piligrimage day 1 & 2 – oh. my. God.

its hot

it's all a blur

This is going to be long one – Day 1 and 2 kind of go together because basically they were put into a large shaker and rolled through three flights, four airports, one bus ride and one church- grotto combo with very fuzzy results. On the Sunday morning that we left, tensions were running slightly high in our house what with a total five sisters trying to get to the airport on time. At Cape Town International Airport we met our tour organiser and group. Since we don’t belong the parish that most of the group was from, we had no idea who the other people were and I think I expected many of the older folks to be staid and conservative. We flew to Johannesburg airport where we had a few hours wait for a flight to Cairo. In a very bizarre coincidence we ran into just about all the relatives we have in Jo-burg (and we’re Portuguese so that is quite a lot). They were all there to see off my uncle who is a widow. His wife was the first of my mom’s sisters to pass away and she’s been gone for about two years now. It turned out that Tio was leaving for Madeira indefinitely to meet up with a new woman in his life who he might marry (ah autumn love!).

After this chance encounter we waited for a couple of hours for our next flight and began seven hours to Cairo. It was not a great flight for me and I hardly slept, but that’s how long haul flying is for me – either I sleep great or not at all. When we got to Cairo, we went through passport control which was well… ambiguous. The airport officials seemed especially irritable and rough. Here we also got our first warning from our tour organizer about slowness which was something along the lines of ‘Those of you who are slow, well you’re going to have to change your ways. When we’re in the Holy Land and we have places booked you can’t be late’. So already we found ourselves trying to make sure Mae and Tia were keeping up, which only served to make Mae super crabby.Cairo airport was also where the group introduced themselves to each other in a big howdy-ice-breaker circle where we did the ‘Hi, my name is…’ thing. After some hours we caught our short flight to Tel Aviv, ‘Aahh soon we will be at the hotel’ I thought to myself. We arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday after 12pm and I was very, very, very tired (having been awake since Sunday morning). Passport control involved some Q&A and we eventually got onto a tour bus where a guide, Frank*, introduced himself and started talking about the church we were going to visit. Wait? Church? We’re *not* going to a hotel or perhaps even a bathroom?? In my very tired state I had started to feel light headed and this news made me fall into a bit of despair. I used the bus drive to Bethlehem to try steel myself for a few hard hours ahead. Luisa was worrying about everyone, Mae was annoying and everyone was ratty and stinky. Luckily Frank was very charismatic and handled everyone with aplomb as he handed out matching hats to everyone and asked that we wear the hats when out at sites. Wow thanks, nothing screams ‘Tourists ahoy!’ more loudly than a bunch of lost looking people wondering around in matching hats. I ended up sitting next to Cynthia, who tells me that she needs to wear her own hat because she’s had skin cancer.

We drove from Tel Aviv through Jerusalem to get to Bethlehem which did not live up to the fuzzy, Christmassy images one conjures when one thinks ‘Bethlehem’. The thing about Bethlehem is that it is under Palestinian rule, and it has a huge, grey, depressing wall around one side to separate it from the rest of Israel. To get into Bethlehem you have a cross a border checkpoint with Palestinian soldiers who swagger around stylishly toting large guns and looking a bit like they belong on a movie set. Once inside, what really struck me were the prevalent pieces of graffiti commenting on and berating the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. We parked and walked uphill to the Church of the Nativity. Along the way there were many peddlers on the street thrusting various things at us like bottled water and rosary 50-packs.

We walked a fairly short while before reaching the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. It is built over the place traditionally believed to be Jesus’ birthplace (there is a difference between a site where there is evidence that something or other happened there and ones which are believed in by tradition). There was a lot of very earnest talking by Frank about the Bible and translations but I was feeling way too dizzy to focus and spent most of my time on my haunches staring at the ground, which I think made Luisa worry even more. Then we had Mass in one of the Franciscan chapels that surrounds the main church. I didn’t focus very well though because the woman who was reading at the Mass asked me to video record her and I was spent most of the time fuzzily trying to figure out her video recorder. After that there was more talking by Frank about mosaics and the Byzantine era which I couldn’t focus on. We then went into the main part of the church which is Greek Orthodox; we entered through a low doorway and looked at a big square hole in the floor but I was completely missing the explanations of everything. Now that I’ve Wikipedia the church I see that the low doorway is the Door of Humility and the big square opening reveals the floor of the original Roman church that used to stand there. The next part I did manage to follow though, we climbed down to the Grotto of the Nativity which is an underground cave where Jesus was supposedly born (this kind of didn’t figure for me on account of it being a cave but whatever). We even got to see his supposed manger. The grotto itself was very dark and mysterious looking with golden lamps hanging everywhere and candles all over the show.

grotto of the nativity

grotto of the nativity

After walking back from the Church in the heat we were finally taken to our hotel…er no to some arbitrary $10 lunch for a whole hour which not everyone chose to have so there were lots of people just sitting around getting more and more ratty. And *then* we were taken to our hotel, the Inter Continental, a ridiculously palatial haunt in the middle of a dusty rundown Bethlehem. Best hotel arrival ev-*snore*.



Tally for the day: 4 airports, 3 flights, 1 church, 1 grotto, 1 new hotel


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One Response to “piligrimage day 1 & 2 – oh. my. God.”

  1. Martirio Tecla Mercedes Says:

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