since Savannah had more experience he just talked her through shifting.  They both had fun driving across the desert sands.

At one stop we saw the rock bridge we had planned to hike too, way up high...  And the kids declared they were happy with the altered plan.  Wadi Rum is strikingly beautiful.  Several movies have been filmed here, including the Martian and Rogue One.  They say they have sunsets that make the sand look as red as the sand on Mars.

We did stay for sunset but it was not a huge experience as the clouds were mostly covering the sky and the sun only peeked through for a moment on it's way down, but it was still beautiful, as most sunsets are.  It was a fun day.

Our third and final full day in Jordan started with us sleeping in!  We were excited for a "break" or a slower paced day.  After resting in the morning, David and I contacted one of the dive centers at the resort and made plans to leave at 11am for a few hours of diving, lunch, and a short cruise on the Red Sea.  Savannah wanted more rest, but we convinced her to come along.  She and Calvin would do a discover dive, and complete their first scuba dive.  They loved it!  The boat and crew served a fabulous lunch on board and David and I completed 2 fun dives.

Just after we descended on our first dive, I was starting to wonder just how out of shape I was.  There was no current, but I was completely out of breath swimming.  I was falling behind, wondering if I why I was so out of breath and thinking I must still be worn out from all our hiking.  As I was starting to think through what I was experiencing, shortness of breath, not being able to keep up with our group, I was starting to think through how long my air would last (the faster you breath, the faster you run out) and thinking maybe I need to ascend and cut my dive short, we were still "near" the boat.  As I was waiting for the dive guide to turn and check on me, as I was falling behind the group, I started to notice a noise when I would breathe in.  It was different than an air leak sound, and in paying attention, it was a squeak on my intake of air, but no noise when I would breathe out.  I started to wonder if there was something wrong with my equipment, and maybe I was not getting enough oxygen.  David finally looked back at me and I attempted to signal to him and ask him if he could hear me squeak.  But without being able to talk, it can be hard to communicate while diving.  And we didn't have our gear, only borrowed gear, and so I did not have my slate to write on.  Finally the dive guide looked back and asked if I was okay, and I was able to signal to him that I was not ok.  He came over and I tried to ask him if he could hear me breathe and the squeak.  He, being experienced, and somewhat interpreting my signals, grabbed my "octopus" (which is a second regulator that all scuba gear has- in case your dive buddy runs out of air and needs to share with you), and handed it to me.  And at that moment I thought "Duh! Why didn't I try that already!" so I switched regulators and oh JOY! I could breathe!  It was amazing to me, how I could not tell when I first descended.  Sure it seemed a little "hard" to breath, but there's always nerves, and a little anxiety on the first dive, that I didn't realize it was actually HARD to breathe because I was missing oxygen, until I could actually breath again.   And then I thought how often we experience this in life in other ways.  We don't recognize that we are missing a spiritual connection, and we are just in survival mode, until that connection is brought back to our lives and we breath it in and go "yes, I was missing this and I need it!"

That evening we went into downtown Aqaba to walk the streets and through the markets and have a great local dinner. We picked up some local delicacies to bring home. On our walk we happened into a local pita shop where they were making tons of pita and several varieties of Baklava.  The shop owner or manager waved us in as we watched from the door, and gave us several samples to try.  He did not really speak English but he was so kind.  We took home several baklava's for breakfast and a bag full of fresh delicious pita!

We loved our time in Jordan.  The people there were so kind and friendly, and helpful.  The country is filled with beauty. And the food!  Oh the food is delicious!  We would love to go back.

The next morning we packed up early and headed to return the car and repeat in reverse what we had done 3 days before. Back to the border crossing, and then to the car rental on the Israel side.