Sunday, April 30, 2023
Every day we drag ourselves back to our hotel. Today, with a. new hotel, it requires a bit more effort. And since it is at the Dead Sea, it requires a rush change into a bath suit and a walk across the street for some lovely soaking time in the Sea. Then back to shower and prepare properly for dinner. Being alone, I have a little extra time to get the journal started before our self-imposed 7:30 pm dinner. Of course, I was too tired to get out my clothes to “iron” while I showered, so I will probably be a wrinkled mess at dinner. Oh well it’s just us.
The day began at the Sea of Galilee, with the second-best sunrise of our three sunrises. It is always hard to leave the Galilee, but leaving Jerusalem is worse. We didn’t get a sense of the serenity of the area up north staying along the boardwalk, but it was a nice hotel and made for a great stay.
After breakfast, we waited our turn to load our luggage. Hopefully the three huge buses holding a group from Arizona aren’t following us anymore. Our first stop of the day was at Bet Shean (Scythopolis). We were able to enter through the back gate (we waited for the park ranger to open the already unlocked gate). We made the short walk up the Old Testament Tel, stopping at the city gate to tell the story of the death of Saul. We read the text and then the lament David writes about Saul’s death as 2 Samuel opens.
We wandered a bit at the top of the Tel, and then the Roman city of Scythopolis spread out before us. It is a nice surprise if you’ve never been to the site before. We had some explanation (of course) and then walked down the stairs to the city below. I led a small group to the restrooms while the others made their way around the site.
We met up near the entrance and had some free time to explore the bath house. After that, I snuck off to the ancient marketplace to see if they had replaced the mosaic we had seen in 1994. They had. I had a Marge McFeely moment (you won’t know the significance of that, but she is now with Jesus and taught me to love the land). I scooted back to join the group, which wasn’t waiting for me since the lines at the restroom were a tad long (for the ladies, of course – does anyone ever build enough, except Peninsula?).
Back to the bus and down the Jordan Valley we went. I find it an interesting drive, as long as I can stay awake. The border between Jordan and Israel is the Jordan River, but on the Israeli side there is a buffer zone, and we follow a double fence snaking down the valley, with electronic monitoring devices all along the way.
We had some extra time, so we stopped at the baptismal site across from Bethany Beyond Jordan. That was nice.
We doubled back a bit and headed into Jericho (the second of our unscheduled stops today). We were now in the PA (Palestinian Authority). The change from Israel is stark, but we had no trouble navigating. Saw “the” sycamore tree from Zacchaeus. And then we had some lunch. We beat the crowd, so the beginning of the meal was lovely. We enjoyed it much.
Back from dinner with my knee on ice. I hung back after dinner to chat with Manhal and Ahmed. This is really the last chance for some quiet and alone time with them. They will go home to their families when we arrive in Jerusalem tomorrow. It was nice to chat. And…dinner had some highlights, but it was just ok. They weren’t prepared for us as a group and we ended up in the overflow space. That was actually nice out there (quiet and cool). I think we are the only group at this place. It is filled with Jewish tourists.
Back to the day…
After lunch we drove over to see Jericho. There is not much to see and we did not pay to go inside. Our Israeli National Park pass does not work here. There was a camel outside (apparently named Sam). Several got in a camel ride and enjoyed that a lot.
Back on the road to get out of the PA (Palestinian Authority). There was now a very long (and not moving anywhere) line to get out of Jericho. There is an Israeli checkpoint because you can leave the area and get into Israel (Jerusalem). So after sitting in line a bit, we watched another tour bus go out the “in” side of the road. So we backed up, returned on the wrong side of our road (there is a road divider between the two sides) and looped back around and headed out the ”in.” We got right to the front of the “in” line. The Israeli soldiers were not all that happy about that maneuver and had to give us a hard time, of course. It didn’t even matter that we were Americans. But after some discussion and a visit inside the bus from the supervisor, we were on our way south one again. We might still be in line if Ahmed hadn’t pulled off that skilled driving, but we were on our way to Qumran.
We made it to this very busy site in about 30 minutes I suppose. The parking lot was full of buses, but it wasn’t horrible. We had avoided the cafeteria and even the gift shop (shock). They have done some remodeling and we saw part of the movie (now on a TV). We had a nice tour of the site, Manhal did a nice job. He’s not too long – which is a plus. We saw Cave Four and talked about its significance. Then back to the bus.
We had to get to En Gedi quickly. They stop letting people into the hike at 4. We made it by 3:34. Whew. Manny wanted to only walk to the first waterfall, and I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant. But the first waterfall is not nearly far enough. So I over road him and we walk clear to the big waterfall. It only took us 30 minutes for the whole walk, so we had plenty of time. Not all made it, but they didn’t mind. I read Psalm 63 and we headed back to the bus. I saved 1 Samuel 14 (I think that’s correct) for the bus ride, and Alyson cued up a Fernando Ortega song based on Psalm 63. It was great.
On to the hotel for the evening. Our Dead Sea swim. Dinner. And now here I am. We tasted a bit of the worship service back home on the livestream as we were finishing dinner. I should have taken a picture…but it was playing on my phone and my camera was in the room. Oh well. Sounded great.
Tomorrow we are up sort of early again, trying to leave by 7:45, but the hotel says they can’t get our bags loaded that early. From what I can tell, we are the only group here….so….???? Oh well, Masada, Arad, Beersheba….and home to Jerusalem! Great day ahead.